The preacher, the teacher

South African import Lesley du Toit has received decidedly mixed reviews from the children and family development community since being put in charge of that ministry almost two years ago. And it was Ms. du Toit who seemed to get much of the blame when watchdog Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond blasted the ministry after finding "too little evidence of a coordinated effort to implement" recommendations included in Ted Hughes's independent review of the province's child protection system. But how does Ms. du Toit's executive team see her? Well, according to a transcript obtained by Public Eye via a freedom of information request, there was concern back in October 2006 about Ms. du Toit's accessability. But, at the same time, some team members appear to see her playing an almost messianic role within the ministry.

In the transcript, then Vancouver Coastal regional executive director Donna Knox - who resigned this past July as children and family development's states she's "never sure when there is a good time to connect with Lesley. Lesley is too busy to have a casual conversation." And regional support assistant deputy minister Doug Hayman - who was "moved out" of the ministry five months later - echoed that opinion, noting he would "like more opportunity to have discussion with Lesley about what is going on not necessarily just for problem solving."

Provincial services assistant deputy minister Alan Markwart also expressed a "concern that things will fall by the wayside because you are overstretched" - a reference to the number of civil servants directly reporting to Ms. du Toit. And senior financial officer Craig Wilkinson said he was worried "with the hours that Lesley is putting in."

Still, according to then child protection director Mark Sieben, Ms. du Toit is much "more accessible to those outside of the ministry than previous DMs." He also described the "current environment" as being "very empowering, trusting." And then transformation operations director Nikki McCallum told Ms. du Toit her role was to be their "teacher. You are going to teach/mentor us through this process." Which makes us wonder how that lesson is going.

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Leadership Team Retreat Draft Transcript
October 12, 2006

DM Accessability:

Donna - is never sure when is a good time to connect with Lesley. Lesley is too busy to just call to have a casual conversation. Could we set aside time on the days that the REDs are in town for Leadership meetings for the REDs to have one on one time with Lesley? How much contact does Lesley want with the REDs?

Peter - if there is an opportunity for dialogue then this helps with the atmosphere of openness. We need a sense of what Lesley feels is important enough to have contact with them.

Mark - Bringing in additional staff as discussed to provide more time for Lesley. Lesley will be able to be more accessible.

Nikki - Video conferencing will be up and running shortly and this will help with REDs being able to have more contact with Lesley.

Donna - would like to make sure that the timing is right for them to have casual conversations with Lesley. Both our time and Lesley's time are important. Do not want to waste on an unimportant matter.

Peter - ADM connections with Lesley are key as they will connect with REDs keeping them up to date on what is happening.

Doug Houghes - we need to ready the organization for change. We need to have those conversations with staff. Talk about the fear of change. REDs having direct access to the DM is still something new to the REDs and we are still getting used to this. This will help stop rumours and false info from circulating.

Peter - I have a greater sense that the issues and problems in my region dealt with quickly. Sense that we are being heard directly. Solutions more quickly found. Support of business. Although this has created confusion on the roles of the ADMs. We need to clarify the roles to maximize the expertise we now have access to.

Donna - worried that being able to go directly to DM will bypass the ADM and those connection will suffer. Clarification on roles. I am still not sure who she needs to connect with of various situations.

Chuck - Glad to hear that others are experiencing the same thing. Confusion on roles and what needs to go to the DM rather than ADM. Worries that DM doesn't have the time for that connection in place.

Les - being at this table is the best access I can think of. Taking part in these meetings provides great access. It is all about relationships and we are building those relationships through these meetings and connections.

Deb - I don't feel I can be open and honest because of rules around confidentiality e.g. TB Sub etc. If I share something and then it is changed or not approved. Doesn't look good to the community. I would like to be able to connect with Lesley at the times set aside at the end of the day. Still struggling with connecting with other ADMs/REDs because so much of her time is spent in community these past few months. Looking for the balance that will allow her to do both connect with ADMs/REDs and being out in community.

Alan - happy to see time has been set aside when Lesley will be in the office. We need to be very open and honest with each other. Need to communicate with each other to ensure respect and that each of us have the information that we need.

Doug Hayman - would like more opportunity to have discussion with Lesley just about what is going on not necessarily just for problem solving. Defining my role needs to get off the ground quicker. I am not doing right now what I want to be doing. Struggling with what and when to bring something to Lesley.

