Considering Secure Care in BC

The need for, and appropriateness of, safe or secure care has been discussed and debated in British Columbia for nearly two decades. The current overdose crisis has once again brought attention to this ongoing debate. The Federation is tracking and analyzing a lot of different issues and this is definitely one of them.

In March of this year, MLA Gordon Hogg tables new legislation attempting to address the needs of vulnerable children and youth who are at high risk of harm due to commercial sexual exploitation or severe drug misuse or addiction (Safe Care Act – Bill M 240-2017). However, the bill only reached First Reading before the house rose.

At the moment, we are aware that both the Ministry of Children and Family Development and the Office of Representative for Children and Youth are exploring this issue. We know others are monitoring the discussion and may have opinions. But without a collaborative space to have these conversations as a group, many are reluctant to share their thoughts about the prospect of secure care in BC because it is such a contested issue.

Understanding the issue

The Federation’s Residential Review Report includes the recommendation that the BC government consider secure care as part of an array of services available to children and families. However, we don’t believe that such an array exists at the moment and we are concerned about the prospect of adopting secure care models without the other necessary improvements and additions to our province’s social care system.

As such, The Federation staff team has been reaching out to our members and our allies in the sector in order to better understand the various opinions and concerns surrounding this issue. Some see secure care as another option that could be available when everything else fails. Others feel that secure care is a violation of human rights and worry that it could be used inappropriately. Many people worry that it could further traumatize vulnerable youth (in spite of any benefit). Others fear that it could further alienate young people from the very few positive relationships they may have in their lives.

The only consensus was that everyone we spoke to agreed that the current array of service for young people is not enough.

Even the literature is inconclusive. The research we have evaluated suggests no clear evidence of efficacy. Consistent and transferable evaluations are lacking and what little evidence exists is anecdotal. This lack of evidence was yet another concern raised by members during our consultations.

So where does that leave us?

One of our biggest concerns is that work on this issue is happening in relative isolation and with little involvement from the community social services sector. Our unwavering focus is on the welfare of children and there is too much at stake and too many overlapping concerns for these decisions to be made behind closed doors.

The diversity of opinions and considerations are a signal—an incredibly clear indication—that this issue requires consultation and collaboration before any decisions are made. We may not agree with one another but including all the different voices and perspectives will enable a more thoughtful and promising approach to this problem.

To this end, The Federation Board of Directors has requested that the Minister of Children and Family Development convene a gathering of people interested in this issue to inform whatever the next steps may be. (You can read a PDF copy of the letter below.)

We have also pulled together a small working group of Federation members interested in contributing to our organization’s efforts. If you are interested in being more involved, please contact The Federation’s Research and Policy Analyst Pam Alcorn.

And, as always, we aren’t working in isolation on this issue. Our colleagues at The Ending Violence Association of BC have produced an analysis of the Safe Care Act mentioned above. Their report illustrates the complexity of this issue and the need for thoughtful consideration and collaboration.

Federation members can learn more about the letter we sent to Minister Conroy on our website.

Rick FitzZaland
Federation Executive Director