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editorial

British Columbia Representative for Children and Youth Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond speaks during a news conference after releasing her report on children with special needs in Vancouver, B.C., on Monday June 27, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl DyckDARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

Alex Gervais has made a difference, since he fell from a fourth-floor window in a hotel last September. He was a troubled 18-year-old youth, in the care of the state, and had spent three months living in the hotel in Abbotsford, B.C.

Governments storing children in hotels is, unfortunately, nothing new. Manitoba's excessive use of "emergency placements" in hotels for child-welfare cases was widespread, as became blatantly manifest in 2014, after the 15-year-old Tina Fontaine left a hotel and was killed. Soon, Manitoba ended the practice.

Mr. Gervais's death prompted British Columbia's government to take a hard look at itself. The Ministry of Children and Family Development and the Representative for Children and Youth, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, joined to examine the province's relevant practices – or the lack thereof.

In the past, the relationship of the ministry and Ms. Turpel-Lafond has been strained; it was once described as "a living nightmare." Be that as it may, they worked well together on this matter.

They found out that the ministry had formulated few, if any, policies about putting children in need of protection in hotels, motels "or other short-term lodging commercially available to the general public." Nor did the ministry keep reliable numbers on how many young people had been housed this way over the years.

From what data they were able to gather, they concluded that Alex Gervais's situation – a child ward of the state, warehoused in a hotel – was unusual in B.C. They also concluded that it was far more common than the ministry had realized.

Better late than never, the B.C. government and Ms. Turpel-Lafond concluded that hotel "placements" should be made only overnight, outside normal social worker's working hours, in unexpected emergencies or immediate dangers. A social worker should have to get permission to put a child in a hotel or motel. The provincial child-welfare director will have to report to Ms. Turpel-Lafond any child who has been living in a hotel for three days.

An absolute ban on irregular overnight lodgings may not be practical. But it's now crystal-clear that letting children languish for weeks on end invites catastrophe.