VANCOUVER – Dozens of children, mostly aboriginals, formed a suicide pact in a downtown Vancouver community earlier this year that prompted police to step in and have some of them hospitalized for their own safety.
Other children blacked out from heavy drinking and participated in acts of self harm over several months this year, according to a document obtained by The Canadian Press.
While residents and professionals were able to respond to the crises between the spring and autumn, a community group is now calling for a major shift in how services are funded and delivered by the provincial government.
Troubling details of the incidents in the city’s Grandview-Woodland area, which is located near the Downtown Eastside, are included in the report written by the Network of Inner City Community Services, a consortium of groups that helps co-ordinate the delivery of services to individuals, children and families.
Kate Hodgson, the group’s executive director, did not respond to several requests for comment.
But Sgt. Randy Fincham of the Vancouver police said officers got involved after they were tipped off about youths who were chatting about suicide on social media.
“To my knowledge it wasn’t suicide attempts, it was discussions regarding future suicide plans,” he said. “So there was no intervention that had gone that far, to my knowledge, where any of these youths had attempted to commit suicide.”
Fincham said officers intervened and got the youths the help they needed.
According to the report, the suicide pact included 30 youths, 24 of whom were taken to hospital in late September as part of a “preventative crisis response.”
The report says the children were between the ages of 12 and 15, were mostly aboriginal and lived in the Grandview-Woodland community.
During the summer, parents and outreach workers learned about “increasing incidents of self-harm in group context by inner city children and youth” the report adds.
Between the spring and summer, large groups of children, mostly 12- and 13-year-olds from the same community, drank until they blacked out and had to be treated in BC Children’s Hospital, the report says.
While the crises drew a response from youth and social workers, police and medical officials, the report says gaps in the system became apparent.
“(The system) has not provided an adequate, preventative, long-term response to children and families living in the community and their day-to-day realities,” says the report.
“These children and youth need positive relationship-based connections to family, peers and workers to help them both navigate these systems and have positive, healthy outcomes.”
The report recommends the adoption of a so-called “place-based strategy” to help deal with a high number of children with special needs, and a “culture of violence and failure in the inner city.”
Other issues include parents struggling with addiction, family violence and abuse, and limited public resources.
The strategy would use schools, community centres and other public assets to provide ongoing mental-health and family support services, and also keep children not in school still connected to schools.
“This would require a major shift in the current funding and program delivery model by the province, including (Ministry of Children and Family Development) and their contracted services,” says the report.
Stephanie Cadieux, minister of children and family development, was unavailable for comment, but her ministry provided a written statement on the incidents.
“As a government, we are continually striving to improve the way we work, across government and within communities, to prevent youth suicide,” the ministry said in an email.
The ministry said government is extremely concerned any time youths face a potential of harm so officials acted quickly, contacting parents and working with partner agencies like the health authority and school districts to make sure services were available.
The ministry said a community-intervention session was held to educate parents about self harm, suicidal thoughts and pacts.
“Young people and their families need to know that if they are feeling alone, sad, or suicidal, help is available and they can speak to their family physicians, teachers or school guidance councillors,” noted the ministry.