A five month itch

It's been two years since Ted Hughes released his independent review of British Columbia's child protection system. And it's been five months since children and youth representative Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond reported she found "too little evidence" within the ministry "of a coordinated effort to implement numerous Hughes recommendations where its leadership has been required." But, despite her scolding, it appears that implementation effort is still lagging. This, according to a comprehensive analysis prepared by Public Eye.

Earlier this month, the ministry released its operational plan for 2007-2012. And, embedded in that plan, is children and family development's own assessment of its progress in achieving the Hughes Review's recommendations. That assessment, when compared with Ms. Turpel-Lafond's report, shows the ministry has made some headway since November. For example, children and family development has now confirmed external evaluation will be a part of the ministry's quality assurance activities. This, despite the fact the children and youth representative initially reported such evaluations weren't even being considered. And the ministry has laid out some plans for a program that will report on the results it achieves for children in care and children at risk.

But, on many other recommendations, our analysis suggests the children and family development hasn't made much progress. The ministry, for example, maintains it's using data to "develop, deliver and review delivery" of government programs. But, in her most recent report, Ms. Turpel-Lafond states children and family development "cannot speak with specificity or confidence about the outcomes achieved in relation to children it is serving or in its care."

And the ministry also appears to have moved backwards in developing a common tool to review the deaths or serious injuries of children. Because, in that same report, the children and youth representative alleges the tool the ministry has developed "does not demonstrate enough detail to serve the interests of public accountability and continuous organizational learning."

Perhaps even more troubling, though, is the fact the ministry seems to have determined it doesn't need to heed or has already met at least five of the Hughes Review's recommendations (49, 50, 53, 57 and 61) - despite contrary opinions from the children and youth representative. For example, the ministry continues to insist its privacy policy documents are easily useable by employees - even though Ms. Turpel-Lafond mentions children and family development's "revised Confidentiality and Disclosure of Information Guide does not meet the spirit and intent of the recommendation."

Asked for comment, New Democrat children and family development critic Nicholas Simons said, "It seems like the Ministry has a problem with priorities. And the safety of children seems to come pretty far down in their list. It's arrogance that doesn't let them acknowledge and learn from their failures - which are too numerous to mention. When will they figure out that they need to have a vision that isn't based on glossy public relations brochures but on the needs of children?"

The following is a complete copy of our analysis, which focuses on those recommendations assessed by Ms. Turpel-Lafond as either "planning underway," "limited or no progress" or "insufficient information provided." Recommendations directed at government agencies other than the ministry have been excluded from the analysis.

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Planning underway

Recommendation 12: That the provincial and federal governments, in collaboration with Aboriginal communities, begin work towards fulfillment of the commitments of the Kelowna Accord by assessing the health, economic and social needs of Aboriginal communities, including urban, off-reserve populations.

Ms. Turpel-Lafond's report states "most of the activities associated with this recommendation are under development." And that doesn't seem to have changed over the past five months. According to the ministry's operation plan, the Campbell administration has implemented a number of measures to support the goals of the Kelowna Accord. But all of them occurred before the release of Ms. Turpel-Lafond's report on November 26. The following is a list of those measures and the date they were implemented.

* The First Nations Summit on Aboriginal Health, held in Vancouver in November 2007, reaffirmed commitments to close the health gap between Aboriginal people and other Canadians by 2015. (There is no record of a First Nations Summit on Aboriginal Health being held in November 2007. However, the government did reaffirm its commitment to close the health gap between aboriginal people and other Canadians at the First Nations Health Forum, held in Vancouver in April 2007).

* A tripartite First Nations Health Plan has been agreed upon by the First Nations Council, BC and Canada. (November 27, 2006)

* BC has launched the Aboriginal Housing Initiative and provided over $50 million for new housing projects. (March 2, 2007)

* BC, Canada and First Nations representatives agreed upon the First Nations Education Jurisdiction Agreement. (July 5, 2006)

* Legislation has been passed federally and provincially to recognize First Nations jurisdiction over on-reserve schools. (November 22, 2007)

* BC launched a $65 million Aboriginal post-secondary education strategy in 2007. (April 24, 2007)

Recommendation 20:: That responsibilities be transferred to regions and to Aboriginal authorities once they have demonstrated their ability to meet key performance targets.

