Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Government condemns these children to suffering

VICTORIA - What kind of government can boot disabled 19-year-olds into the world knowing they face almost certain failure?
Not just the usual struggles of any young adult, but full-on disasters - poverty, chaos, crime, exploitation, sexual abuse and just plain lonely misery.
Child and Youth Officer Jane Morley has just reported on what happens to children in care with fetal alcohol disorder when they turn 19. The report reminds us that behind the statistics there are scared, struggling young people thrown alone into a world where they little chance of coping.
Fetal alcohol syndrome and its related disorders are terribly cruel afflictions. When a mother drinks during pregnancy the fetus can suffer permanent neurological damage, often with few physical symptoms. The effects are cruel. Children and adults suffering from the disorder often have great difficulty in looking ahead even a few minutes to judge the consequences of actions. They are impulsive and take big risks, without realizing that's what they are doing. Their social skills and judgment are terrible, leaving them at once lonely and isolated and vulnerable to exploitation by people who pretend to befriend them. They have difficulty learning and performing even moderately complex tasks.
None of this means that they can't also be sweet and successful people. They can work and manage and contribute, although a lot of support is often needed.
But they rarely get that help. Morley's report looked at what happens to children in government care with fetal alcohol disorders in government care when they turn 19. It's disheartening.
For most young people, turning 19 is a milestone. They still count on parental help and support, and likely will for several years. But they're moving on into the world.
For kids in government care - about 9,000 today - it's a terrible turning point. The children and families ministry assumes they are adults. They're sent away from foster homes.  The supports and counselling they were receiving end abruptly. They are on their own.
It's a ridiculous way to treat anyone. It's disastrous for youths with fetal alcohol disorders.
Morley's study looked at six real young people who were close to the age of 19. It evaluated the support they were receiving, their personal progress and problems and the help they would need to make it in the world.
Then the report looked at the help they would actually get under current government policies. That is, for the most, part, none.
So Ashley, 17, will be expected to live on her own, find work or get welfare, manage her money and avoid life's pitfalls with little or no structured help and no special financial assistance.
Except that today Ashley is receiving extensive support in a foster home. She can't manage money on her own, use public transit or shop for groceries. She forgets appointments and obligations and is lonely and insecure. She is already being exploited by people who see her as an easy victim.
Ashley's story could have a happy ending. She's going to high school and working in the cafeteria. She thinks, realistically, that with help she could have a good life. Her social worker and caregiver agree.
But instead she will be set adrift in world where she can not survive on her own.
That's immoral and costly. Picking up the pieces of shattered lives costs much more than providing needed help before it is too late.
Morley makes several recommendations, starting with a call for the government to provide transitional support that would continue until these people reach 24. Most children already receive such help; it's ludicrous to deny it to those who need it most.
But that's what the government has done. It is now fighting a B.C. Supreme Court ruling that it is illegal to cut off needed support arbitrarily at 19.
Children and Families Minister Tom Christensen won't commit to accepting any of Morley's recommendations.
We should all be ashamed.
Footnote: The province has a fetal alcohol strategy, but it emphasizes prevention and work with children and youth. A $10-million one-time grant to the Victoria Foundation earlier this year was also focused on those areas. Young adults, especially children aging out of care, have received little attention. Morley's report is available at


Anonymous said...

To expand the concern for identified youth impacted by drug and alcohol exposure in utero, is the alarming fact of how few children gain access to assessment. The assessment would provide a plan for assistance in the school setting, sometimes as minimal as a shift in thinking by classroom teachers, sometimes as dramatic as a classroom aid. THe point is preventing a cycle of failure. Funding is linked to assessment. Consider the added need for security for an impacted child in a world where internal cues are absent, external cues are essential. The likelihood of one foster home being the only placement or disruption to attachment to a child aging out of the system is minimal. The fact is, for children impacted by pre natal exposure to susbstances, the world compounds their challenges by being unstable and unable to offer the tools that can make life manageable. The criminal justice system is full of people with this assessed and in far greater numbers unassessed disability. It is a problem bigger than the ministry for children and families, though, they can certainly extend services for over nineteen year olds with continuing need, it is a prevention issue. Prevention in pregnancy, prevention in support in home for infants entering the world with challenge and parent who will need a path to health and education to the kinds of daily interventions that can impact their childs life experience. Child centered placements if a child enters care and a committment to finding and maintaining long term placements and ultimately life time support.

Anonymous said...

One of the big problems with the first nation folks appears to be Fetal Alchohol. No matter how much money gets put into the pot, unless systems are in place with some percentage of success we are just spinning our collective wheels. Folks keep talking about suicides, spousal abuse and school drop outs fires in overcrowded homes, on reserves but don't quite get around to admitting the booze is a big issue. Once some poor child gets born and possibly gets some programs to keep them alive, this heartless government cuts them off at a certain age. If one is subject to such issues at the age of 16, why does anyone thing it will be different for them when they pass a magic number. Governemtns must pay up front or pay later down the line, with jailing folks who simpy don't have the ability to make out on their own. The Federal government is spending a huge amount of money over abuses in residential schools. Some of the adults can't cope and pass along the problems to the enxt generation. There has to be a better way.

Anonymous said...

Thank goodness MCFD is deploying 'fraud squads' throughout the province (aka Residential Options Project) to give even more people the "freedom in how they choose their residential support."

At least the issue of children 'ageing out' of MCFD has been brought forward. Now it is time for CLBC to do the right thing and support these kidz - instead of wasting time and resources kicking folks out of their supported homes.

Anonymous said...

What is a Psychopath?
Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of Psychopaths Among Us
Robert Hare, in his 1993 book says: "Psychopaths are social predators who charm, manipulate, and ruthlessly plow their way through life, leaving a broad trail of broken hearts, shattered expectations, and empty wallets."

"Completely lacking in conscience and feelings for others, they selfishly take what they want and do as they please, violating social norms and expectations without the slightest sense of guilt or regret."

"He will choose you, disarm you with his words, and control you with this presence. He will delight you with his wit and his plans. He will show you a good time, but you will always get the bill. He will smile and deceive you, and he will scare you with his eyes. And when he is through with you, and he will be through with you, he will desert you and take with him your innocence and your pride. You will be left much sadder but not a lot wiser, and for a long time you will wonder what happened and what you did wrong. And if another of his kind comes knocking at your door, will you open it?"

Are we being governed by one?

Massbile said...

Very informational article, thanks. I have children within the school system and usually unaware of the things that go on. Great posts too.

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