In the Fall I took part in a group interview conducted by Sandie Rinaldo for CTV W5, on ethical violations in the youth protection system in Quebec. "Demand for Justice" was inspired by the class action suit filed on behalf of thousands of people who had been subject to neglect and abuse while in the youth protection system. Although policy and conduct within the youth protection system hasn't evolved much since the 60s, the W5 episode focused mainly on people who had been in the system in the 60s and 70s, and failed to highlight the ongoing plight of children in youth protection TODAY (see press release issued by Unlocked Doors, below).
"Demand for Justice" was no lightbulb moment. Abuse in the system has been known about and reported on by the media several times since the 70s - see my interviews with Gillian Cosgrove, Victor Malarek, Erika Tafel for details. The Montreal Gazette made an especially huge splash with Gillian Cosgrove's coverage of the Maison Notre Dame de Laval scandal, which won them the prestigious Governor General’s Michener Award. The problem is that each media splash has been allowed to dissipate, the ripples quickly disappearing and the pressure never quite reaching the policy makers. If change is finally going to happen we need a media tidal wave - including present-day experiences - that the government is not permitted to ignore. Just as CBC's Fifth Estate coverage in 2019 failed to cause much of a storm, W5's "Demand for Justice" is proving to be a lost opportunity.
Few system kids age-out unharmed. And, yes, I'm talking in the present. We all have our stories, and some are absolutely horrific - among them, solitary confinement, combining youth protection children with youth offenders in the same unit, lack of mental health professionals, inadequate aging-out plan, poorly trained staff, PTSD and suicide. It is why I wrote my novel, Butterflies in the System. The thing is, it's not just that we age-out unharmed, it's that the harm we age-out with remains with us forever. In many cases the trauma held within us can last through generations, effecting our ability to find adequate employment, safe relationships, to provide a stable home environment for our children, and to ask for help when we need it.
A good friend (system alumna, mid-1990s) confided in me recently that at times in her life, when she desperately needed support for herself and her children, she did not reach out because seeking help would mean she would have to place trust in the people and system responsible for her own trauma - the same people who were supposed to protect her rights and care for her when she was a child but who had failed miserably.
Although I do applaud CTV, CBC, and The Montreal Gazette for their coverage on abuses in the youth protection system in Quebec, I also think they missed the target. If the point is to change the system to save today's children from further ethical violations and policies that allow for child abuse, then the media must focus on how these behaviours continue to affect children and families today. Further, media splashes should lead to media tidal waves, rather than calm seas after a short storm. The media has a responsibility to the vulnerable people they are reporting on (and in turn profiting from), and this responsibility must include following up on their story and not allowing it to dissipate into oblivion until it's eventually picked up again a few years later, and so forth, on and on, while vulnerable at-risk children continue to suffer.
Together with "Unlocked Doors", a group that provides support for youth protection alumni, I helped prepare a press release (see below) stating our dissatisfaction with the W5 "Demand for Justice" episode. English and French copies are available through contacting Erika Tafel at erikatafel @ live.ca