Craig - everyone seems very accessible. Concerned with the hours that Lesley is putting in. This could be a weakeness in the organization that Lesley needs to be putting in so many hours. Is there anything this table can be doing to help alleviate that?

Mark - Is having some of the same struggles that the REDs are experiencing. What does Lesley really need to see/know? We need to use the time wisely that we have with Lesley.

Karen - I am still trying to figure out everyone's role. Still figuring out Lesley's style and expectations. I don't want to get out head of myself.

Mark - need to be aware of the pressures on Lesley's time.

Roles and Responsibilities

Lesley - Clarifying roles is a key for this team. First discussion should be on what my role is and what you see my role as. I think we all understand why we have flattened out the hierarchy. Trust is at the heart of all our relationships. This helps us get through all of the difficult time we face in this Ministry. This helps us make the decisions that will benefit those children and family we service. We need to be able to give up power in order to empower the clients we serve. Shared power, shared decision making. We are in partnership with the clients we serve. We are not in these situations to tell them what they must do. I see myself as being your manager. Supporting you in your personal and professional work. Not looking for you to report back that you are doing your job. That is not my concern. What I would like would be to discuss how you personally handling situations we run into e.g. Child deaths. Not the steps you are taking in dealing with these situations but how you personally are with what is going on. Primary responsibility would be to make sure that the situations don't get out of your control and what can I do to help you deal with these situations so that you are ok. There are decisions that must be made as a team. But there is another level of reporting relationships and this is what supports I can offer you in your work and personal situation. One on ones to develop personal/professional plans. I will work with you to help you achieve these plans. I am working on creating the space in my time so that you all have the access you need to me. I won't ever override a decision that has been made by you unless we have spoken and decided that there is a different way we should be going.

Peter - traditionally we have interacted with ADMs to manage issues so that they didn't go up to the DM until or unless there was no other choice. I think that there should still be a level of that so that the DM doesn't get bogged down managing issues.

Doug - we need to ensure that the DM is aware of the issues that will be hitting the press etc.

Donna - I think that it is less about the issues. But bring to this table a significant contribution.

Doug Hayman - Regional Leadership table is the beginning of working out the roles and what will be going forward to the larger group.

Donna - I believe that this is the first time that anyone is really interested in what we are doing out in the regions. We do some really good things and we need to figure out how we pull that together to be brought forward to the larger group.

Doug Hughes - Regional Leadership Team (RLT) - why do we only meet with Doug why not all the ADMs? If we will be working differently then why wouldn't we meet with all the ADMs?

Mark - I want to meet with the RLT once a month for half an hour. It would be more constructive to meet with that team on a regular basis to deal with ongoing issues.

Peter - RLT what are we trying to accomplish with these meetings? Could we do something differently to maximize our time.

Lesley - defining the roles will help with maximizing our time. We may need to look at the meetings we have in order to ensure we are having the meeting that best suit our needs. Leadership Team needs to defined. What are we here for? If we are working more across the board then we should begin to bring more organizational pieces to the table. Have more strategic discussion at this table. Where are we and where are we going? Need to think corporately. What are we trying to achieve together?

Les - we need to lay the ground work on what the new roles are. We will develop a process together. Need to sort out the tasks and responsibilities.

Chuck - we have managed within our responsibilities what we can and look to other when the issues need to go outside our responsibilities. Some of the issues may benefit from coming to the larger table. Our role is to filter what those issues are that do come to the larger group.

Lesley - What do you see my role as over the next four years? Once we are clear on what my role is then this will spill over to what is the role of the ADms and then on to what the roles of the REDs are.

Defining Lesley's role:

Alan - you were obviously brought in for a purpose and that purpose was Transformation and that should be your major focus. I don't think it is sustainable over the long term to have a DM with so many direct reports. I have a concern that things will fall by the wayside because you are over stretched. Or you do it over the next 4 years and the person that comes in behind you won't be able to keep it up. These relationships are very important in the short term but over the long term you need to free up your time to frocus on the work on Transformation.

Mark - I have noticed a difference in activities as compared to previous Deputies. The focus haws been the Minister's office and the Ministers. DMs were always part of any conversations that ADMs or staff members had with the Ministers and Minister's office staff. You spend a lot of time with groups outside of the Ministry that many not be specifically related to Ministry business. You take time out of day to day activities to devote a significant amount of time outside the Ministry. You are much more accessible to those outside of the Ministry than pervious DMs. This may at time make it harder for us in dealing with the day to day stuff. Activities are broader than the previous concept of MCFD and the day to day functions of the Ministry. Current environment is very empowering, trusting and we have the opportunity to do other functions that maybe we weren't able to do in the past.

