System failed Paige every day of her short life

Our system failed Paige. It failed her to death.

A chilling report released this week by Children and Youth Advocate Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond titled Paige’s Story: Abuse, Indifference and a Young Life Discarded tells the tale of one young woman who, from birth to her death of an overdose at the age of just 19 was failed every day of her life by our protection systems.

What is so important about this report is that it goes beyond the story of just one young aboriginal woman who really never stood a chance, thanks to those failures. It is a stark revelation of the failure of an entire system, not just the fault of individuals within that system. With our Local Area Health Profile, presented last month by Island Health’s Dr. Paul Hasselback, finding that 23.3 per 1,000 children in the Cowichan Valley are in need of protection and 19 out of 1,000 are in care – both statistics far outstripping the provincial average – we in Cowichan in particular need to examine Turpel-Lafond’s report carefully.

How many Paiges are there in our own communities? Sheer numbers would suggest there are more than our fair share.

The trajectory and tragedy of Paige’s short life was, as Turpel-Lafond points out, entirely predictable, and yet through sheer inertia it continued like a rock downhill.

Her mother, already drug and alcohol addicted at 16, was a child herself when Paige was born. She was in no way prepared to take care of an infant and it was immediately apparent.

During the first three years of Paige’s life the Ministry of Children and Family Development received seven child protection reports, including one when Paige was just five months old and yet nothing was done.

Domestic violence, abandonment and likely sexual abuse all played horrifying roles.

Various social workers clearly saw where Paige’s life was headed – a life of addiction, poverty, and abuse to mirror her mother’s – one even noting it in an official report when she was a young teen.

It is painfully clear she should never have been left with her mother.

She spent much of her teen years in squalid downtown eastside Vancouver shelters, detoxes and SRO hotels, moving 50 times in two and a half years. Little wonder she never finished school, became addicted and terminated three pregnancies. Paige’s life was chaos. It was up to the system to put a halt to that chaos before it was too late, but over and over again it failed to do so.

Instead it added to the chaos with her file moving through 17 different social workers.

There are many more Paiges out there. None of them are expendable.