Child welfare system "in crisis and in need of innovation"

Five months ago, the ministry of children and family development described it's own child welfare system as being "in crisis and in need of innovation." This, according to a September 2008 internal analysis that was leaked to opposition New Democrats and released today. According to the analysis, the "overall cost and cost per case" of children in care has been increasing at "rates beyond inflation and beyond the Ministry's capacity to continue to fund within existing budgets."

Among the reasons: although the number of children in care has "remained relatively flat," new children coming into care now have more "severe" needs - in part because of improving survival rates for low birth weight, drug addicted and high risk babies. The analysis also blames rising housing and transportation costs, as well as increases in the use of pricey group homes because of a declining foster parent population.

And, to make matters worse, those homes and other contracted services "rarely contributed to good outcomes for children in care." In fact, foster parents who were rejected by the ministry of children and family development "sometimes resurfaced with agencies."

In response, Children and Family Development Minister Tom Christensen told reporters the analysis is partly why his ministry will receive a $14 million increase to its budget in fiscal 2009/10 and another $11 million in 2010/11.

But, despite that analysis, the government's public fiscal plan forecasts the average annual cost per child in care will remain at $31,400 in fiscal 2010/11 and 2011/12, following a $300 increase in 2009/10 and a $1,900 increase in fiscal 2008/09.

Minister Christensen didn't specifically address why the ministry expects that number to stay stable. But, he maintained, "what this fiscal plan clearly does is add more financial resources to this ministry to enable us to meet the needs of vulnerable children" as a result of those budget increases and administrative savings.

The minister also stated his staff are working to "minimize" the use of contracted resources. The following is a recording of that scrum.


Ya right, blame the kids for not fitting the budget instead of the budget for not fitting the needs of the kids!

New children coming into care now have more "severe" needs " part because of improving survival rates for...high risk babies."

Huh? Survival rates haven't changed significantly in the past decade or two. Crack babies were being born back in the 1980s, as I recall.

If more kids aren't coming into care because they're trying to keep those numbers down and then they're coming into care in worse shape than before, could that be simply because they're not doing enough to support the struggling families who are being left to care for these children?

What about all the endless waitlists for underfunded early intervention services - Infant Development Program, Supported Child Care, specialized preschools, Child Development Centres? Or families being told they need an IQ test before infants as young as three can receive supports?

What about the gutting of MCFD-funded supports for school-age children with special needs & inner city schools under the BC Liberals? What about the non-existent mental health services for these kids as they hit the teen years and everything starts crashing?

Might having the highest child poverty rate in the country have anything to do with it?

Very well put Dawn Steele.

As the Ministry of Children and Family Development moves away from bringing children into care, those children and families that still require assistance and/or intervention are "statically" forgotten about. Out of care options still require money to provide food, shelter and clothing to the child; support services to address the child and parental needs; support to the out of care placement home; and a lot of social worker time to set up an out of care home, managing the crisis, ensuring support services are being accessed and the risk reduction plan is being followed.

So yes, there have been less children coming into care but that doesn't mean that there are less families MCFD is working with. And yes, children coming into care do have higher needs - because social workers have run out of all other options before bringing a child into care.

Support services are declining as well. These "contracted agencies" referred to are what MCFD NEEDS to do their job effectively and reduce risk to the children and family. As cut backs under the Liberal government continue, the support services have been dismantled or left to a bare bone agency. Social workers now have to work with support services that either don't exist as they've been cut back, or referred clients being placed on a waiting list that can be up to six months long, and worse social workers are being told its too expensive to place a support service in a family home such as home care services, parenting capacity assessments, hair analysis for drug use, etc. The basic support service necessitates for children and their families are being severely reduced leaving social workers scrambling to beg, borrow and steal so a child can have a supervised visit with their parent that god forbid, the child has been transported to and from. Social workers love to hear that at the end of the month their supervised visit contract has been cancelled because there is no more money left in the pot.

Food, shelter and day to day costs are on the rise; transportation costs to access specialists, family visits, etc are increasing; and foster parents are not receiving adequate funds to care for children.

Thank goodness May is coming, thank goodness we're having a provincial election. If the Liberal's don't get voted out this time support services will further disappear, social workers will be laid off and left scrambling to somehow provide for children and families, foster parents will be told to suck it up, and children and families are going to suffer.

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