The ministry had already established two interim aboriginal authorities when Ms. Turpel-Lafond released her report. And a third, according to children and family development's operational plan, "is close to being established." Moreover, the plan states "a proposal for legislation to establish permanent Aboriginal Authorities responsible for service delivery is under consideration by government and First Nations/Aboriginal leadership." But that legislation, which was scheduled to be introduced but then withdrawn on Wednesday by the Campbell administration, was heavily criticized by native leaders.

Recommendation 31: That the Ministry adopt a common review tool to guide the conduct of case reviews across all program areas that are relevant to the life of a child who has died or been seriously injured.

The ministry's operational plan states, "Case review processes for all MCFD program areas have been reviewed and an Integrated Case Review Framework (2008) has been introduced." But Ms. Turpel-Lafond's most recent report - Amanda, Savannah, Rowen and Serena: From Loss to Learning - mentions the children and youth representative is "of the respectful view that the new framework does not demonstrate enough detail to serve the interests of public accountability and continuous organizational learning, and is not fully responsive to Mr. Hughes' recommendations in this area. It is quite possibly a step backward in terms of defining when to conduct a review."

Recommendation 33: That the Ministry undertake reviews of critical injuries and deaths of children receiving services from any of its program areas.

Legislation and policy requires critical injuries and facilities to be reported and review. But Ms. Turpel-Lafond's report notes, "According to the latest posted audit results for the child welfare area, compliance is just under 50 per cent of incidents identified from case files of children and youth receiving services. Compliance with reporting in the other program areas is less clear, or not clear at all, in the absence of audits of compliance." The ministry's operational plan doesn't speak to this concern. Although the government recently announced Oracle Corporation Canada. Inc. has been awarded a $17.9 million contact to develop a new integrated case management system for children and family development workers - presumably addressing Ms. Turpel-Lafond's criticism that, "the MCFD electronic case management systems are not linked."

Recommendation 34: That the Ministry rename its internal injury and death reviews and clarify the scope of each.

The ministry's operational plan reports, "The Integrated Case Review Framework" - which has been criticized by Ms. Turpel-Lafond - "outlines the scope of reviews. Within the framework, the Deputy Director's Review has been renamed the Integrated File Review and the Director's Case Review has been renamed the Integrated Comprehensive Review."

Recommendation 40: That the Ministry provide required orientation, training, and mentoring for practice analysts who will conduct reviews; and maintain a list of qualified reviewers.

Ms. Turpel-Lafond's report states, "there is no evidence of a work plan for the training and mentoring of the staff who will conduct reviews (practice analysts and or consultants)." Nor is there any evidence of such a plan in the ministry's operational plan.

Recommendation 48: That the Child, Family and Community Services Act, which sets out powers and duties of the provincial Director be amended to include the power to produce reports of internal child death reviews and to state that although the main purposes of the report is learning, public accountability is a purpose of these reports.

The ministry's operational plan states the Child, Family and Community Service Act was "amended in 2007 to address this recommendation." But that happened in March - before Ms. Turpel-Lafond's report was released. And, in that report, the children and youth representative seems to suggest that legislative amendment wasn't enough. According to Ms. Turpel-Lafond, "the draft Proposed Case Review Model indicates that MCFD is reviewing options to facilitate the public release of fatality and critical injury reviews, and will make a decision shortly as to which method balances the needs to maintain the child's privacy with the need to be publicly accountable." The ministry doesn't provide any indication of what that decision may have be - if, indeed, it has taken place.

Recommendation 51: That in its annual reports, the Ministry of Children and Family Development provide a statistical report on its reviews of deaths and critical incidents, as well as the recommendations that resulted from those reviews, and a progress report on their implementation.

