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No fall sitting of the legislature delays advocacy reach for children and youth

Sep 23 2012

Premier Christy Clark's decision to cancel the fall sitting of the legislature means a further delay in expanding the powers of B.C.'s Representative for Children and Youth.

Clark promised earlier this year to give Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond the ability to advocate for vulnerable young people until they reach age 24.

Under current rules, Turpel-Lafond loses the ability to help once they turn 19. This has created problems for her office, particularly when it tries to help youth with developmental disabilities as they enter adulthood and responsibility for their care shifts from the Children's Ministry to Community Living B.C.

The premier said in January that the government would expand Turpel-Lafond's powers as part of a 12-point, $40-million plan to fix problems at Community Living B.C. and improve services for adults with developmental disabilities.

Her government failed to introduce the necessary bill during the spring sitting of the legislature, and with no session this fall, it will be next year before Turpel-Lafond gets the tools she needs.

Turpel-Lafond said the situation is putting considerable strain on her advocacy staff, which tries to help young people with special needs make the transition from youth to adult services. Her office has handled about 1,000 such cases involving children with complex special needs in the past five years, and advocates want to be able to support people in the critical years after they turn 19.

"My advocacy staff gets a little anxious about whether this will happen or not," Turpel-Lafond said.

"The need for advocacy is the same today as it was last year. I had hoped, certainly, to play a more active role, instead of dealing with it from a crisis point to a crisis point."

Social Development Minister Moira Stilwell issued a statement saying government remains committed to expanding the representative's powers and is drafting the necessary legislation.

The B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union, which raised the issue last week, called the delay disappointing and said young people will slip through cracks in the system as a result.

Union spokesman Doug Kinna said government should recall the legislature to give Turpel-Lafond the power she needs.

"This is really important to some of the most vulnerable people in the province and they just turn their back on them," Kinna said. lkines@timescolonist.com

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