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When his 12-year-old daughter began disappearing for days, he would drive the streets of Yellowknife looking for her. - photo illustration by Merle Robillard

Father seeks help for unruly daughter

12-year-old spins out of control

Jennifer McPhee
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (July 16/03) - The single father of a 12-year-old daughter spinning out of control says he has tried everything to help her, and is still trying.

Before his daughter faced criminal charges, including arson and making death threats, he recognized her already dangerous behaviour was escalating and practically begged social services for help, he said.

"They were really reluctant to do anything."

Before the family moved to Yellowknife from Winnipeg two years ago, his daughter had been through a lot -- her parent's divorce, a custody battle, and the death of her brother.

She went to counselling to deal with her adolescent anger and the upheavals in her life. She was coping and was a nice, smart kid who did well in school, he said.

"She wanted to go to college," he said. "Now her goal is to get into the bars."

This year the girl began hanging around with a rough, older crowd. She started swearing at him and acting out violently at home. He found notes from her new friends congratulating her for being a "bad ass."

She would hang around outside 50th Street, waiting to party with the adults after bar close.

The most terrifying part was when she began disappearing for days.

Police didn't have the resources to search for her, he said. So he drove the streets of Yellowknife, sometimes until the early morning hours looking for her.

He staked out homes where he thought she was. Once, he found her in the company of men in their early twenties. He called police and they removed her, but said they didn't have grounds to lay charges against the men.

Another time, the 12-year-old took off to Wha Ti with some older teenagers for four days. Sometimes he would find her and she'd get into his car. But lately, she would swear at him and take off running.

He knows she's hooked up to a crack dealer.

"I'm scared for her... How many sleepless nights did I have? I'm not an irresponsible dad. I love my kid. I don't like her behaviour."

He asked social services if they could send her away to a secure treatment centre, where she could stabilize.

Various people at social services told him different things, he said. They said she was on a waiting list for treatment. They said sending her south wouldn't work because she would return to the same environment.

Another person told him if he wanted help for his daughter, he should pack up and move south, he said.

Social services did offer to send her to counselling, but she refused to go. The girl was eventually moved to two foster groups home in Yellowknife. During this time she was charged with 10 crimes and a judge eventually sent her to Alberta for a psychiatric assessment.

Before the judge's order, social services planned to send her into foster care in Vancouver for a year. It was something her dad vehemently and successfully opposed.

"You don't send a high-risk kid into a high-risk area with no support... What an irresponsible move.

"Social services have showed me they're not willing to work with me....They're just putting out little fires. My daughter is a little fire."

He recently wrote his MLA Bill Braden and Minister of Health and Social Services Michael Miltenberger. He's hoping the different parties will help his daughter after she returns in August.

But he realizes the girl's future also depends on her.

"How do I cope? By letting go. Knowing that my kid is going to have to make some decisions for herself. She's going to have to face the consequences, whether they be good or bad."

Dana Heide, director of integrated community services, said he can't comment specifically on this case.

Heide said sending a child in their care to a locked treatment centre is against the law in the territory.

There is a treatment centre for children right here in Yellowknife, run by Alberta-based Bosco homes. But there's a waiting list for this centre and others in the south. They attempt to give first priority to kids who run away, are involved with drugs or prostitution or are suicidal.

It's not easy helping high-risk children, he said.

"It really depends on the child's willingness to accept therapeutic intervention. These are difficult cases."