Ms. Turpel-Lafond's report states, "MCFD has not placed in its annual reports a statistical report on its reviews of deaths and critical injuries, or the recommendations, or the status of the recommendations arising from them." But the ministry's operational plan indicates, "Beginning in 2008, summaries of all case review reports including reviews pertaining to critical incidents and deaths will be posted on the MCFD web site semi-annually."

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Limited or no progress

Recommendation 14: That the provincial government work with Canada to clarify their respective funding responsibilities, remove jurisdictional obstacles facing Aboriginal child welfare agencies, and replace Directive 20-1 with a new approach that is more supportive of measures that protect the integrity of the family.

Ms. Turpel-Lafond's report states, "MCFD indicates that it expects to develop a new model for federal funding, in collaboration with First Nations leadership, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada and service agencies. Verbal updates place implementation of this item in 2009." And the ministry's operational plan affirms, "MCFD is working with First Nations leadership, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada and service agencies on the framework for a new model for federal funding inclusive of prevention services." No further progress is mentioned. Although, on January 25, Premier Gordon Campbell made a commitment to support Jordan's Principle, whereby "the government first contacted pays for a child's services and settles the accounts later."

Recommendation 18: That the Ministry and community representatives jointly develop a plan for decentralization, beginning with a set of principles that will guide the process, a clear statement of expected results, and a course of action to achieve those results.

Ms. Turpel-Lafond's report states, "MCFD has created only preliminary plans for decentralization over the next 18 months." And it seems work on achieivng this recommendation continues. The ministry's operational plan reports children and family development has "articulated goals, principles and expected outcomes" for decentralization with "community representatives and aboriginal leaders." And its regional executives are "developing process with community representatives for continued decentralization."

Recommendation 21: That the Ministry retain at its headquarters, the authority it needs to set and ensure compliance with provincial standards and to meet its responsibility for public accountability.

Ms. Turpel-Lafond expressed concern about the ministry's progress in achieving this recommendation, despite its importance. And a reading of the children and family development's operational plan reveals little appears to have been done to ally those concerns. The ministry has hired "an Integrated Quality Assurance ADM...to ensure an integrated quality assurance lens is applied to all programs and to share learning across programs in MCFD." But the process by which that post was filled is suspect. Moreover, the ministry's claim that it's meeting its "responsibility for public accountability" by reporting out "on quality assurance activities through MCFD's web site and service plan" is especially troubling, given the flaws in that annual document.

Recommendation 22: The Ministry should examine its management structure to find ways to realign roles and responsibilities in ways that will clarify lines of authority and facilitate collaboration across program areas and between regions and the central office.

The ministry's operational plan states its "provincial office has been restructured to facilitated collaboration across program areas, both regionally and provincially." And the plan also reports "an Integrated Policy and Legislation team has been establishment...to pursue integration of policy and legislation." But that team was established in June 2006 - well before the children and youth representative released her report. And it's questionable whether the ministry's restructuring initiatives have actually clarified lines of authority and facilitated collaboration at children and family development.

Recommendation 23: The Ministry should establish a comprehensive set of measures to determine the real and long-term impacts of its programs and services on children, youth and their families and then monitor, track and report on children, youth and their families and then monitor, track and report on these measures for a period of time.

The ministry's operational plan states children and family development "publicly reports on 17 performance measures." That includes the nine in its service plan, the six posted on its Website and the two scheduled to be included in its forthcoming annual service plan report - scheduled for release in June. The ministry also reports it will also be "participating in the Third Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect." But that's not much of an accomplishment since British Columbia participated in the first two studies. Moreover, the ministry states it's participating "with other Canadian jursidictions in the National Outcomes Measures committee which is developing national child welfare outcome indicators." That's a laudable enterprise, given that the Hughes Review suggested making children and family development's service plan measures "consistent with National Outcomes measures." But it's an enterprise the ministry had embarked on prior to the release of Ms. Turpel-Lafond's report.

Recommendation 25: Once collected and analyzed, data must be used as a tool to support operation and management decision making and program evaluation and policy development.

