This report by British Columbia’s Representative for Children and Youth tells the tragic story of a 14-year-old First Nations girl who hung herself in the yard of her grandparents’ home on a rural B.C. First Nations reserve. There are 203 First Nations in B.C. and most never have a suicide in a year or over many years, especially by a young person. But some do and, in addition to suicide, they may be grappling with serious issues for children and youth who do not feel safe or lack access to the basic services afforded to other children and youth in the province. Serious issues for the safety and well-being of children occur in every community where parents and families may face struggles with mental illness, addictions and violence. When systems can work to protect children from harm, support families and reduce the risk of violence and trauma, the resilience of young people to cope with a variety of vulnerabilities in their lives can be improved. Much depends on the services and the approach and the constant need to be evaluating the effectiveness of services to meet the needs of children and youth, understanding that some require significant and highly responsive service. Suicide and self-harm has been examined in previous aggregrated studies and reports by the Representative’s Office as well as by a Coroner’s Child Death Review Panel. But there are some cases that call out for a more complete investigation, especially when the services that are intended to support young peoples’ resilience and emotional well-being are a central part of the circumstances around their shortened lives. Or, as with this case, when there needs to be a light shone on the experience of an individual child to learn all we can about doing more for children such as her. The story of this girl’s short life is painful to learn.
The Representative appreciates that many British Columbians will find it unbelievable that what happened to her could be allowed to occur in our province, with its legal and other protections for the safety of children. It is a story of a virtual collapse of a system of services – or more accurately, a story of the shadow cast over the lives of many girls and boys on-reserve where there is no opportunity to bring out what is going on in their lives in a way that connects them to supports or services.
Through this investigative report, the Representative seeks answers as to why this girl didn’t receive the help she so desperately needed and what changes can be made to prevent similar tragedies from occurring in the future.