The Ministry of Children and Family Development plans to organize a community forum with more than 25 organizations to discuss news of a suicide pact involving 30 East Side youth, most of whom were aboriginal.
The ministry announced the forum in an email statement to the Courier Wednesday but had not determined a location or date for the forum.
“The forum will involve approximately 25 to 30 service providers, professionals and parents to debrief what has happened, their response and identify strategies and a plan to minimize the risk to future incidents and ensure the response and services are optimal,” said the statement from the ministry.
The forum was prompted by news that outreach agencies, along with staff from B.C. Children’s Hospital and the Vancouver Police Department, intervened and disrupted a suicide pact in September.
Scott Clark, executive director of Alive, an aboriginal advocacy group, said the pact was discovered by aboriginal youth workers and via Facebook.
Their intervention resulted in 24 of the youth, most of whom were between 12 and 15 years old and primarily from the Grandview-Woodland neighbourhood, admitted to hospital for mental health assessments.
The pact was a culmination of several months of increasing drunkenness and self-harm by the youth, said Clark, adding that help was sought from the ministry, the Vancouver Aboriginal Children and Family Services Society and contractors working in social services.
He wrote a letter to Stephanie Cadieux, the minister of Children and Family Development, expressing his concern about what he believes was a breakdown in support services for aboriginal kids.
“Basically, the needs and obvious cries for help from these children were ignored or not responded to in a consistent, relevant manner that could have resulted in a positive outcome,” Clark wrote in his Oct. 10 letter.
In response, Cadieux said ministry staff would review the government’s response to the crisis with the government-funded Vancouver Aboriginal Children and Family Services Society.
“We can learn valuable lessons in terms of early responses including collaborative opportunities that may have been missed,” Cadieux said in her letter, which Clark released to media at a press conference Tuesday.
He told the Courier his organization hasn’t been contacted about the forum or government’s review and he hoped Alive, other aboriginal agencies, schools and parents would be consulted.
Clark said the youth involved in the pact are still vulnerable, despite those admitted to hospital being set up with wellness plans. Most of the youth went back to drinking, some have attempted suicide and others have become involved in violent events, he said.
The statement from the ministry said social workers and service providers “have been working together with individual youth involved and their families to ensure their safety and well-being, and to ensure the appropriate services are coordinate to address the needs of this vulnerable group.”
Earlier this month, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, the B.C. Representative for Children and Youth, released a report on understanding the needs of children and youth at risk of suicide and self-harm.
One of the “disturbing findings” of the report was the significant over-representation of aboriginal children and youth. Of 15 cases of suicide studied, eight were aboriginal. Of 74 cases involving self-harm, 44 were aboriginal.