Saturday, October 31, 1998

Judith Lavoie

p. A03.

Boone wary about locking up kids: Young people should be detained for 72 hours to protect them against dangers, says report

The world of heroin, prostitution and mental illness is sometimes so dangerous that social workers should have the power to lock up young people against their will for 72 hours, a government-appointed working group has recommended.

However, Children and Families Minister Lois Boone said she is acutely aware of the fine line between stamping on the civil rights of high-risk young people and keeping them temporarily safe.

Young people can be detained against their will only if they are charged with a criminal offence or hospitalized under the Mental Health Act.

Before the province makes a decision the public has until March 31 to give its views.

"I don't think anyone would disagree that there are kids out there who need to be protected, but the big question is whether it will be abused and that's why we need to do public consultations," Boone said.

The other question is whether 72 hours is long enough to turn a kid around, Boone said.

Decisions have not been made yet as to whether young people would be detained in special foster homes or quasi youth-detention centres.

It is reasonably easy to agree that an 11-year-old who is addicted to heroin and practising unsafe sex as a prostitute is in extreme danger and three days in secure care might keep the child safe while professionals come up with a care plan, said deputy minister Mike Corbeil.

However, questions arise when a 15-year-old girl runs away and moves in with a man involved in questionable practices, he said.

"Is that an appropriate intervention and would you have any success?"

Pat Griffin of Victoria Youth Empowerment Society said the power to hold youths would be useful in special circumstances such as a dual diagnosis of heroin use and mental illness.

Sometimes it is difficult to get the youth detoxed to the point he or she can make proper decisions, Griffin said.

"But the major problem is how do you not abuse it. There need to be strict guidelines."

One of the questions is whether a panel should oversee such detentions or whether one person should have the power, he said. The report by the working group clearly shows the struggle between civil rights and safety.

"Holding children and youth against their will is not a comfortable prospect for anyone. At the same time, however, the harming of children and youth through abuse of alcohol and other drugs and sexual exploitation cannot be tolerated," the report says.

The majority of parents, service providers and youth who met with the group agreed there is a need for a safe care option in B.C., the report says.

However, the group also heard about the lack of youth detox and long-term treatment options for high-risk youth and is recommending that secure care be brought in as part of an expansion of services.

Alberta, Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick have some form of secure care for young people.

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