The ministry's operational plan states, "As data is available it is used to develop, deliver and review delivery of MCFD programs and services." But in her most recent report, the children and youth representative alleges her investigation "found an inability on the part of the Ministry to learn from valuable lessons" from child deaths. Moreover, Ms. Turpel-Lafond further reports children and family development "cannot speak with specificity or confidence about the outcomes achieved in relation to children it is serving or in its care."

Recommendation 26: The Ministry must devote sufficient resources to develop and maintain a strong central quality assurance function at headquarters, in the regions, and in Aboriginal agencies. In consultation with the regions and Aboriginal agencies, headquarters must set provincial standards, provide training, support and expertise; and monitor results.

In her report, Ms. Turpel-Lafond states the ministry has "draft plans for the development of an integrated quality assurance system by December 2008." But, because that system hasn't been developed, the children and youth representative assessed the ministry as having "limited or no progress" in achieving Recommendation 26. And the ministry's operational plan present no evidence suggesting the children and youth representative would change that assessment today. Although children and family development has hired an "ADM of Integrated Quality Assurance" to review and strength "quality assurance processes across program areas."

Recommendation 28: The Ministry needs a regular, coordinated program of reporting on its activities and results achieved for children in care and children at risk.

Ms. Turpel-Lafond's report states, "There is significantly more work necessary to address Recommendation 28 to ensure that reporting is outcomes-focused, multi-dimensional and useful." And, according to the ministry's operational plan, at least some of that work seems to be underway. The plan reports "The 2007 child fatality case review summary report will be posted in spring 2008. Beginning in 2008, summaries of all case review reports including reviews pertaining to critical incidents and deaths will be posted on the MCFD web site semi-annually." Moreover, "MCDF is developing a means of measuring child in care outcome achievement in health, education and other significant development areas through work with the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Employment and Income Assistance and the Representative for Children and Youth, and the means of reporting these measures."

Recommendation 29: That the Ministry finalize, with a new sense of urgency, its complaint resolution process, ensuring that the process is timely, accessible, and simple; that it takes a problem-solving, rather than confrontational approach; and that it is respectful and responsive to the complainant; and that it involves the parties in resolving the issue.

Despite the Hughes Review's suggestion that this recommendation be pursued "with a new sense of urgency," the children and youth representative found the "effectiveness of the (complaint resolution) processes" varies by region. The ministry's operational plan gives no indication this has changed. Nor does it include any mention of the ministry ensuring its complaint resolution process is timely, simple, problem-solving oriented and respectful to the complainant. Although the plan does state works is underway to establish a "new Advocacy Unit in the Integrated Quality Assurance Team (that) will assist in increasing child, youth and family access to the complaints process and will enhance opportunities for the voices of children and youth to be heard in the process."

Recommendation 30: That the Ministry develop processes for resolving complaints by Aboriginal children, youth and families that incorporate and respect traditional cultural values and approaches to conflict resolution.

The ministry's operational plan states ministry agreements with delegated aboriginal agencies require them to have a complaint resolution process in place that respects "traditional culture, values and approaches to conflict resolution." And plan adds the "MCFD wide Complaints Resolution Process and the Provincial Complaints Resolution Policy also speak to the need to incorporate cultural approaches to resolving disputes with Aboriginal children, youth and families." But such measures were in place prior to Ms. Turpel-Lafond assessing the ministry as having achieved "limited or no progress" in responding this recommendation. Although children and family development is presently working to establish a "new Advocacy United in the Integrated Quality Assurance Team" to "support cultural approaches in increasing Aboriginal children, youth and family access to the complaints process."

Recommendation 37: That the Ministry review injuries and deaths not only of children who were receiving Ministry services at the time of the incident, but also of children who had received Ministry services during the 12 months preceding, and in exceptional circumstances, going back even further.

The ministry's operational plan states this recommendation is "consistent with current practice for services received under the Child, Family and Community Service Act." Indeed, Ms. Turpel-Lafond acknowledges "regulation or policy in all program areas requires the reporting of critical injuries and fatalities of children in care and or in receipt of services in the preceding twelve months." But she states, "There do not appear to be clear criteria for the other program areas such as youth justice or child and youth mental health." Nor is there any "information regarding new policy for the review of children who died or were injured beyond the preceding twelve months."

