Representative for Children and Youth Bernard Richard. (Black Press)

B.C. youth agency closes after staff member gave teen drugs

Minister Katrine Conroy says criminal record checks, audits underway

B.C.’s child and youth watchdog says he is “gravely concerned” about the operation of some residential agencies contracted by the province after a Lower Mainland agency was closed in May due to drug involvement by a staff member.

“I was shocked and disappointed to learn that, in May of this year, issues at yet another Lower Mainland residential agency had resulted in its closure by the ministry,” Bernard Richard said in a statement Tuesday.

Richard said a youth in care at the the unnamed agency came forward with information that a staff member was gang-affiliated, had taken him and others on drug drops, had smoked marijuana with a youth and offered him cocaine.

Richard said that through an investigation by the Ministry of Children and Family Development, it was found that only 10 of 33 staff and caregivers had completed criminal record and other security-screening criteria.

Nine of the employees have since been barred permanently from further such work and 13 others are being further screened due to concerning information.

Children and Family Development Minister Katrine Conroy said in a statement she has ordered a full review of the situation for each of the more than 800 children and youth currently placed in contracted residential agency homes. More staff have been assigned to make sure criminal record checks are done for all staff, and social workers have to “regularly visit” the young people to check on their safety and well-being, she said.

“It will take time to get where we need to be,” Conroy said. “In the meantime, there can be no excuses in situations where children in our care are not looked after properly.”

Richard said that in his 2017 report on the tragic suicide of Abbotsford teen Alex Gervais, one of the key recommendations to the ministry, now led by Conroy, was to allocate necessary resources to enhance the review process and background screening of staff that work in agencies contracted by the government.

Katrine Conroy (Black Press Media files)

But while the ministry created a centralized screening hub, Richard said only half of B.C.’s residential agencies have yet to screen their staff.

“Sixteen months after the release of Alex’s Story – and nearly three years after his death – MCFD has still not reviewed the backgrounds and qualifications of all staff who are currently providing care to children and youth in contracted residential agencies in B.C. Children and youth in these facilities continue to be exposed to risk,” Richard said. “This is clearly unacceptable.”

In a letter to Conroy, Richard detailed other incidents, including a staff member fired in 2016 for smoking crack cocaine with a youth resident present, then threatening the youth for reporting the incident.

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