A Life Discarded: Child deaths in care across Canada

Every disturbing detail of Paige Gauchier’s life is laid out in a report done by BC’s Representative for Children and Youth. The report sheds light on a foster care system that critics say failed the 19-year-old girl.

“She saw people turn tricks, she was brought into the sex trade, she was abused, she was physically, sexually abused, she went through everything,” says Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, B.C.’s Representative for Children and Youth.

“This child in two and a half years moved 50 times, (lived in) shelters, SROs (single room occupancy hotels), was abandoned on the street.”

Born to an addicted mother, Paige was passed through the hands of seventeen different social workers in her brief lifetime – a life that ended in a drug overdose less than a year after she “aged” out of care.

“Next thing you know a short while later, she’s of course on the street and really intensely addicted, very sick and then before long she’s dead,” says Turpel-Lafond.

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READ MORE: Paige’s story: In search of a name

Paige’s tragic story is not unique. It’s a story repeated over and over again across Canada. But how many times exactly – is not known.

Ottawa does not keep a national record of children who die while in care. But in a survey of provinces, 16×9 found some disturbing numbers – a total of 320 deaths in the past five years alone. The causes of deaths vary – some are accidents, others are suicides, many are from natural causes.

But what we really wanted to find out was the number of deaths of children who had been out of the child care system for less than a year.

So 16×9 surveyed the country to try and determine the number of deaths of those children. Shockingly, we discovered many provinces don’t keep track.

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Ontario is one of the few provinces that does. And in that province alone, since 2009, 57 children have died less than 12 months after their case with Children’s Aid had been closed.

But if you combine that with the number of children who have died while in care and the number of children who have died while living at home with their families, but have an open file with Children’s Aid, the total number is over 500 since 2009.

That’s between 90 -120 deaths each year, and about one death every three days.

“When I hear 100 – 120 I think Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday – a child connected to care dies. Thursday, Friday, Saturday – a child connected to care dies,” says Irwin Elman, Ontario’s Child Advocate.

“If somebody thinks the child welfare system is completely without holes and doesn’t need looking at in terms of how we protect children then how do you explain that?”

Irwin says the circumstances in which Paige found herself in are not unique to BC.

“It’s a tragedy because it’s the same problem across the board,” he says. “Whatever province you go to Ontario, BC, at some level the kinds of issues that young people in the child welfare system are facing are the same.”

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You can watch 16×9’s investigation “A Life Discarded” this Saturday at 7pm.

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