British Columbia's children's ministry will report twice a year on the number of children in government care who have been placed in hotels, Children and Family Development Minister Stephanie Cadieux said Monday.
Ms. Cadieux made the commitment in the legislature as she was fielding demands for her resignation following the the death of 18-year-old Alex Gervais earlier this month. Mr. Gervais had been placed in a hotel contrary to government policies that require senior ministry officials to be notified of any hotel stays by children in care.
In Question Period on Monday, New Democratic Party Leader John Horgan cited the death of Mr. Gervais, and several other recent cases in which children had died while in government care, as reasons for Ms. Cadieux to resign.
In response, Ms. Cadieux defended her own and her ministry's track record. "The reality is that, from time to time, we learn about circumstances that don't go according to plan or how they should, and have, in some cases, extremely tragic outcomes," Ms. Cadieux said.
"Then it is my job as minister to ensure that all of the necessary reviews and investigations take place, so that we can make adjustments and changes to ensure that it doesn't happen again," she added.
"The opposition chooses to highlight only those tragic circumstances which, absolutely, result in public scrutiny and in discussion. They should. But what I see on a daily basis in my ministry, and work with my ministry to achieve, are facts that the opposition likes to discredit or just ignore."
Until the ministry disclosed information about hotel stays in response to inquiries following Mr. Gervais's death, there was little public information available on the issue.
Last October, the ministry replied to a Globe and Mail inquiry by saying it "does not track data specific to hotel stays because the placement of children and youth in hotels is rare and only for brief periods of time (i.e., not statistically significant)."
Last November, however, the ministry began tracking hotel stays and ordered them to be approved by senior staff.
Mr. Gervais, who had been in 17 placements in 10 years, died earlier this month after falling from the fourth floor of a hotel in Abbotsford. He had been placed there after a group home in which he and 32 other youths were staying was closed earlier this year. The Coroners Services is investigating the death.
Ms. Cadieux has said the ministry did not know about the hotel placement, contrary to government policy.
After the young man died, ministry staff checked with agencies and offices around the province and said 23 children had been placed in hotels, for an average stay of five days, since last November.
As of last week, one child was staying in a hotel with caregiver support; that person has since been moved to "more suitable accommodations," ministry staff said on Monday.
Ms. Cadieux has not identified the agency involved with Mr. Gervais's death, citing privacy regulations and the review currently under way.
But The Globe and Mail confirmed last week that the agency was Fraser Valley Aboriginal Children and Family Services Society, which serves First Nations children and families in the Fraser Valley region. In speaking with reporters on Friday, Liberal Premier Christy Clark referred to it, although not by name, saying "the delegated agency didn't report it to the ministry and that is a very real problem."
Ms. Clark called the misstep "completely unacceptable" and said there would be consequences, although she did not say what those might be.
The Premier's comments did not sit well with Doug Kelly, who chairs the First Nations Health Council and is also president of the Sto:lo Tribal Council, which represents eight bands that are FVACFSS clients.
Ms. Clark's comments, which assign blame, are premature in light of policies relating to investigations of "critical incidents," such as the death of a child, Mr. Kelly said. He added that privacy regulations prevent FVACFSS from disclosing details or defending itself.
Ministry policies call for a full investigation before any conclusions are aired, he said. "I'm troubled," Mr. Kelly said, adding that as a former minister of children and family development, Ms. Clark is aware of procedures.
"She knows better," he said. "It doesn't help to have the Premier of this province hanging out an agency to dry when due process hasn't been followed."
Mr. Kelly said he had requested a meeting with Ms. Clark to discuss her comments but had not yet received a response.