Thursday, December 27, 2012

Canada's Shameful Record on Child Rights

UN slams Canada’s ‘excessively punitive’ justice plan, accuses authorities of widespread discrimination

Heather Scoffield, Canadian Press | Oct 9, 2012.

OTTAWA — The federal government’s tough-on-crime agenda is “excessively punitive” for youth and is a step backwards for Canada’s child rights record, says a United Nations group.

The UN committee on the rights of the child has finished a 10-year review of how Canada treats its children and how well governments are implementing the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

In particular, the committee says Canada’s Youth Criminal Justice Act complied with international standards until changes were introduced earlier this year.

The Harper government’s Bill C-10 — an omnibus crime bill that includes stiffer penalties for youth and makes it easier to try them as adults — no longer conforms to the child rights convention or other international standards.

Bill C-10 “is excessively punitive for children and not sufficiently restorative in nature,” the committee wrote in a report published over the weekend.

“The committee also regrets there was no child rights assessment or mechanism to ensure that Bill C-10 complied with the provisions of the convention.”

The committee also repeatedly expressed its concern that aboriginal and black children are dramatically overrepresented in the criminal justice system. Aboriginal youth are more likely to be jailed than graduate from high school, the report said.

In order to meet the standards of the UN convention, Ottawa should raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility and ensure that no one under 18 is ever tried as an adult, the report said.

Authorities should also be developing alternatives to detention, writing rules to restrain the use of force against children in detention and to separate girls from boys in jail, the committee added.

Governments should determine why so many aboriginal and black children and youth are involved in the criminal justice system and figure out how to reduce the disparity, the report recommended.

The committee also chastised Canada for failing to provide equal social services to aboriginal children — especially in the realm of child welfare, an issue now before Canadian courts.

It accused authorities of “serious and widespread discrimination” in the services they offer aboriginal children, visible minorities, immigrants and children with disabilities.

“The UN joins the auditor general, leading experts and First Nations in calling on the federal government to step up to the plate and ensure equity for First Nations children,” said advocate Cindy Blackstock of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society.
“There is simply no excuse for a government to discriminate against children.”

The child rights convention is a binding international treaty that Canada ratified in 1991. Signatories are obliged to defend their child rights’ records and explain progress at regular intervals before a UN committee.

Canadian officials appeared before the committee two weeks ago.

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson rejects the claim that his crime legislation does not comply with the child rights’ convention, said spokeswoman Julie Di Mambro.

The legislation was amended to ensure no one under the age of 18 is detained in an adult facility, she noted.

“Our legislation reflects the need to protect society from serious and violent young offenders,” Di Mambro said. “It targets the small number of violent, repeat young offenders and its measures are balanced, effective, and responsible.”

Previously in the House of Commons, Conservative parliamentary secretary Bob Dechert lashed out at the UN committee because one of its members is from Syria.

“Syria, a country whose rulers are stealing the innocence of an entire generation of its children, is criticizing Canada,” he said. “Imagine that.

“This is no doubt to distract from the atrocities that Syrian children are currently facing every day.”

But critics say Ottawa is wrong to write off the UN committee — even if Canada is not among the worst offenders.

“You can’t sign on to a treaty like the Convention on the Rights of the Child without adhering to the guidelines that it lays out,” said Jaskiran Dhillon, a representative for Justice for Girls.

“It sets an international bar for what treating and taking care of your children and youth looks like. It doesn’t mean that you disregard the most marginalized … populations of your country.”

The report also wants Canada to:
    Adopt a national strategy to implement children’s rights, alleviate poverty and prevent violence.
    Address high levels of violence against aboriginal women and girls.
    Ensure child victims of violence have access to restraining orders and other means of protection.
    Help troubled parents take better care of their children instead of sending them into foster care.
    Ensure disabled children are not forced into segregated schooling.
    Monitor the use of drugs to treat mental conditions in children, to curtail over-medication.
    Eliminate user fees in public schools.
    Increase the availability of free or affordable daycare.
    Rehabilitate Omar Khadr.
    Stop detaining child refugee claimants.
    Act to prevent obesity among children.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Tragedy results from mental health system, safety net that fall

This was a letter I wrote to the Editor that was published in the Vancouver Sun. Tracey Young, December 17, 2012. 
My heart goes out to the three women who had the misfortune to cross the path of Nicholas Osuteye. We should consider all of these individuals victims of the failing civil mental health system of care and a social safety net that fails the most vulnerable and high-risk people every day in B.C.

As a social worker who has worked in psychiatric inpatient units with individuals experiencing acute, severe and chronic psychiatric disorders, I can tell you Mr. Osuteye's experience with B.C.'s acute psychiatric system is not uncommon.

He also faced unique, made-in-B.C. structural barriers to receiving the help and support he required, putting him and others at-risk.

Media reports suggest Mr. Osuteye voluntarily went to hospital because he wanted help with medication. If Mr. Osuteye has been here for less than three months, he would not meet the residency requirements for medical coverage under the policies of the current health insurance regime of the B.C. government. Therefore, he likely had no way to pay for his stay in hospital and no way to pay for medications, which would not be covered.

