Safe/Secure Care

Another gap in BC that is long overdue. Children that threaten suicide are arrested under the Mental Health Act and subjected to the usual police treatment including man-handling, hand cuffs, the police room at the hospital which is very harsh for some situations and individuals. Click here to learn more or an excerpt below.


Secure care, as it is commonly called, involves involuntarily placing a youth in a facility, with the intention of generally providing short-term safety and therapeutic care to address mental health and behavioural challenges and/or problematic substance use, while simultaneously offering protection to youth who are unable to keep themselves safe. Most often, the youth has been deemed a danger to self or others.

Currently, holding youth in a facility for these purposes is not legal in British Columbia, with the exception of temporary involuntary detainment when a child is held under the Mental Health Act or when a youth has committed a crime. However, seven other provinces in Canada have provisions within provincial legislation for involuntary confinement of children: Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Each of these, except Saskatchewan, has a secure care provision built into basic child protection legislation. Alberta has an additional law that allows confinement of children who have been sexually exploited. The aim of this legislation is the protection of children who have been, or might be, lured into the sex trade.

In addition, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba have legislation enabling involuntary civil confinement for children misusing drugs or alcohol. Saskatchewan and Manitoba’s laws provide avenues for a guardian or other significant person in a child’s life to apply to court for an order to confine the child to a secure facility, sometimes called a “protective safe house.”

The remaining three provinces and all three territories have no legal provision for confinement outside the youth criminal justice system and mental health legislation. In the absence of secure care legislation and resources, there is a tendency to rely on police to hold youth, albeit for short periods, or to take a young person to hospital. This form of ad hoc secure care often pushes against the intent of the legislation.

Although secure care does not currently exist in B.C., a Secure Care Act was approved by the B.C. Legislative Assembly in 2000 but has never been brought into force. The stated purpose was for a) assessing and assisting children with an emotional or behavioural condition that presents a high risk of serious harm or injury to themselves and b) assisting children unable or unwilling to reduce that risk, when less intrusive measures were unavailable or inadequate. Among other things, this emotional or behavioural condition could be demonstrated by substance misuse, addiction or the sexual exploitation of the child.

A re-framed Safe Care Act (2009) was drafted, but did not proceed. The legislation targeted youth who were at high risk of serious harm due to severe substance misuse or addiction, or commercial sexual exploitation. In place of the development of secure care, the government of the day directed MCFD to instead develop enhanced voluntary supports and services to better address vulnerable and at-risk youth under the current regulatory framework. This course of action has not produced the desired outcomes.


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