Taser use on hearing-impaired boy preventable, report says

The police use of a Taser on a hearing-impaired 11-year-old boy in Prince George, B.C., could have been prevented, a new report by the B.C.'s representative for children and youth has found.

The unidentified boy was hit with the stun gun in April 2011, in a stand-off with police after he allegedly stabbed a 37-year-old man. He had been in the province's residential care system from an early age.

Thursday's report, entitled Who Protected Him? How B.C.’s Child Welfare System Failed One of Its Most Vulnerable Children, examines the boy's life circumstances.

Representative Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond said the involvement of the B.C. Ministry of Children and Family Development with the boy and his family fell well below the standard any reasonable person would expect.

“It has failed to provide this child with safe, therapeutic care and supportive, behavioural interventions. Instead, he has been retraumatized and harmed, and his basic human rights have been minimized and even ignored," she said.

The report found significant shortcomings in the province's residential care system and also documents serious errors made by the child protection system.

According to the report, the boy had an aversion to sudden change, but was moved 15 times after entering the care system in 2001.

The investigation found he was left subject to abuse and neglect, both in his birth home and in residential placements by the ministry.

“This case is among the most difficult we've reported on, but sadly, it is not the only one in which a safe and therapeutic residence has been unavailable for a child in care who has complex special needs,” said Turpel-Lafond.

"The provincial government must fulfill its role as prudent parent and immediately take steps to ensure that British Columbia children in its care who have complex special needs are provided with residential settings that meet those needs."

The stun-gun incident could have been prevented, the report says, had the ministry invested in a care system with trained, qualified staff, behaviour therapy and other support to help the boy recover from the trauma of his early years.

But according to the investigation, the boy was retraumatized by being repeatedly isolated in a so-called “safe room” in various residential placements, a practice not permitted by law or condoned in the care system's policy.

The report recommends a system of senior management oversight for all cases of children with complex special needs and the development of an internal clinical unit to deliver training and support to staff working with such children.

“In this child’s case, it was clear that decisions were made for bureaucratic reasons or to manage a crisis and not in his best interests,” said Turpel-Lafond.

"I urge the ministry to implement the recommendations of this report and begin to provide for these children as a prudent parent should.”

B.C. Minister of Children and Family Development Stephanie Cadieux said the ministry has accepted all the report's recommendations.

"Nothing that's raised in this report is acceptable to me," she said. "I am heartbroken that the system failed this child, and I am committed to fixing it."

Cadieux says her ministry is already taking steps to address gaps in the system, strengthening clinical support oversight for children with highly complex needs and opening a six-bed facility to meet the specific needs of such children.

Turpel-Lafond said she met with the minister earlier this week to discuss plans for the boy's future, only to discover there was no plan.

"I was completely unsatisfied with the response and find it a completely irresponsible approach to say that there is no plan for this child.

"I am not satisfied with his current placement. He is not living in a home that is properly resourced and equipped for a child who needs all of his developmental needs met."

A police investigation after the incident found the officer in question was "justified" in using the Taser to subdue the boy and concluded no charges would be recommended against the officer.

The boy could not be charged for the alleged offence because he was under 12 at the time.

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