The province needs to not only fund but develop more substance abuse programs that can better provide for youth in need and their families, according to a new report from B.C.’s Deputy Representative for Children and Youth (RCY).
The importance of this is stressed in the RCY’s investigative report, which was looking into the circumstances leading up to the death of Nick Lang. This is the second time the children ministry’s watchdog has made this recommendation. Their investigation also found that Lang’s parents were “unable to access suitable, culturally specific services to help address their youngest son’s escalating drug abuse problem.”
Lang’s father, Peter, agrees with the highlights of the report and believes the ministry is missing the mark.
“It’s the Ministry of Children and Families that really lacks the cultural competence when it comes to dealing with indigenous youth,” Peter Lang said.
“That’s huge, that’s a massive aspect to this report — as well as the lack of services for youth before they ever hit the criminal justice system. There’s just nothing there and the government seems to link the economy to whether or not they provide resources for the marginalized in this province. And I’m tired of that because quite frankly — how much is my child worth to Christy Clark and how much is my child worth to Stephanie Cadieux?”
The 15-year-old Lang was found dead in a closet on June 9, 2015 with a shoelace around his neck just six days after being placed in the care of the Ministry of Children and Family Development in 2015. It was supposed to be temporary as the teen was getting help for a methamphetamine addiction and was placed with a family in Campbell River while he attended a treatment program for drug addiction that was paid for by the ministry.
Lang’s family said their son was not properly supervised while he was in care, but his host family said they were never informed that Lang needed constant supervision.
Following Lang’s death, the MCFD started a complete review and the report was given to his parents. And in March 2016, his family filed a civil lawsuit, claiming a series of mistakes and a lack of attention cost their son his life.
The civil suit includes a long list of what Lang’s parents claim are errors that all played a role in their son’s 2015 death.
In May 2016, a B.C. Coroner’s report could not determine whether Lang’s death was a suicide or an accident. The report said there was evidence the 15-year-old was participating in the “choking game.” The game’s intention is not to cause self-harm but instead to cut off oxygen to the brain for a feeling of euphoria. It’s a risky behaviour that can result in death or leave the person with brain damage.
Conversely, B.C. Coroner Adele Lambert also found that Lang had been under stress prior to his death, which included a suicide threat. The theories, which Lambert called compelling, led to Lang’s death being ruled undetermined by the Coroner.
At the time, Lambert recommended that the Representative for Children and Youth review the government services provided to Lang “with a view to improving services and outcomes for children in the Province of British Columbia.”
In addition to the latest RCY reporting saying the government needs to create a system that includes community-based and residential treatment services, investigators for the Representative also found there were a number of points along the way when Lang’s path might have been “significantly altered had the proper supports been available or proactively offered to him and his family, including the potential option of secure care and the Intensive Support and Supervision Program worker the court had ordered for him.
However, the report could not determine with any certainty that Lang’s life would have been saved had he gotten more appropriate services, but it says it would have given him a better chance.
Minister of Children and Family Development Stephanie Cadieux said this is not a new recommendation from the Representative.
“She has raised it as an issue before and it’s something we’ve been looking at thoroughly across government,” Cadieux said.
Cadieux went on to say the premier has convened a cross-ministry cabinet working group on mental health with the goal of identifying gaps in the system and making sure family and individuals have access to support services as early as possible.
~ with files from Amy Judd and Jon Azpiri