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Indigenous Child Welfare Directors Say Involuntarily Detained Youth Lack the Culturally Appropriate Treatment and Supports Needed for Meaningful Healing

Coast Salish Territory- Growing numbers of Indigenous youth are being placed in involuntary detention under the Mental Health Act without the promised culturally appropriate supports and recovery pathways in place, which is leading to more trauma and not the healing experience they deserve. 

The Representative for Children and Youth report Detained: Rights of children and youth under the Mental Health Act  released today shows the use of involuntary detainment is on the rise, and youth are describing a solitary, lonely and confusing experience followed by medication and then being released to fend for themselves. 

“Little attention has been paid by the health system to the unique ways that Indigenous children and youth experience detainment and institutionalization, said Mary Teegee, Executive Director of Carrier Child and Family Services and Chair of the Indigenous Directors Forum “When we medicalize young Indigenous people’s trauma, we individualize it and make them responsible to heal from all of the ways they have been hurt and victimized. We don’t change the structures, but we expect the outcomes to be different.” 

The report notes that discharge planning is insufficient and young people reported that little had changed for them when they left, life circumstances often remained the same. This has led to a revolving door of involuntary detainment and re-traumatization. 

Anecdotal data from the Ministry of Health suggests that Indigenous youth are over-represented in involuntary admissions and involuntary admissions are particularly punishing for youth in care who can lack a caring adult to advocate on their behalf. One health care provider reported mental health detention for youth in care being prolonged, because they couldn’t find an adequate placement for the child. 

The RCY and other recent reports including from the Ombudsperson and the Community Legal Assistance Society illustrate that not only does BC have the most antiquated standards in Canada when it comes to rights of the detained, but that even these minimal standards are not being met.  

“B.C.’s Mental Health Act was written in 1964 and has not been significantly amended since. As Indigenous people we can no longer to look the current system to correct the failings of the past, we need to shift the investment focus to programs and services which are rooted in Indigenous values and practice,” said Jennifer Chuckry, Executive Director of Surrounded by Cedar Child & Family Services. “Are we detaining youth for their sake or just so that we can feel we are doing something whether it works or not?” 

Delegated Aboriginal Agencies support the RCY’s 14 recommendations and propose the following actions to support youth to heal and prosper: 

  • Additional resources for adequate culturally safe wellness and mental health services for Indigenous youth that can curb the need to consider involuntary detention of Indigenous youth 
  • Real investment in Delegated Aboriginal Agency prevention programming 
  • Trained system navigators assigned to youth upon involuntary detainment, navigators would ensure that the human rights of youth are preserved and respected 
  • Education materials which clearly communicate the rights of detained Indigenous youth and available advocacy services 

“Many of the youth reported needing help at the moment of family breakdown or to cope with grief and loss, not receiving help at these pivotal moments worsened their mental health,” said Yvonne Hare, Executive Director of Secwépemc Child & Family Services. “Delegated Aboriginal Agencies who are already in relationship with many of these youth are well positioned to deliver upstream culturally safe programming, curbing the need for detainment, isolation and medicalization of our children and youth.” 

Media contact: 

Mary Teegee (Maaxw Gibuu), IMBA  

Chair, BC Indigenous Directors Forum 

Delegated Aboriginal Agencies 

Ph: 250-612-8710 

About the Directors Forum 

The Directors Forum, a coalition of executives responsible for managing the 24 delegated Aboriginal Agencies in BC, agencies representing 60% of First Nations in the province. As a collective and expert voice on child welfare matters, the Directors Forum bring decades of frontline experience working with Indigenous children and families.