Children and Family Development Minister Katrine Conroy (Black Press)

Youth in care need better path to independence, B.C. experts say

Lack of family, addiction and mental illness mean more early deaths

Young people leaving government care were five times more likely to die than those in the general population, often after struggling with mental health and addiction problems, a study by the B.C. Coroners Service has found.

A panel of experts in youth services, child support, public health, law enforcement and other professions is calling for extended supports for young people who age out of government care, and monitoring of outcomes to improve policy.

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The panel studied deaths of people aged 17-25 in B.C. from 2011 to 2016, where 1,546 died from causes classified as accidental, suicide, undetermined, natural or homicide. Of those, 200 were in care, formerly in care or receiving extensive support services.

Children and Family Development Minister Katrine Conroy said improvements have been made since 2016. A new mental health and addictions ministry has been added, with funding provided for additional substance abuse treatment beds, mental health practitioners and counselling services.

“We know there’s more work to do,” Conroy said. “We’ve hired more youth workers, we’ve improved practice and we need to continue making improvements.”

“The issue of successful transition to adulthood for these young people is broader than just the scope of the Ministry of Children and Family Development,” said Michael Egilson, who chaired the 19-member panel. “The roles of indigeneous partners in education, advanced education, health and mental health ministries are also critical.”

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