The Indigenous Child & Family Services Directors welcomes the Ombudsperson’s report on separate confinement in youth custody.
We are distressed but not surprised to learn that Indigenous youth are separately confined more frequently and for longer periods than non-Indigenous youth.
It is well-established that separate confinement causes and worsens mental illness. And yet the report reveals that separate confinement is commonly used to “protect” youth who are self-harming or suicidal. Separate confinement is a clearly inappropriate treatment for youth experiencing mental health crises and is fundamentally inconsistent with MCFD’s commitments to trauma-informed practice. It is used because there are no services to address the mental health needs of youth in custody.
Mary Teegee, Chair of the ICFS Directors notes that: “Our children and youth are suffering from generations of colonial practices. Those who are suffering the most end up in youth custody, but we cannot forget that these incarcerated youth are children whose minds, bodies and spirits are still developing. They desperately need connections—to family, to culture, to the land. Healing begins through connection—not in separate confinement.”
We support the ombudsperson’s recommendations for eliminating or significantly reducing the separate confinement of youth in custody.
More broadly, however, this report joins many others in demonstrating that loss of connection has pushed Indigenous child and youth mental health to a crisis point. Just last week, the RCY released a report on the life and death of Skye, an Indigenous child in the care of BC’s Ministry of Children and Family Development. The report describes how MCFD social workers actively severed each and every meaningful connection Skye managed to form during her short life, including with: her mother, her sister, her sister’s adoptive mother, her Indigenous foster parents, and a counsellor Skye had been seeing since the age of three.
For decades, Delegated Aboriginal Agencies have been supporting Indigenous children and youth to maintain and build strong connections to their families, communities, cultures and lands. MCFD has frequently thwarted those efforts through colonial policies, standards and funding approaches. These approaches have produced a patchwork system of child & family services that repeatedly perpetuate further harms.
Meeting the complex mental health needs of our children and youth is an urgent priority. We urge the Government of British Columbia to establish a cross ministry working group inclusive of Indigenous service providers to address Indigenous child and youth wellness.
Ombudsperson’s News Release – Ombudsperson calls for sweeping changes to separate confinement of youth in custody
Ombudsperson’s Report – Alone: The Prolonged and Repeated Isolation of Youth in Custody
RCY Report – Skye’s Legacy: A Focus on Belonging