Les - four or five years from now we will not be a ministry as we see a ministry now. It is difficult to say what our roles will be two to three years from now. A lot depends on how we go forward. How we go forward will define your role. I see your role is getting us through this Transformation process. The holder of the torch. The holder of hands. You do need some one by your side that understands the traditional ways of government to help guide you within that but that you need to work outside of that. You manage by a micro view of what you see. Manage by exception.

Doug Hughes - traditional management structure. You are here to guide us through the goals we need to achieve over the next 4-5 years during Transformation. Help us stay the course. A champion. Monitoring compass. Change agent.

Lesley - everyone around this table has been appointed to do a certain role so I should have to be the monitoring agent. I trust that you will be doing what you were appointed to do. If you feel like I am managing you then you need to tell me this. You need to be able to move on with your jobs with consultation with me but not controlled by me.

Nikki - You are always going to be the final decision making with the Ministry before going to the political arena. That is part of your role that no one else can do or take on. You are directly responsible to the Minister/politicians.

Donna - May make snese to figure out the part of your role that you are required to do as a DM and see how much time does that take up. Then define what we do with the time that is left. Once we see what time you have or don't have we can look at ways to take things off your plate where we can.

Lesley - We have discussed that we want this team to be more involved in the Transformation process and that may mean you need to look at what you do and what you can pass on to others freeing up your time to be able to participate in Transformation. There is an opportunity at this point to challenge some of the traditional rolls as the DM. For example DMC - is it necessary that I attend every meeting? Or could it be something where another DM could pass along the information from these meetings. This works toward freeing up time for me to focus on Transformation. Can't do everything that a DM would regularly do and Transformation on top of that. This is like asking the Ministry to transform with out any additional resources. Set up for failure. We need to examine what can be delegated down and what absolutely must stay with the DM. Shifting power down. Giving away power, Shifting resources to what extent I can shift power. I need to examien that. Once the decisions are made I trust you to manage how you carry out that decision within your area.

Doug - we need to model this right down to the front line.

Nikki - You are our teacher. You are going to teach/mentor us through this process.

Chuck - we need you to bring back to this table those things that you do/learn within the community meetings you have or attend.

Lesley - this is part of the whole change management process. But this comes back to time. You need to share your time with me and I need to share my time with you. We need to be comfortable enough with each other to be able to discuss what I am needed for and what is part of your role. This is where relationship is important.

Donna - The Aboriginal piece is a huge part of Transformation.

Lesley - We need to establish some principles that I will follow when going to these meeting that you are comfortable with. I will never promise something on your behalf.

Deb - the aboriginal process is different than other process. It is about building relationships and trust with these groups. We are building that trust so that they are able to bring forward issues to us to be dealt with.

Doug - you are our Team Leader to direct us and get us motivated.

Alan - BN, out of province travel they could definitely be looked at.

Lesley - If you have something that you are working on and you need to inform me and I am not available please let Nikki know and she will ensure that the message gets to me. But you need to keep informed of what you are doing so that I don't get caught without the information I need. We will be defining the roles of all positions within my office over the next littloe while. Once that is clear we will communicate that to everyone. There needs to be an understanding that there may be things that I am given/told when I am out in meeting within a region that will need to be brought back to you. This isn't a criticism of you.

Lesley - a decision we have made today is that you can be out ahead of me along as you keep me in the loop. You know what you are doing and I trust that you are keeping me informed where needed. You need to always feel free to come to me and ask why you are doing that.

What is the new role of the ADM or the emerging roll of the ADm in the new MCFD?

Peter - the ADMs role is different that it has been in the past. Not the gate keeper to Executive.

Mark - The ADMs are the drive behind getting ideas going. We need to define the role between the various ADMs.

Nikki - ADM team accountability. Move from individual accountability to team accountability.

Les - each ADM would come to this table with a defined role. This is what I contribute to the team to the overall picture. Then everyone would be doing what they made a commitment to do. ADM is both a Team Leader and a Team participant.

Karen - We commit that we will include the right people in what we are doing especially if that is an ADM.