Recommendation 41: That the Ministry make use of multidisciplinary teams in its child injury and death review process.

Ms. Turpel-Lafond's report states, "There appears to be no progress regarding this recommendation other than the discussion of the use of a multidisciplinary team in the Proposed Case Review Model." Indeed, the ministry's operational plan doesn't give any further assurance concerning the ministry's use of multidisciplinary teams. Although the plan reports, "MCFD is considering whether a need exists for another multi-disciplinary team in the context of a review of requirements for an integrated quality assurance system."

Recommendation 42: That government provide sufficient funding, staffing and training to support its newer approaches to child protection work.

The operational plan boasts "almost 200 new front-line workers were added in 2006/07, and MCFD will fill another 60 full-time equivalent positions in the coming year." And it reports, "In fiscal 2006/07, over 700 employees received training through conferences and one and two day workshop child protection including family development response, family group conferencing and mediation sessions." But Ms. Turpel-Lafond states "it is unknown whether" that training is "more effective than what existed prior to the Hughes Review." Moreover, the government's decision to hire "approximately 300 regular staff, mostly front-line social and mental health workers" was announced a year before the children and youth representative released her report.

Recommendation 43: That an external evaluation of all programs under the service transformation initiative, beginning with kith and kin agreements, be undertaken both during the implementation phase and then later, on an ongoing basis.

Ms. Turpel-Lafond's report states, "Our understanding is that external evaluations are not being considered, so Recommendation 43 is assessed at 'limited or no progress.' But it seems that has changed. Because the ministry's operational plan reports, "External evaluation as a component of MCFD's quality assurance activities has been confirmed and as a result Kith and Kin and other initiatives will be evaluated in 2008/09."

Recommendation 44: That program evaluation become a routine part of the Ministry's management role, to be carried out in consultation with the regions and with Aboriginal authorities, once established.

The ministry's operational plan states, "Program evaluation will be part of integrated quality assurance development." Indeed, Ms. Turpel-Lafond's report mentions, "MCFD's draft plans identify several program areas that are slated for internal review." However, she notes "these activities appear to be in the preliminary stages of development leading to a 'limited or no progress' rating. It is also not known what methodology will be used to conduct these reviews."

Recommendation 45: That government provide training for current social workers and recruit individuals with necessary mediation and counselling skills to support the services transformation initiative.

The ministry's operational plan states, "Implementation of collaborative practice initiatives including family group conferencing and mediation is well underway. Selection of mediators is based on skills and other qualifications and is done in consultation with the Dispute Resolution Office in the Ministry of the Attorney General. Social worker orientation/ training are specific to their role in family group conferencing and mediation." Such processes were in place prior to the release of Ms. Turpel-Lafond's report.

Recommendation 49: That the Child, Family and Community Services Act be amended to allow the provincial Director to make information sharing agreements with other agencies for the purpose of multidisciplinary child death reviews.

The ministry's operational plan suggests children and family development will not be making such an amendment because, "Privacy experts consulted on this topic advised that such agreements are best managed outside of a statutory framework."

Recommendation 50: That the Child, Family and Community Services Act be amended to require the provincial Director to give, on a confidential basis, a complete copy of the final child death review report to all agencies that participated in the multi-disciplinary child death review team.

Ms. Turpel-Lafond's report states, "It has not been possible to determine whether this is under adctive consideration as MCFD has not incorporated a multidisciplinary approach to case reviews." And, five months later, that approach still hasn't been incorporated. Although the ministry's operational plan states, "The Director already has discretion to provide such information under the CFCSA and further amendment is not necessary."

Recommendation 53: That if the death of a child who was in care or known to the Ministry has already been disclosed by police, a court or the Coroner, the Ministry be permitted by the Child, Family and Community Service Act to disclose the child's name and relationship to the Ministry and the contents of the Ministry's case review, to the extent necessary for accountability but without unreasonable invasion of privacy.