Mr. Osuteye also would not have met the residency requirements for applying for crisis income assistance with the Ministry of Social Development if he were here less than three months.

Even if he had access to a computer, which is how people must apply now, he likely would not have been able to navigate the Byzantine application process due to his acute illness.

If he had tried to call an office, he likely would have been unable to get through to speak to a human being due to the automated telephone system which bureaucratically ensures fewer people can successfully apply for income assistance.

In my work as a psychiatric social worker at the Forensic Psychiatric Hospital my colleagues and I saw clear anecdotal evidence that individuals who were not receiving necessary civil mental health care, treatment and admission to acute psychiatric units in local hospitals (if needed), or those who were discharged before stabilization, and with a lack of solid discharge plans to support them in the community, often ended up committing criminal code violations while acutely mentally ill.

Many of these individuals go on to be found not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder (NCRMD) and are then subject to lengthy time spent in the much more expensive Forensic Psychiatric system that taxpayers are funding.

In the last decade, the B.C. government has created grand mental health plans for children, youth and adults, but their failure to adequately resource these required systems of care has put many at risk.

Tragedies like this case occur because of the unspoken, unacknowledged failure of the B.C. government for its lack of leadership, monitoring, accountability and adequate funding of the mental health system of care. It is time for them to take responsibility and to stop new tragedies from occurring. They are the only ones who can do it.

Tracey Young Vancouver

Thursday, December 6, 2012

National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Girls & Women

Over time I have become increasingly concerned about the ever-increasing force of the narratives of sexualization, violence and oppression of girls and women that have become common place in North American society.  

A day cannot go by in which girls and women are not exposed to multiple depictions of media and stories that normalize gendered oppression. This oppression is deeply embedded in the structures and institutions of our society and it impacts the day-to-day well-being, safety and lives of girls and women.  

Structural oppression impacts girls and women's employment and career choices and opportunities. It impacts our ability to financially support ourselves, our children and our elders. 

We must all continue to work together to achieve equality, to eliminate violence against girls and women. Boys and men are important partners in this fight against the oppression of girls and women. I believe that we can have equality and justice for all in Canada, it takes the will of the people working together to meet this goal. 

Organizations Supporting Girls & Women

Battered Women's Support Services (BWSS) 

Crisis, Intake & Counselling Line: 604-687-1867          
Toll-free: 1-855-687-1868

BC Society of Transition Homes (BCSTH)

Call: 604-669-6943 or 1-800-661-1040

For a list of Transitional Housing in BC click here.
Shelter listing in Metro Vancouver - As of October 2012

Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre

Call: 604-681-8480

Drop-in, emergency shelter (604-715-8480), supports

Ending Violence Association of BC (EVA)

Phone: 604-633-2506

Vancouver Rape Relief Society

Call 604-872-8212 

24-hour rape crisis centre and services for victims of rape

Shelter for women and children trying to prevent or escape male violence 

VictimLink BC: 1-800-563- 0808 

24 hours a day, 7 days a week, more than 110 languages providing information and referrals to all victims of crime and crisis support to victims

Women Against Violence Against Women (WAVAW) 

24 Hour crisis line: 604-255-6344;    Toll-free: 1-877-392-7583

- Counselling, Victim support services, Aboriginal programming

YWCA Metro Vancouver 

Call: 604-895-5800

Supports & Services for Women & their families


                                 Rose Campaign

YWCA Canada’s Rose Campaign to end violence against women and girls takes its name from the rose button created after 14 young women were murdered on December 6, 1989 and commemorates December 6 as Canada’s National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. 

The Rose Campaign works year-round to reduce violence against women, increase public awareness and prevent violence before it starts.

Violence against women is a $4 billion problem in Canada. Each year, violence and abuse drive over 100,000 women and children out of their homes and into shelters. They face an uncertain future with a high risk of homelessness and poverty.

You can take action to change their lives.

Send a rose campaign message to your MP.
Donate to end violence against women and girls.

Canadians need to Work Together to end Violence Against Women

OTTAWA (December 4, 2012):    On December 6, Canada will focus once again on violence against women.  The National Association of Friendship Centres  (NAFC)  would like to take this occasion to publicly support those communities across the country, and the efforts of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, who are calling on the Federal government to establish a public inquiry and a national framework of action to address the issue of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls in Canada.   Aboriginal women are 3.5 times more likely than non-Aboriginal women to be victims of violence.

Since the 1980s, it has been estimated that thousands of aboriginal women have gone missing and have been murdered. Roughly half of the official murders and disappearances have occurred since the year 2000.  At present, there are 583 documented cases.  Unofficial accounts are significantly higher.  Aboriginal women between the ages of 25 and 44 are five times more likely than all other Canadian women in the same age group to die as a result of violence.  

