Ashley Smith: A Harrowing Ordeal

In light of the jury's recommendations, there are several take-home messages for society and those involved in caring for children and young people with special needs.

TORONTO, Dec. 20, 2013 /CNW/ - The jury has returned its verdict in the Ashley Smith inquest after months of hearing testimony and much deliberation. There are more than a hundred recommendations for consideration in what was a harrowing ordeal for all participants. There is no doubt that this was a tragedy culminating in the death of a young person, hardly out of childhood.

There are several take home messages for society and for all of us involved in providing care to children and young people with special needs. It is important that these are not lost in the detail of the jury's recommendations.

Young people involved with the justice system are more likely to have mental health problems than not. This is particularly true for girls who commonly have a complex mix of mental illness and personality difficulties when they require custodial intervention under the Youth Criminal Justice Act. Furthermore, these girls frequently display high risk behaviours like Ashley Smith and require care and attention from staff with special training and expertise. Work with this population is inherently risky, but with committed, skilled staff, most young people are able to make considerable gains in treatment.

There is nothing magical about the age 18 and a young person with mental health problems on the eve of their 18th birthday will have those problems the next day. Ashley Smith was only 19 when she died and had spent the previous year in a whirlwind of interprovincial transfers and in repeated episodes of solitary confinement. It is vital that we consider more than chronological age when we look at what young people need in custody and in other treatment settings. Too often we transition young people with mental health problems with inadequate preparation to an adult system that is woefully underprepared to take care of them.

Finally the inquest has flagged for all of us the challenges of providing care to people in our correctional institutions. These are people on the margins of society that some would have us forget and throw away.   We are urged to measure our society on how it cares for its weakest members and there are no more disenfranchised than the Ashley Smiths of this world. We can do a much better job and are obligated to do so in the future.

Dr. Rod Evans is Vice President Clinical Services and Chief of Psychiatry at Kinark Child and Family Services.

SOURCE: Kinark Child and Family Services

For further information:

Kim Humphrey

Senior Communications Specialist

Kinark Child and Family Services

Work: 905.474.9595 ex. 365

Mobile: 647.248.6941


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