VICTORIA — The death of a young man after a fall from a fourth-floor hotel window has prompted a joint review by the watchdog for British Columbia's children and the provincial government into the placement of foster kids in hotels.
Eighteen-year-old Alex Gervais was in government care when he was found dead outside of an Abbotsford, B.C., hotel last September in what is believed to have been a suicide.
Alex Gervais, left, died in September 2015 after falling from a hotel window in Abbotsford, B.C.
B.C.'s Representative for Children and Youth Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond said Monday that hotel rooms don't make suitable homes for vulnerable kids in government care and should only be considered as short-term housing options in emergency situations.
Turpel-Lafond said she expected the review between her office and the Children and Family Development Ministry to produce a public report that outlines a strict and limited hotel-use policy.
"My view, particularly as representative, is we should eliminate the use of hotels for placements, meaning places where children will live,'' she said.
"Hotels may be used for short-term emergencies such as attending a medical appointment, and, or someone's house burns down in the middle of the night. I can see that, however, they should not be used as placements.''
Gervais's death prompted an outcry in the legislature and among aboriginal and social welfare agencies critical of government policy that sent the teen to a hotel with minimal supervision. The teen had been living at the hotel for about two months after the government group home where he was living was closed.
Children's Minister Stephanie Cadieux originally said children in care only end up in hotels in cases of extreme circumstances. She said ministry notification is required, and only later said ministry officials were not told about the teen's placement in the hotel.
B.C. Children and Family Development Minister Stephanie Cadieux is teaming up with provincial watchdog Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond to conduct a joint review into housing at-risk children in hotels.
She also said there are cases of other young people in care having been placed in hotels, but did not provide a complete list.
Cadieux, who was not immediately available for comment Monday, said in a statement that the policy review will examine the use of hotels as placements for children in care. It will include information about the demographics of the children, the reasons behind hotel placements and the potential risks associated with hotel stays.
"Together with (Turpel-Lafond), we are taking a close look at policy and practice to ensure that when young people come into government care we can provide them with safe, secure, appropriate living arrangements while we work to connect or reconnect them with a permanent, loving home,'' said Cadieux.
Opposition New Democrat children and family development critic Doug Donaldson said hotels are not appropriate places for vulnerable children. He said the review must put measures in place to ensure children receive the help and attention they require.
Donaldson said social workers were not visiting Gervais every day, and it appeared it was often several days between visits to check on the young man's welfare.
"We have to see some action come out of this, not just another review.''
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