Charlene Johnson — File photo
The minister of Child, Youth and Family Services (CYFS) in Newfoundland and Labrador says providing mental health services for youth under the care of parents or caregivers is not her department's responsibility.
"We wouldn't want to get to a place where we're duplicating the service that health (and community services) provides in terms of mental health counselling, but certainly our social workers deal with the children in our care on a regular basis," said Charlene Johnson.
Her department was criticized earlier this week by the mother of a 16-year-old boy facing multiple charges, including manslaughter, in relation to the Nov. 27 fire on Springdale Street in St. John's that claimed the life of a 54-year-old man.
In a story in Monday's edition of The Telegram, the mother said CYFS did not properly respond to her pleas for help.
She said her son had mental health issues and was dealing with drug and alcohol addictions.
"I asked Child, Youth and Family Services over and over and over again, 'How do you protect a child from (himself)?' There was everything in the act to protect a child from a parent, but there was nothing in there to protect a child from the child."
Johnson said CYFS becomes the substitute parent in situations where a child is at risk or a parent is unable or unwilling to care for them.
"If that parent is doing everything that a parent should do to care for the child, then the department would not have a role," she said, speaking in general terms. "We don't have any more access to mental health or addictions services than a parent would have. We access the exact same services."
The mother of the accused teen engaged in the child abandonment process over concerns her son would harm her. He was on probation for threatening to kill his mother, and she said he cut her with a knife last year.
She claimed a hearing in Unified Family Court was derailed because a plan of care, to be prepared by CYFS, was not filed by the Department of Justice.
Two weeks later, her son turned 16 years old, and he was sent to the not-for-profit organization Choices for Youth. A short while later, he was moved to Springdale Street, where he lived on $60 per week.
Johnson said it takes no more than 10 days to complete a plan of care once a child is removed from their home and is finished no later than noon before a presentation hearing.
She said CYFS cares for many youth with mental health issues and drug addictions. It facilitates and encourages youth under the department's care to make use of mental health services, but Johnson said it cannot force them to do so.
"Neither can a parent, when you look at it. I suppose you could physically take a child that's 16 or 17 into an appointment, but I'm not sure what purpose it would serve, because I'm not sure what their participation would be like."
This remains the case for those under CYFS care who require counselling as a condition of probation. Though they may face penalties, Johnson said, her department cannot force its hand in such instances.
CYFS recently transitioned staff previously associated with Eastern Health to work within its department. Services covered by Labrador-Grenfell Health will be transfered over the winter.
"We always collaborate with health, justice and any other department we need to," said Johnson, who stressed the transfer of services did not involve any mental health services.
Johnson went on to say having improved access to mental health services for youth is needed and will be addressed by youth treatment centres planned for Grand Falls-Windsor and Paradise.
According to the Department of Health and Community Services, the next tenders for both facilities will likely be announced before the end of December.
Until contracts are evaluated and bids are awarded, the department said it is too soon to estimate when either facility will be completed.
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