Violence against aboriginal women has been at crisis levels for years.   It affects the individual, their families and the health of thousands of communities across Canada.   All levels of government and law enforcement need to work with aboriginal and non aboriginal leaders to prevent further injustice and build healthier communities.  Existing barriers must be eliminated so communities can begin to  solve many of  these cases  and to prevent this shame from continuing.  Only then can  faith in the justice system be restored allowing for communities to come together towards healthier outcomes.

Last year, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women began an inquiry into murdered and missing Aboriginal women in Canada.  “Canadians need to recognize that Aboriginal women play integral roles in communities across Canada.  As mothers, daughters, sisters, grandmothers and aunts, women who are victims of violence should not suffer in silence.  We have been hearing their cries for years.  In a country such as ours, leadership and commitment are two first steps that will help us heal,”  says Vera Pawis Tabobondung, President, NAFC.

Friendship Centres throughout Canada have been working at the community level focusing attention on violence against women working with partners and other organizations to achieve the goal or reducing and eliminating violence that exists at unacceptable levels.   Aboriginal women (First Nations, Inuit and M├ętis) are more than eight times more likely to be killed by their intimate partner than non-Aboriginal women.

In 2013, the NAFC will lead a national Aboriginal awareness campaign to decrease domestic human trafficking among Aboriginal peoples.   The NAFC will establish a National Aboriginal Advisory Committee (NAAC) consisting of regional, youth and expert representation. The NAAC will devise and lead a community engagement plan to gather insight from a wide range of Aboriginal peoples across the country into the messaging and formats the national campaign materials should assume.   The project will  lead to an increase in knowledge sharing and awareness  around human trafficking and it will increase community capacity to combat human trafficking.

To support the Native Women’s Association of Canada, we ask the public to visit their website to learn more about violence against Aboriginal women and to sign the petition calling for a national inquiry at  

Selected Articles

The Facts on Violence Against Women - BWSS

Involving Men in Violence Prevention By Maggie Zielger, July 2008.

21st Century Practice: Transforming Women’s Lives. By Tessa Parkes, 2008.

Royal Commission on Violence Against Aboriginal Girls and Women
By Fran Smith and Lisa Yellow-Quill, April 2011.

Violence Against Women and Their Children in BC: 33 Years of Recommendations. EVA, April, 2012

Monday, November 26, 2012

Care, Justice & Good Economics: Investing in Services for Children, Youth & Families

Services for at-risk youth in BC: moving from dysfunction to effective support

September 12th, 2012 · , Policy Note.  


Guest blogger Diana Guenther drew on extensive work experience in social services to develop her Masters of Urban Studies thesis on improving services for at-risk youth in BC. She shares some of her key recommendations here:


Having worked with at risk youth for 15 years and in three different countries, I have always been quite puzzled about the rudimentary and limited professional, community-based and preventive services available for children and youth in BC. After all, investing in children, youth and family services is not only a hallmark of a caring and a just society, it also makes economic sense. As a social worker noted in a report by Pivot Legal Society,
The public needs to recognize that it is either pay now (providing supports, resources and placements) or pay later (jails, youth detention, homelessness, school drop outs, gangs, mental health and addiction issues)…
The history of provincial child, youth, family and social services in BC is characterized by privatization, a fragmentation of service delivery, underfunding, frequent restructuring and a business model logic that frequently misses the mark. Important stakeholders do not have a strong voice in the policy arena.

My research into the sector leads me to recommend the following changes:

1. Address the current democracy deficit in the social service sector:
The current configuration (centralized policy making and de-centralized/privatized service delivery) has created fragmented services and a competitive and dysfunctional policy environment, and has sidelined too many stakeholders. 

2. Return to social work and youth work values:
Managerialism and business logic has crept into every aspect of the sector...Continuity of care for at-risk youth needs to be one of the guiding principles of this sector.

3. Reduce the corporate orientation of the non-profit sector:
The non-profit model that I believe in has an ongoing connection and dialogue with community members about the services needed, and is accountable to the community and children and youth they serve. I would like to see more social workers, youth workers, youth, parents, academics, politicians, activists, municipal and provincial bureaucrats, teachers, etc. as board members.

4. Invest in community-based youth services:
Community-based youth services that offer services to all youth but focus some of their resources on vulnerable youth in order to stabilize them in their communities should be enhanced. Many municipalities offer some youth services through their recreation departments or community centers. If municipal and provincial government would join forces/resources, this model could be enhanced.

5. Provide services for young adults/older youth leaving care

The vast majority of youth in care do not have the resources and/or life skills to transition into independence at the age of 19. Even the most privileged youth who come from supportive families rarely do. We need more services for young adults leaving care.

6. Focus on the needs of aboriginal youth
Aboriginal youth are over-represented among marginalized and homeless youth – according to research by the McCreary Centre, 57 % of street-involved youth are aboriginal... There are big differences between healthy and struggling native communities, aboriginal youth with and without Indian status, urban aboriginal youth and aboriginal youth living on-reserve (with a connection to community), first nations with and without settled land claims. We need to focus our resources on the most disadvantaged aboriginal youth, while also challenging the system which creates such harmful differentiation.

