Joint review announced on use of hotels to house children

Announcement follows the death of Abbotsford teen Alex Gervais, who fell to his death from the window of a local hotel.

Alex Gervais

The Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) and the Office of the Representative for Children and Youth (RCY) have initiated a joint review of the use of hotels to house children who are in the care of the Province, Minister Stephanie Cadieux and representative Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond announced today.

The announcement comes more than a month after the high-profile death of Abbotsford teen Alex Gervais, who had been housed in a local hotel before falling or jumping to his death in September.

The review will examine the historical and current usage of hotels as placements for children in care, including the demographics of those children, the reasons behind the use of hotels as placements and the potential risks to children in care associated with hotel stays, according to a press release issued Monday by MCFD. The review will also make recommendations regarding new policy and practice on hotel placements going forward.

Gervais, 18, had been living in the Super 8 hotel on Sumas Way for about two months after the group home in which he was living was among 23 that the ministry shut down due to health and safety concerns.

Turpel-Lafond has said she had been hearing from youth in those homes that they feared for their safety and there were issues such as drug use, aggression and lack of proper nutrition.

She said she was given assurances from the ministry that none of the 33 youth impacted by the closures would be placed in hotels or in single-occupancy living quarters.

Turpel-Lafond said the first time she knew that those commitments had been broken was when she heard of Gervais’ death.

The teen, who friends have said suffered from depression, fell or jumped out of a fourth-floor window of the hotel and plunged to his death.

The Abbotsford Police Department has confirmed that foul play was not involved.

According to the release, the joint review will incorporate all relevant data on the subject available to MCFD, its Delegated Aboriginal Agencies and the Office of the Representative. It will include a review of relevant literature, comparisons with policy and practice in other jurisdictions, consultation with subject-matter experts and interviews with MCFD and DAA front-line staff, supervisors, contracted service providers and others.

The final report will be presented to the Legislature and released publicly before the end of this year.

“Our aim is to place children and youth in foster homes and residential resources that match their needs and minimize the possibility of further moves,” MCFD Minister Stephanie Cadieux said in the release. “Together with the RCY, we are taking a close look at policy and practice to ensure that when young people come into government care we can provide them with safe, secure, appropriate living arrangements while we work to connect (or re-connect) them with a permanent, loving home.”

Turpel-Lafond said in the release that she wants “to support MCFD to reduce and eliminate the use of hotels as placements, even in emergency situations.”

“As always, our role is to help the ministry to meet its mandate and ensure that children receive services that are appropriate rather than crisis-driven or stop-gap measures. While this review will not be incident-specific, individual cases that are part of it may call out for more detailed investigation by my office, should there be situations in which children have been adversely affected by hotel placements.”

– with files from Vikki Hopes

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