Doug Hughes - ADMS are a temperature gauge of whether a particular piece should be brought forward to the Leadership Team. Is there an interest or capacity to bring this forward at this time or should we do more work before it goes forward.

Peter - Doug and Deb are key in the Provincial Office support to the regions. They are our direct links to the supports we need from th Provincial Office.

Les - if I need the expertise from the various areas I go to the ADM. ADM provides support to the regions province-wide or regional as needed.

Donna - what do we deal with ourselves and what do we bring up to the ADM level of the DM level?

Doug Hughes - We do have some definitions for example Mark has the legislation.

Lesley - Quality Assurance is a key part of Transformation. We need to look at what we are using right now and make sure that it is works and meets our needs as we go forward. We need to define what we want to get out of a quality assurance tool.

4 Comments

Reading through the minutes of that leadership meeting really brings home why the chaos
and dysfunction is so pervasive in MCFD. You have an “outsider” from a far away land, from the child welfare system, and from the political climate of the BC government brought in to devolve the entire child welfare system, one that has been fraught with difficulties, trauma and dysfunction for decades. In spite of Ms. Du Toit’s education, background and experience in some areas, she appears to beway over her head and sinking fast. Like many "managers" recruited and placed under the BC Liberals, she’s realized this and has been attempting to micromanage everything, trying to maintain the illusion of control, stretching herself too thin and losing track of what her goals and priorities should be (which are faulty to begin with).

On top of that, she has surrounded herself with sycophants who will only tell her the “good” news and what she wants to hear.

This system is crashing down around everyone and Ms. Du Toit, as an intelligent and probably an ethical advocate and professional is likely feeling the trauma of that, like so many others. I’m not sure how bad it will have to get before the powers that be get it. But one thing is for sure, the failure of the BC Liberals on their handling of the child welfare system WILL be an election issue and since there are many, many scandals hidden behind closed doors, and a lot of very bitter and angry current and ex-employees, they better get a clue and start making real improvements in this system soon. The entire reputation of this province and its’ “leaders” is at stake, nationally and internationally and that is also something that Ms. Du Toit likely cares about a great deal. They’d best remember the international media community will be here in Beautiful BC in 2010. I’m sure some of those folks would like to hear about more than just who won which medal. There are lots of other stories to be told to the world right before the next election.

Wonder how long the Transforation is going to take? Maybe sometime after the next election

I'm not sure why a group that's essentially veteran social workers was tasked with figuring out more effective management structures and models in the first place. One wonders why the Premier didn't just let them get on with what they're good at doing, bringing in management consultants to help them improve organizational aspects.

I'm no expert and I understand the context is self-reflection but it's clear they're floundering. The discussion also highlights the trade-offs that have kept MCFD in perpetual chaos. Du Toit admits that as long as transformation is sucking up everyone's attention, they can't be putting anything close to 100% into normal duties and vice versa. That explains why they seem incapable of escaping from the preoccupation with crisis management and outing PR fires as opposed to being proactive about child and family supports.

It's also alarming to see a Deputy telling staff in any setting that she is "not looking for you to report back that you are doing your job. That is not my concern. What I would like would be to discuss how you personally handling situations we run into e.g. Child deaths."

Given the added demands on an already weakened system, I would have thought that sound governance demanded the opposite - i.e. stronger accountability to ensure basic tasks are being done before it gets to a "situation" like child deaths.

Then Du Toit sums it all up here, reiterating what the expert consultants have been telling them since 2002: "Can't do everything that a DM would regularly do and Transformation on top of that. This is like asking the Ministry to transform with out any additional resources. Set up for failure. We need to examine what can be delegated down and what absolutely must stay with the DM."

Which explains exactly why it is such a failure. And why the major outcome is that instead of improving the way they support children and families, it's been all about dumping MCFD's job back on families and communities when they run out of people within the Ministry to delegate down to.

Ultimately it comes back to the Minister and Cabinet, though. Is anyone going to take up with them the concerns that this raises?

I like reading your replies Dawn - always insightful. Is this true that they are attempting to 'transform' AND do their regular jobs at the same time!?! How idiotic. The civil servants probably agreed to that rather than be in the remotest danger of losing their employment.

Those meeting minutes make my teeth hurt. Such aimless floundering and straw clutching is pathetic. Senior staff should be more focussed and professional than these minutes reflect. Many of them come across to me as being scared. What a colossal waste of time and money.

I'd love to see the agenda (if there was one).

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