These policy recommendations are based on my SFU Masters Research Project: How have neoliberal shifts from the 1980s to the present day in social welfare delivery changed the services provided to street youth in Vancouver? The full text of this project can be found here:

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder: Invisible Disabilities

In my work with a wide range of people, I've seen the difficulties that people suffer due invisible disabilities. One of those challenging conditions is Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). Individuals living with this disability often experience heartbreaking realities unless they are able to receive consistent and caring support and access to community and professional resources to assist them in their struggles of daily life.

As mentioned below, once young people reach the age of majority, there is a harsh  transition to adulthood, where few services and supports exist to help those with FASD. Accessing resources through Community Living BC is extraordinarily difficult due to their criteria for accepting people.

Adult mental health services are also extremely limited in being able to offer the complex support that those living with FASD require, although the majority of these individuals have co-morbid conditions, such as depression and anxiety disorders.

Sadly, there has been little progress on the part of the BC government in resourcing a comprehensive plan for supporting the transition of young people to adulthood and support for adults with FASD. I wish government's would stop spending funds on writing feel-good reports and actually do something to resource community and professional services. If this support was available, so many people would benefit. 

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder: Building on Strengths
A Provincial Plan for British Columbia 2008 - 2018

The Ministry of Children and Family Development in collaboration with other provincial ministries, and in consultation with families, service providers, and clinical experts has developed a plan that focuses on six important objectives:
  • British Columbians are aware of the risk of alcohol and substance use in pregnancy and of FASD as a lifelong disability.
  • All women of childbearing age and their partners and support systems have access to early support and follow-up.
  • All pregnant women and mothers experiencing substance use problems, and their partners and support systems have access to focused intervention and support.
  • Children, youth and adults living with FASD have access to timely diagnosis and assessment.
  • Children, youth and adults living with FASD and their families and support networks have access to comprehensive and lifelong intervention and support.
  • Service systems are coherent, integrated and coordinated, and benefit from strong research and evaluation.


Maternal drinking casts lifelong shadow for children growing up with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder

By Keith Rozendal, Vancouver Sun November 9, 2012.

“All of a sudden she was gone.

“Boom — no reaction. Her arms and legs started shaking. I called the nurse in. Within the next 10 minutes they were doing a spinal tap without any anesthetic, nothing.’

Lydia Neufeld’s 13-year-old foster daughter had slipped away like this seven or eight times before, but this was the first time her doctors had seen it. They had no explanation.
Neufeld’s daughter has fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). While she grew in the womb, her birth mother drank alcohol. The substance penetrated the placenta and attacked the growing girl, leaving parts of her brain permanently shrunk, scrambled, or simply missing.

That prenatal injury stranded the Richmond teen in a world of noise and confusion. She suffers these spells — paralyzing panic attacks — whenever her brain can’t keep up with stimulation and rapid changes in her environment.

Hundreds of thousands of Canadians live with a wide range of physical and psychological disabilities caused by prenatal alcohol exposure, according to Health Canada estimates. They’re born with irreversible damage to brain and body. The injuries slow their childhood development, hold them back in school, create a chaotic adolescence and leave them unable to lead independent adult lives.

Complex disabilities

Neufeld’s daughter wrote a letter explaining her disability — and why ambulances sometimes rushed her from school — to her classmates.

“Because my biological mom was drinking alcohol during pregnancy with me, my brain was injured and works differently than your brain,” she told them. “I can’t learn as fast as you. Sometimes I need to hear things over and over to remember, but sometimes I still forget. It’s not because I’m trying not to remember. I really just can’t.” Her letter had an impact.

“The teachers were just in tears after listening to that letter,” Neufeld said. “And the kids started to understand what it’s like. It changed her life in school.”

This year, she’s resuming a full-time schedule of classes, after years of partial days.
Her doctors call the panic attacks she suffers a secondary disability because they’re best understood as being rooted in her brain’s inability to meet everyday thinking challenges.
As the teenager explains, “it is very hard to do stuff in school because of all the people and noise. My brain can’t handle so many things happening at the same time. Sometimes I can get very scared and I feel like my heart is going to burst out of my chest.”

More than 90 per cent of adolescents with FASD develop one or more mental health issues, including depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, substance abuse or aggressive behaviours. These secondary disabilities sometimes produce the only visible signs the person struggles with FASD.

“The more complex behaviours — acting out, tantrums, blaming, lying, stealing, all those things — are because they’re having their disability,” said Cheryl Penner, a counsellor for families with FASD at the Touchstone Family Association in Richmond. “When your little person is taking a tantrum on the floor, it’s not just that they want to be bad — they’re acting out a frustration and anger they don’t know how to cope with.”

Unfortunately, the secondary disabilities look a lot like misbehaviour. People’s misunderstanding lead them to see only kids behaving badly — telling lies, stealing, breaking rules, and not listening to their parent’s discipline. The children get in trouble at school. Out in public, their parents see a lot of disapproving looks.

