Adolescence is a time of exciting and intense change. The process of moving from childhood to adulthood can be challenging for young people. For many young people, family continues to provide guidance and support well into early adulthood; however, youth transitioning to adulthood from government care face an additional, simultaneous transition from government support to independence often without similar resources, family support or guidance, and at a younger age than their peers. This report reviews the deaths of vulnerable youth and young adults who had been in government care or were receiving extensive support services and who died during their transition to adulthood.
For the period of January 1, 2011 to December 31, 2016, 1,546 youth and young adults aged 17-25 years died from causes classified as accidental, suicide, undetermined, natural or homicide. Of these deaths, 200 (13%) deaths were among youth and young adults who at age of death or at age of majority were in care, were former children in care, or were on independent youth agreements or receiving extensive support services. These young people leaving government care died at five times the rate of the general population of young people in British Columbia.
Although many young people leaving care or youth agreements show great resilience and strength as they transition to adulthood, they also face many more challenges than their peers. They may lack a family support network, have limited or no financial resources, often lack life skills, and often have not completed school. They may suffer from low self-esteem and be scarred by trauma associated to violence, childhood neglect and/or abuse.
To better understand these deaths and identify prevention opportunities, a death review panel appointed under the Coroners Act was held in December 2017. The circumstances of 200 young people who died while transitioning to independence from government child services between January 1, 2011 and December 31, 2016 were reviewed in aggregate. The panel was comprised of professionals with expertise in youth services, child welfare, income support, mental health, addictions, medicine, public health, Indigenous health, injury prevention, education, law enforcement and academia.
The review found:
A lack of documented transition planning for youth leaving care or on youth agreements;
A disproportionate number of Indigenous young people died;
High rates of suicide and drug overdose deaths;
High rates of health and mental health issues;
Lower completion of educational attainment; and,
Barriers (systemic and personal) to successfully transition to independence.
The panel identified four key areas to reduce the deaths: 1. Extending service supports based on the young person’s needs; 2. Improved communication between service providers with the goal to increase engagement of youth; Page 4 3. Engage with youth on service planning and policy development; and, 4. Monitor outcomes and use findings to support service planning and policy changes.