Those of us who have spent time on the pediatric psych floor of Victoria General Hospital, supporting our children, become family. We might never learn each other’s last names, but we share the deepest connection. We understand each other, without judgment, and when we can, we share hope.
We collect information, and give it to each other freely: Who is on, when the psychiatrist was last around and what new food has appeared on the family shelf. We share parking passes, we talk about programs our kids have accessed and parenting courses we know are coming up.
We talk about fentanyl and opioids. We carry Naloxone. We cry, we rant, we listen, and we cheer when people go home. We say goodbye and hope that we won’t meet again, at least not here.
We are, in so many ways, the Eurchuks, the Oak Bay family that lost their son, Elliot, to an opioid overdose in April of 2018, and who have publicly called for changes to laws that would recognize youth who exhibit “at risk” behaviour as being unable to make healthy decisions.
We know their path and we share their grief. Not all of our kids make it through these moments, but we see ourselves in them, because we know, but for the grace, this is our child, too.
And so, from afar, we also walk with them as they bring their stories of Elliot into the coroner’s inquest, taking place at the University of Victoria’s dispute resolution room.
Not all truths will emerge over the course of the hearing, and it is unlikely the process will do much for their family’s pain. But they are advocating for legal change within a system that currently enables a person under the age of 19 to consent to health care without the knowledge of their parent or guardian.
Where I differ is in the journey I have walked with my Indigenous child. This is a person whose engagement with health care is deeply affected by the fact they rarely see their own face or recognize their own experience in the professionals they encounter. So few of the doctors, child and youth workers, counsellors, pediatricians, chiropractors or social workers who cross their path are members of a visible minority, let alone Indigenous, and even more rarely are from their community.
What has made a huge difference though, in their unique negotiation with their caregivers and mental-health practitioners, has been confidentiality. That, as they seek to have their questions answered, and find their voice and road forward, they have agency in what can and should be shared beyond the rooms they sit in with these knowledgeable strangers. Having some measure of control has deflected wariness, enabled trust and made more options possible.
So much of what is happening, still, for youth today is affected by racism, poverty and by the reaches of colonialism. And while there are great resources in Victoria, such as the Foundry and the Anscomb program, it is still predominantly a world of whiteness and privilege. Youth, particularly “at risk” youth, are by necessity cautious in who they can speak to, and what they can share, even when they are able to access care. More resources, shorter wait-times, the implementation of Jordan’s Principle, and more spaces for youth in transition houses on the Island are possible ways to make things better.
The Eurchuk family is hoping for change in what they could have known. I hope that, through this process, and their public bravery, they find some answers and even some peace. What I also hope is that the outcome of this inquiry does not close doors for young people desperately seeking choices, respect and possibilities. The opioid crisis in which we all are players has been unwieldy and unforgiving.
One way through it just might come from the empowerment — not the disenfranchisement — of our youth. And at the same time, we must find ways to be adults within a system more worthy of their trust.
The author of this piece has asked for anonymity in order to respect the privacy of their child.