“They’re being labelled as naughty children, when in fact they are disabled children,” said neuropsychologist Val McGinn. “People often look at these children and think, ‘Gosh, they’re dreadful parents.’ In fact, it’s a parent trying to do their best trying to manage a disabled child.”

Circle of support

When Audrey Salahub learned her adopted son had FASD, she began to surround her family with a supportive community. She educated herself and her Fraser Valley neighbours about the disorder.

“I thought, if my son were to ever survive in this world, he would need to be able to be in communities that knew about FASD,” she said.

One night, that vision of a protective circle of caring and understanding people crystallized in her mind.

“I saw this baby nestled in the petals of a lotus. I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s my son’,” she said.

“The petals of the lotus circled him and cushioned him, protecting him so that he could enjoy his life. I came to understand that this was about the circle of support that we need to provide for our families and our child. Each petal represents training and education and diagnosis and all of those things we need. Also acceptance, understanding, compassion and patience.”

The image became the logo of the Asante Centre, a clinic providing diagnosis and social services for people with FASD, which Salahub co-founded and where she now serves as executive director.

The people and relationships in the life of a person with FASD have a big influence on their success. Because the brain damage never resolves itself, people with FASD rely upon a supportive community their whole adult lives. Rather than independent living, they live lives of interdependence. So do their parents.

Neufeld has come to rely upon Penner, one of 69 provincial FASD key workers hired by the Ministry of Children and Family Development to assist parents in raising children with FASD. At one point, eight foster or adopted children with special needs lived in Neufeld’s Richmond house. Her daughter, now 15 years old, lives with an 18-year-old brother and a 10-year-old sister who also have an FASD.

The FASD key worker and parental support program started in 2005. More than 50 social service agencies across the province have contracted with the ministry to put key workers on staff. Families can request the free help even before their child receives a diagnosis. In a 2009 evaluation report, parents gushed with praise for the program. Neufeld is one of many who developed a tight bond with a key worker.

“If we didn’t have Cheryl Penner in the middle of our family, I don’t know what we would have done,” she said.

A personal touch

Penner proved essential in helping Neufeld’s daughter avoid new panic attacks. Together, the women created an innovative way to help the teen talk about what triggered her attacks.

“She wasn’t able to verbalize what she was worried about,” said Neufeld. “So I bought a bunch of small little toys that would represent doctors, the ambulance, animals and trees — any type of small toy she could play with in the sand and make a picture. Then I would ask her what was happening and she would be able to verbalize what she was feeling at the moment. She’d tell it like a story.”

The solution emerged from the detailed understanding of the girl’s specific disabilities and strengths, which was developed by Penner, a core goal of the FASD key worker approach.

Neufeld’s daughter loves reading and is highly verbal. The sand play used these strengths to help her talk about her fears.

Building on that storytelling gift, Penner then encouraged Neufeld’s daughter to begin penning the letter she eventually read to her classmates.

The letter supported another goal of the FASD key worker approach — to create a network of caring adults and peers that can provide ongoing support for the child when they are outside the family.

Key workers support the Ministry of Education’s provincial outreach program, helping public school teachers understand and accommodate their students with FASD. In other formal and informal presentations, key workers reach out to provide FASD education to all the important adults in a child’s life.

“It is our job to try to make links,” said Sharon Lund, supervisor of the B.C. Children’s Foundation key worker program.

“Then I have to hope that those links have gone to another person to support that. We’re not really going to be staying in their life for a long time. We need the individual, the parents, the caregivers, the foster parents. Whatever their community is, we need them educated the same ways because they are the ongoing support.”

Adult lives derailed

Unfortunately, many young adults with FASD face a dramatic drop-off in social supports when they turn 19. No longer considered minors, their access to the provincial key worker program and many other children’s social services end.

At the same time, most adult-oriented programs for the mentally handicapped remain closed to them.

Although FASD hinders their ability to handle the demands of daily living, their IQs scores tend to be near-normal, or fall just above the cutoffs that qualify them for supports from Community Living British Columbia for adults with developmental disabilities.

In response to their plight, CLBC created the Personalized Supports Initiative in 2010. Access to the program hinges on assessments of an individual’s ability to care for themselves, rather than intelligence tests.

The program also requires an FASD or autism diagnosis. If an adult meets these tailored qualifications, a case worker can help them find housing and work and can assist in running a household and many other needs.

Providing for young adults with FASD is an issue that sparks a lot of passion among families and FASD social service providers because the stakes are high.

“We’ve seen many youth just fall off the rails completely at that time,” said the Asante Centre’s Salahub. “They’ve lost that whole child welfare system and they have nothing. If there isn’t that kind of support system to help them manage some of the day-to-day things, they get in trouble with the law or they become victims of extreme abuse.”

‘Hell for two years’

Lydia Neufeld has seen her 18-year-old adoptive son with FASD falter just as this adult cutoff looms.

Struggling with academics and discipline, Neufeld’s son began skipping classes in Grade 10.

