The words escape me when trying to describe the overwhelming sadness I felt when I came across the story of twelve year old Chazz Petrella on the Fifth Estate. I even struggled with the idea of sharing this gut wrenching tragedy but I believe his story needs to be told.
It begins in the small town of Cobourg,Ontario where he grew up with 4 siblings, loving parents, and a hobby farm. He was an outgoing, adventurous, and charismatic adolescent but all that changed when his rages become too much for his family to handle. He was diagnosed with mental illness at age ten and was eventually on the files of nine provincial agencies and services – including residential placements. Despite all of this care, he committed suicide just after he turned 12.
By virtue of the number of services and places his parents tried, it is evident that they tried everything within their power and financial means to find help. Unfortunately, your financial standing dictates the quality of care that your child can obtain. This can be hard for many of us to comprehend that such a thing can be possible in Canada. This is the sad reality as is proven by these series of events:
– After a service coordinator named Alex Muir suggested admitting Chazz into a youth mental health facility. Youthdale could have been a turning point in Chazz Petrella’s life. Thirty days of 24-hour observation and a chance to do testing. But he was uncooperative, often refusing to talk to doctors. And there was another problem: money. Some of the tests the Youthdale doctors wanted to do cost extra, between $2,500 and $4,000.
– But in the winter of 2014, finally a beacon. Chazz was placed at Bayfield, a privately run school specializing in children with behavioural issues. Chazz’s mother, Janet Ashby-Petrella tells the fifth estate that Chazz finally started to thrive, “everything there was designed to support kids like him. So he didn’t feel centred out as far as his behaviour.”
His report card reflected the change – all As and Bs. Teachers called him a “pleasure” in the classroom. But almost as soon as Chazz had settled in – his treatment would turn on funding. Because Chazz has arrived at Bayfield on an emergency basis, his tuition was covered for the first 30 days.
Service Coordination then extended the coverage to allow Chazz to finish the school year but cautioned that if Chazz was to return to Bayfield the following year, it would be up to the Petrellas to pay – at least $21,000 per year. The Petrellas were not in a position to pay the Bayfield tuition.
“The funding of Chazz to attend Bayfield’s day program was really an exception based on the unique circumstances of his situation […] it remains the responsibility of the [local] school board to provide educational programming for Chazz.”
But Chazz was not ready to re-enter the mainstream school system, according to a letter the Bayfield principal sent Chazz’s parents.
Soon after Chazz was forced to attend a regular school where they were not equipped to deal with his situation. His mental health deteriorated severely after yet again another bitter dissappoint. One night in August he was particularly out of control. Chazz flew into yet another rage and broke his hand punching a wall. His mother took him to the hospital, where he got a cast and was given twice the normal dose of an adult sedative. Hours later, they were back at the emergency as he chewed off his cast and punched the wall again. That same day Chazz hung himself from his favorite tree on the family property.
I can only imagine the mental anguish that this beautiful little boy must have gone through. I can’t help but hold back the tears as I write this. Those tears quickly turn into rage. That rage directed at the province of Ontario which by all means murdered this child. The financial hurdles directly contributed to his death. How does a free society allow this to happen ? How can a child’s life have a monetary value in Canada ? How can so many agencies sweep this under the rug ?
In a just world, everyone who had a hand in this would be charged with murder. Unfortunately, that will never happen and he will soon be forgotten. However, it won’t for those grieving parents and siblings. In some way, a little of us died the day that Chazz died. We all failed this child.
I truly hope that his death brings to light the failure of the state. I am encouraged to see that Ontario’s provincial advocate for children and youth wants the coronor to launch an inquest into the death. As a parent of two young boys, this tragedy hurt me like a knife to the heart. No parent should have to go through this and feel helpless. This unspeakable ending could have been avoided if the state put the childs well being ahead of everythig else.
Chazz Petrella, your courage will never be forgotten. Rest in peace little man and may God look over you.