The ministry's operational states, "Amendments to the CFCSA in Spring 2007 address this recommendation." And yet, Ms. Turpel-Lafond's report - which was released after those amendments were introduced - specifically mentions, "There is as yet no proposed amendment to the Child, Family and Community Service Act to address this recommendation."

Recommendation 57:: That the Ministry of Children and Family Development, in collecting linked data from other public bodies for the purpose of decision making about individuals, ensure that the absolute minimum information is collected and that each linking is necessary to enable the Director to deliver mandated services, and that the highest privacy standards are met.

Ms. Turpel-Lafond's report notes, "MCFD indicates that its current Confidentiality and Disclosure of Information Guide" - dated November 2007 "meets the standards referenced in Recommendation 57." But, according to the children and youth representative, that document "does not appear to address the recommendation." And the ministry's operational plan - which states "existing policy and practice limit the use of personal information and establish high standards of privacy and security" - doesn't give any indication children and family development has made progress in achieving this recommendation.

Recommendation 61: That the Ministry of Children and Family Development review its privacy policy documents to ensure that they are current, accurate and easily useable by employees.

Ms. Turpel-Lafond's report states the ministry's "revised Confidentiality and Disclosure of Information Guide does not meet the spirit and intent of the recommendation, which speaks to the need for privacy policy documents that present information in an easily comprehensible format for field staff." But, in its operational plan, children and family development appears to maintain that it does.

Recommendation 62: That the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act be amended to incorporate the "unreasonable invasion of privacy" test into s33.2, which authorizes public disclosure of personal information under certain conditions.

Ms. Turpel-Lafond's report states, "Amendments to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act introduced in the last legislative session are said to address Recommendation 62, in part. The amendment does not appear to substantially address the recommendation." Five months later, the ministry's operational plan mentions, "Amendments to the FOIPPA are under consideration by the Ministry of Labour and Citizens Services" - although no specifics are given.

Insufficient information provided

Recommendation 15: That the provincial and federal governments provide Aboriginal agencies with: modern information technology and help them acquire appropriate office management systems and skills; the same training opportunities as are offered to Ministry staff, as well as specialized training directed at their particular needs; and support during a crisis from an emergency response team.

Ms. Turpel-Lafond's report states "it is difficult to tell from available information whether this recommendation has been adequately addressed." But the ministry's operational plan says, "In February 2006" - which was prior to the release of the Hughes Review on April 7, 2006 - "delegated Aboriginal agencies received enhanced access to MCFD's management information system." And that their staff "receive training equivalent to that of MCFD staff." Moreover, the plan states "During a crisis, rapid response plans are developed collaboratively between MCFD and Aboriginal agencies."

Recommendation 19:: That government commit itself to decentralization, which means supporting it with adequate resources, time, a dedicated team, and budget stability.

The ministry's operational plan states "this commitment to decentralization is in place." For example, according to the plan, "Regional Executive Directors have joined MCFD leadership council and provincial office has been restructured to support further involvement in planning and decision-making." And a "Regional Council Support Team has been established at the provincial office to support regionalization and to guide implementation across program areas." But, five months ago, Ms. Turpel-Lafond said such changes didn't provide her with "sufficient information to permit an assessment of the commitment and resources dedicated to decentralization." Although the ministry, which has increased regional budgets over the past three years, reports it does have "specific budget support for Planning Committees and Interim Authorities."

Recommendation 60: That the Ministry of Children and Family Development review the statutes that govern it to ensure that there are no statutory barriers to disclosure of information among program areas.

The children and youth representative's report states, "no source documents were provided to permit an assessment of the recommendation or as evidence of efforts" to address information barriers since 2006 - when the ministry last conducted such a review. The ministry's operational plan makes no mention of a new review being undertaken. But it does state, "MCFD is a participant in a cross government initiative being led by the Government Chief Information Officer intended to 'enable the right information, to the right people, at the right time, for the right purpose.'"

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