He stopped taking the medication controlling his attention problems and got in trouble with the law. His disability interfered with his ability to see the costs he paid for his misbehaviour, so he would get caught and punished repeatedly.

“We’ve had hell for two years,” Neufeld said.

Her son recently returned home from a five-month jail term and four months of in-patient drug and alcohol rehab. With one year left to access childhood services, he’s enrolled in a construction trades training program.

With modest levels of supervision — somebody to check in on him daily — Neufeld’s son might be able to work and live on his own. However, that duty will fall to his family and friends in less than a year.

Even with a confirmed FASD diagnosis, CLBC’s criteria for the personalized supports initiative require a very low score on a psychologist’s assessment of an applicant’s ability to take care of themselves. Many who could benefit from a support worker — like Neufeld’s son — are too high-functioning to qualify. Fewer than 150 adults with FASD have benefited from the $10-million program in the two and a half years since it debuted, according to CLBC.

Neufeld’s solution is to surround her son with caring people who provide positive influences as long as they stay in his life.

She called his classmates at the private school he had been ditching. Fifteen of his old friends and teachers agreed to watch out for him. They invite him out for basketball in the school gym and other activities. While he’s with them, they help him navigate daily appointments and abide by his curfew and the other conditions of his probation.

She sees this as the last hope to steer her son clear of a life on the streets, cycling in and out of jail. Despite the extraordinary challenges, Neufeld and her husband want their children to know they’ll never waver in their care and concern. “We say, ‘Always and forever, we will love you no matter what, but we don’t like the choices that you are making. We still love you in spite of those,’” Neufeld said. “They really crave that, to know they have a place go when they need it. We’re the only ones in the world that will be there for them. We never give up hope.”

Friday, October 12, 2012

Understanding the Impacts of Bullying & Harassment & How to Get Help

This post is dedicated to Amanda Todd (b. Nov. 27th, 1996 - d. Oct. 10th, 2012), a brave, beautiful young woman who took her own life this week after being subjected to the most brutal bullying, harassment and victimization imaginable by other young people in our community. This involved both cyber-bullying and real world actions and assault.

Amanda created a video to describe her suffering and she was crying out for help. There are many lessons to be learned in her video and her grieving mother, Carol Todd, has give permission for her video to be used to help other youth. 

“I think the video should be shared and used as an anti-bullying tool. That is what my daughter would have wanted,” Carol Todd, Amanda’s mother, told The Vancouver Sun in a message on Twitter.

I hope that young people, parents and others watch this to see what kind of an environment too many of our young people are living with every day. As adults, we must do more to stop this and to intervene earlier for the victims/survivors for this brutality. Bystanders must stop being silent and tell someone if you know of someone being bullied.
Amanda Todd: My story: Struggling, bullying, suicide, self harm 

On Sept. 7th, Amanda wrote: 

I'm struggling to stay in this world, because everything just touches me so deeply. I'm not doing this for attention. I'm doing this to be an inspiration and to show that I can be strong. I did things to myself to make pain go away, because I'd rather hurt myself then someone else. Haters are haters but please don't hate, although im sure I'll get them. I hope I can show you guys that everyone has a story, and everyones future will be bright one day, you just gotta pull through. I'm still here aren't I?

On Wednesday, October 10th, Amanda was found deceased at home in what appears to be suicide. Her struggle is over and her soul is now at peace. I send blessings and sympathies to her parents and family.

As a psychiatric social worker, working with youth who are admitted to an acute psychiatric in-patient unit, I have found that almost every single one of my young clients has been subjected to intense, chronic and damaging bullying and harassment by peers in the real world and in cyberspace.

Many switch schools, or even leave school altogether. Families move to get them out the community where they remain targets. Young people have told me about the safety plans they have had to create to get back and forth from home to school to avoid those who lay in wait for them. From what my clients and parents tell me, schools do little, if anything, to assist them and they are left on their own to cope with the devastating impacts of bullying and harassment, which include escalating mental health symptoms (anxiety and depression), feeling worthless, rejected, hopeless and suicidal. They often cannot see a better future is ahead for them.

As adults, we simply cannot ask why bullying is so rampant with young people without holding the mirror up to ourselves. Bullying and harassment is an epidemic in many workplaces. It has become a structural mechanism to create control and domination in the workplace. This a much bigger topic to be tackled on another day.

In the immediate I want to provide some resources for young people, for parents and for others so people can access help.

This is a video interview with Dr. Jenna Shapka, an expert on cyber-bullying, who discusses why it is much more difficult for victims to escape their bullies.She also offers some advice for parents.

