Watchdog takes another bite

"There is still no coordinated effort" within the ministry of children and family development to implement the Hughes Review's recommendations, which were released 32 months ago. That's the opinion of Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, British Columbia's children and youth representative.

Ms. Turpel-Lafond made that statement earlier today, following the release of her second report assessing those implementation efforts. Speaking to reporters, she said, "This is a little hard for me to understand. The Throne Speech was clear. The minister was clear. Senior leadership in the ministry was clear when they spoke to you in November 2007 and committed to have 90 percent of these recommendations implemented within one year."

At that time, Ms. Turpel-Lafond reported 47 of the review's 62 recommendations had not been completed. Now, more than a year later, the representative has highlighted 15 of those incomplete recommendations as "being at the very core of the essential work still required to improve and enhance the way the ministry functions." And, of those 15, just one has been substantially implemented. The remainder are in the planning or implementation stage.

"There are another 34" incomplete recommendations that still need to be assessed, Ms. Turpel-Lafond continued. "I will produce a separate report on those early in the New Year. But I've held back on that in the hope that, with the minister's cooperation, we may be able to do some joint work in this year."

In the meantime, Ms. Turpel-Lafond expressed specific concern the ministry has achieved limited or no progress in transferring its responsibilities to regional and aboriginal authorities.

"The ministry has been decentralizing for more than a decade. But there is still no clear roadmap, no plan to guide their process. There is still no clear set of objectives to reach. There are no performance measures for the regions. The budget letters from MCFD to the regions contain no performance measures of expectations. This is not the path (former conflict of interest commissioner) Ted Hughes recommended," she stated.

And "on the aboriginal child and youth issues, it appears to me that the ministry is pretty much back to square one. The significance of this shift is such that I am reviewing separately the issue in a more fullsome way to see if I might find some enduring lessons from these experiences as it is the second time in a decade that an aboriginal service planning process was started, funded and halted without evaluation and with significant public expenditure."

Ms. Turpel-Lafond also found limited or no progress in conducting an external evaluation of its service transformation programs - another Hughes Review recommendation. And, as a result, the representative said, "I have to wonder if I must press further for one or some of these to be done jointly with my office so it will be accomplished in the near future."

"It's the difference between planning and doing," she explained. "There's a deficit in the doing. And we need to address and correct that deficit," she continued.

But the chances of the ministry and the representative correcting that deficit together may be slim. Ms. Turpel-Lafond's report also highlighted what appears to be continuing tension between her office and the ministry.

According to the report, the representative has not been "consulted regularly when major shifts in policy or changes are contemplated or conducted, particularly when it affects children and youth receiving services or programs designated for review by the Representative." And a lack of "information sharing and disclosure" by the ministry remains a concern.

Asked why that might be, Ms. Turpel-Lafond responded, "I think that you'd probably have to direct that (question) to the ministry. Because, as I said quite clearly, I really don't understand why that is the case. Because, certainly from our office, there's a willingness."

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