Mother of youth failed by system lauds recommendations
The mother of a youth who started a fatal fire at a boarding house in St. John’s two years ago says a newly released report from the child youth advocate offers solutions that would have helped her son.
But she wants the provincial government to do more than simply admit to failures in the system.
“The recommendations are fine,” said the woman in an email to The Telegram Wednesday. “They do address the deficiencies, but unless (the government is) held ac-countable and re-quired to show how each recommendation is going to be implemented and someone is going to ensure that they are followed, they are really useless.”
The report, titled “Sixteen,” presents 30 recommendations for multiple government departments and agencies to consider implementing. Most of those recommendations are specific to Child, Youth and Family Services (CYFS), which placed him in an alternative living arrangement at the age of 15.
Speaking to reporters Tuesday, CYFS Minister Paul Davis admitted issues identified in the report have been brought up in the past. He noted it was a period of transition for the department when the incidents outlined in the report occurred. He also said some of the report’s recommendations were similar to recommendations made in the past that the government has since implemented.
Asked Wednesday whether she has seen evidence of that, Chafe spoke about the timeline of her work.
“In this investigation ... all the information that I gather, which includes reviewing documents and interviewing people and looking at currents practices, that’s what leads me to my recommendations. While this was an incident that occurred in 2011, the investigation has been ongoing for the past two years, and the interviewing of professionals was just within the past year. Therefore, the recommendations I put forth are things that I feel have to be implemented.”
In a statement released to media Tuesday, child youth advocate Carol Chafe said deficiencies within the system prevented the youth’s voice from being heard and that “his rights were not respected and his right to services was not upheld.”
The young man, who cannot be identified by name, was sentenced to a three-year youth term last October for his role in the death of 54-year-old Carlos Escobar-Melina. He pleaded guilty to manslaughter, three counts of arson with disregard to human life, arson causing bodily harm, and breach of court orders.
Unless (government is) held accountable and required to show how each recommendation is going to be implemented and someone is going to ensure that they are followed, they are really useless. Mother of youth failed by system
The mother previously told The Telegram she elected to proceed with the child abandonment process before he turned 16. She said her son had drug and alcohol problems that were exacerbated by mental health issues. She also claimed he had threatened to kill her and once cut her with a knife.
Her son, now 18, has been doing well since entering the Whitbourne Youth Centre (he has stayed there since his arrest in 2011 and did not request credit for time-served when sentenced last year). According to his mother, the youth has completed grades 10, 11 and 12 and is completing work to eventually become a tradesman. He is also taking medications to treat chronic depression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
“He is taking meds and is back to the nice, sweet boy he used to be,” she said. “He just needed a little help.”
Such help appeared to have been lacking prior to his arrest based on the findings of the child youth advocate’s report. Chafe identified issues with training, lack of collaboration between departments and agencies, poor documentation, inefficient on-call services, and inadequate mental health assessment and access to care. There was also an inappropriate dual case assignment to a social worker who served as both a youth services worker and a youth corrections worker.
In addition to CYFS, recommendations were made in the report specific to the departments of Justice and Health and Community Services, Eastern Health, and the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary
The mother remains critical of the professionals who were tasked with helping her son.
“In my experience, not one of these people who had contact with my son cared about helping him,” she said. “Actions speak loudly. If employees are not held accountable for their actions, the system will never change.”