These are resources I've created and previously posted to Advocacy BC:

Warning signs of suicide 

A person who is at risk of committing suicide usually shows signs - whether consciously or unconsciously - that something is wrong. Keep an eye out for:

  • signs of clinical depression
  • withdrawal from friends and family
  • sadness and hopelessness
  • lack of interest in previous activities, or in what is going on around them
  • physical changes, such as lack of energy, different sleep patterns, change in weight or appetite
  • loss of self-esteem, negative comments about self-worth
  • bringing up death or suicide in discussions or in writing
  • previous suicide attempts
  • getting personal affairs in order, such as giving away possessions, or having a pressing interest in personal wills or life insurance

Crisis numbers:

  • 24/7 Distress Phone Service - 1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433)
  • Call  310-6789 (no area code needed) - available throughout British Columbia.
Youth in BC - Phone: 1-800-SUICIDE
  • Get help by having a real-time online chat with a trained volunteer. Available from noon to 1am every day.
  • Get email support from the Crisis Centre’s professional staff by emailing:
Youthspace- chat, forum, e-mail counsellours and youth programs and services in Victoria, BC.
Kids Help Phone - 1-800-668-6868
  • A toll-free, 24-hour, confidential and anonymous phone counselling, web counselling and referral service for young people ages 20 and under.
Mental Health & Addiction Resources for Kids & Adults in BC   

Go to your family doctor, or GP, or even a walk-in clinic, or take your child, or teen. Request a referral to your local mental health team, or MCFD Child & Youth Mental Health (CYMH). 

Contact MCFD Regional Offices to find your local CYMH office:

Locate an office in your region:

Call Service BC for the phone number for your local CYMH centre: 

Victoria: 250-387-6121 


Elsewhere in B.C.:1-800-663-7867 


Go to your local hospital emergency and tell them you, or your loved one, are feeling depressed, anxious or having thoughts of self-harm, or suicide. 

Find a counsellor in the community to talk about the things that are bothering you, or take your children to a counsellor. 
Counselling BC - search for counsellors, marriage & family therapists and psychologists

Find a Psychologist - BC College of Psychologists
Find a Social Worker - Private Practice Registry for Social Workers, by region and type of services.  
Find a Counsellor with the BC Association of Clinical Counsellors
Find a Play Therapist - BC Association of Play Therapists

Friday, September 21, 2012

Welfare: 1968 to 2011: Musings from a 34 Year Veteran on working the front lines of the Welfare Ministry


Lelaine Muir attended the School of Social Work at the University of British Columbia and spent her career working as a front line income assistance worker in the welfare ministry for 34 years. In that time she has seen dramatic changes in the philosophy, public policy, practice and administration of income assistance. Lelaine, now retired, kindly offered to write a piece for Advocacy BC on some of her experiences working with B.C.’s most vulnerable people. 

Welfare: 1968 to 2011

Lelaine Muir, September 18, 2012. Edited by Tracey Young, Advocacy BC

I would like to dedicate my musings on working the front lines of income assistance in Vancouver’s urban core to all people on income assistance, past, present, and future. Some of the finest people I have ever met have been on welfare. Income assistance recipients are, in my opinion, the most open and honest about who and what they are. For this I truly respect and admire them. 

When I started working, income assistance workers were considered helping professionals. While I worked on the front lines of the welfare ministry I attended the School of Social Work at the University of British Columbia (UBC). To me social work is an honourable profession. We make a difference in people’s lives by working on increasing quality of life through building self-esteem, and always moving the client forward towards financial independence and healthier life styles. In welfare, we were the first line of defence in recognizing and intervening in child neglect and abuse, addictions, mental health, social disabilities, criminal activity, and immigration issues. 

I have a number of stories that have stayed with me over the years of my work and they demonstrate some of the changes the welfare ministry has gone through in how we treat clients. In the 1970’s while working at a welfare office on Homer Street in Vancouver, a man entered our building in distress. He appeared quite ill due alcohol abuse. He had defecated in his clothing and he had been living in these clothes for days. Our conundrum was who would transport him to a community social service agency that was able to offer him assistance. We drew straws and I pulled the short one. My colleagues were kind enough to cover the passenger seat of my two-seat sports car with newspaper and helped get the client into my car. They also provided me with a jar of Noxzema cream to hold under my nose to keep from retching. Holding the jar in itself was a feat because I drove a standard forcing me to shift and steer with one hand. 

As soon as we arrived at the community agency the gentleman was taken to a bathroom and stripped of his clothing so the garments could be incinerated. The gentleman was then placed in a large bathtub in a large room. The social worker with this agency was bathing the gentleman when I was brought into the same room. I sat on a stool in the furthest corner and completed the income assistance application while the gentleman was bathed. The gentleman was found eligible for income assistance and medical coverage all within the same day. The client now had two support groups within hours of contact. 

After thirty-four years with welfare, I came to believe that, in many cases, people were failed by their families and the adults in their lives when they were young. They were failed by the school system, by their communities and social service agencies and society, as a whole. As adults, they are punished because they grew up to be dysfunctional people in need of support. 

Over the years, many clients have disclosed childhoods plagued by neglect, abuse, torture, and trauma. Clients have told me about growing up in deep poverty, alcoholism, drug addiction, family violence, suicide, and even having to eat food off a dirty floor thrown there by the adults who were suppose to love and care for them. I have had clients describe being chased out of their beds in the middle of the night by a drunk, violent father carrying an axe and hiding outside in winter in northern British Columbia in their pajamas, fearful of being found. 

In welfare work our goals of service used to be about striving to provide people with dignity and quality of life. This began to change and soon, it appeared as though the welfare ministry, now called the Ministry of Social Development (MSD), refused to acknowledge that a core segment of our society are unable to function, and most likely never will and they require social assistance to survive. 

Around 2009 a senior manager came to my office to tell our team that we were no longer a helping profession, we were now a business. When I inquired how we were to make money off of the poor and disadvantaged the senior manager stated, “By diverting costs.” In subsequent team meetings my colleagues and I began brainstorming how diverting costs would take shape and how it would affect delivery of service. Several times I tried to remind my teammates we worked with human beings. 

In the spirit of this changing mandate I offered a few helpful suggestions. I suggested we remove our name, address, and phone number from the blue pages of the phone book so people wouldn’t be able to find us at all. I also recommended we build a moat complete with drawbridge and pull up said drawbridge so people couldn’t manage to make it into the offices. Following fortification we could let it be known in the community that, if people could find us we may, and only may, help them. 

“Diverting costs” has taken a tremendous toll on the poorest in our province. One day an administrative staff person approached me expressing concern about how one particular client was being treated. I looked into the case and discovered a twenty-year-old woman who was suffering from severe mental health issues. Her father was in the background trying to support her bid for independence. 

During this process the young woman was approved for Persons with Disability (PWD) classification by the Health Assistance Branch in Victoria. However the intake worker who had completed the income assistance application at the local office had not found her eligible for basic income assistance, almost four months after she made her application. I approached my colleague with information of the mental health issues and the approval for PWD. The worker said, “Well now I am going to ask her to write out how she has survived for the last three months without our help.” 

I felt it was inhumane to create further delays in helping this young woman, who was suffering mental health issues, so I called the client. We tried to find a time the young lady could come in to see me, but there were no available times. I asked the young lady to come in on my lunch hour. When we met in my office, I explained her eligibility for income assistance, and that I would make arrangements for her to receive the funds she was eligible for. The young lady said, “I would like to give you a hug, but I guess it’s not very professional?”  I replied, “I have had many a hug in my career.” She dropped her backpack, threw her arms around me, and sobbed into my shoulder saying, “You have saved my life.”  

I would enjoy a good debate about BC’s welfare system, which, in my opinion, used to be one of the finest. Clients were recognized for their individuality and were treated with respect and humanity. Plans and goals were devised to meet the individual’s needs and built on their strengths and capacities. Education, training, and apprenticeship programs were preferred so clients could find better paying jobs and more sustainable employment.
Another client I remember was a single mother who was struggling with mental health issues. She had a teenage daughter and they needed additional supports because of her illness. Once the mother was found eligible for PWD, she brought me a picture she had painted, with a card that read, “I am not much of an artist, but I wanted to show my appreciation for all you did for us. You kept me hanging on. And most importantly you treated me like a human being. Something no one else has done.” 

After working under the new business model I started to apologize to clients for the system and my inability to assist them. By now my employer had made clear to me and my colleagues that care, dignity and compassion were no longer relevant in the welfare ministry. I also found myself apologizing to social workers with the Ministry of Children and Families, social workers with the hospitals, staff at facilities, and service providers because services were being withdrawn from the most vulnerable. Social workers were putting in hours of work to arrange plans for people, only to find no one at the welfare offices were available, or no-one knew the clients and could participate in case conferences and assist in implementing plans that would support clients. 

Another situation that stayed with me was that of a single mother with two small pre-school children who had approached the welfare office for additional support. She explained she and her two children were hungry. They had no food or funds due to bills being higher than usual and unexpected additional expenses. The worker dealing with this woman told her to go and find free food.  I could see that where once we were a helping profession, now we were creating more stress in the lives of parents who were already struggling. It is these kinds of conditions that trigger feelings of anger, despair and hopelessness that can lead to acts of child abuse and/or neglect when parents have hit walls in receiving help for them and their children. 

In the MSD business model of income assistance delivery, I found no understanding of social or human issues. This business model does not understand, or care about the social and health impacts of poverty on individuals’ and families.  Nor does this model recognize mental health or addictions, lack of education and literacy, lack of social skills, lack of day care or the many ills that befall vulnerable human beings, because it is not profitable to do so. 

Welfare came into existence because people needed help and there will always be people who need help due to their own personal circumstances. From what I have experienced, working in the welfare Ministry over the years, I now believe there is a segment of society who wish the poor and vulnerable would just go away and die and clean up after themselves so no one will ever know they were there in the first place. 

People on income assistance can be our family, friends, or neighbours. Someday it could be you, or someone you know. The health of our communities is measured by how our most vulnerable are treated and far too many in our communities have been deprived of what they need. I remember a time when everyone was treated with respect and dignity. With the political will of the B.C. government it can ensure that the human rights of our most fragile citizens are values that are the foundation of our welfare system.