Contents under pressure

In an interview with The Times Colonist's Lindsay Kines, children and youth representative Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond criticized the government for withholding an internal report on the increasing cost of the province's child weflare system. But Ms. Turpel-Lafond isn't the only party upset about the contents of that report, which was leaked to the New Democrats.

In an email to Federation of Child and Family Services of British Columbia members, executive director Jennifer Charlesworth disputes the report's contention that contracted services "rarely contributed to good outcomes for children." According to Ms. Charlesworth, such claims are "not substantiated by reliable evidence."

She also expressed "deep concern" about Children and Family Development Minister Tom Christensen's suggestion his ministry would be "reducing reliance on contracted services." And Ms. Charlesworth questioned the government's cost analysis because it doesn't "account for the dramatic reduction in services that took place in 2002-2003" - a reduction she states "contributed to burn-out and higher foster care costs."

The email states the federation will be making its concerns public tomorrow. The following is a complete copy of that email.

***

From: Jennifer Charlesworth
Sent: Wednesday, February 25, 2009 7:01 PM
Subject: Media reports and Legislative proceedings on 'Child in Care Crisis' - Federation's response

Dear members

Yesterday in the Legislature, the NDP Opposition referenced a leaked internal MCFD document entitled "Child in Care Cost Drivers" dated September, 2008. This document was prepared by a working group, comprised of MCFD staff, to review the drivers of escalating residential care costs and make recommendations to address or contain costs. The report looked at the full range of residential care - from foster care to staffed resources and out of province placements. The Federation was not involved in this report, nor had we heard of it until it was leaked to the Opposition.

We have obtained a copy of the main text of the report and have attached it for your reference. While there are many points that we would agree with, there are also a number that we take exception to. Some of these comments have found their way into the media. I have attached a document with the mainstream media's coverage of this report - you'll note that they refer to passages from the report that suggest residential services contribute to poor outcomes for kids, and that residential care providers have hired people who were rejected as foster parents. Further, the Minister was in a 'media scrum' yesterday (see http://www.publiceyeonline.com/archives/003595.html#more ) and suggested that they would be reducing reliance on contracted services.

As you can appreciate, we are deeply concerned about this report and the subsequent media coverage and debates in the legislature for a number of reasons, notably:

The Federation has been calling for a joint review of residential care services for close to a year. We know that there are significant cost pressures and our Applied Promising Practices research identified a number of issues pertaining to MCFD practices that we wanted to discuss. This report identifies a number of issues with the system that we have also identified and have been asking to work on with MCFD as they directly affect young people in care. Unfortunately, we have not been invited into the review process and are concerned that a process has apparently been underway for a number of months.

This report looks at the issue from a costs perspective. We believe that this is an inappropriate focus - any review of residential care should start first with best interests of the child - as the Representative for Children and Youth so rightly reminds us all. The reality is that many young people in our residential care system have extraordinary needs that require sustained care and expertise. Any system has to build up from the needs and best interests of our most vulnerable young people and a continuum of quality care options is vitally important.

The report makes some claims that are not substantiated by reliable evidence, for example, "regional staff felt that contracted agencies rarely contributed to good outcomes for children in care". Comments such as these are not backed up by evidence and in fact, we have amassed research evidence that makes it clear that appropriately used staffed residential care results in good outcomes for vulnerable children. Anecdotal comments made by a few staff should not be used for decision-making on something as important as a residential care system.

The analysis of costs does not account for the dramatic reduction in services that took place in 2002-2003 - that then needed to be restored in 2005-2008 once it was recognized, through the Hughes review and other reviews, that the knife had been inserted too deeply. During the time of reduced capacity it is evident that the pressure on the foster care system mounted and may have contributed to burn-out and higher foster care costs.

Today we spoke with the Deputy Minister and senior ministry staff and have expressed our concern and urged action on a residential review and redesign that includes the community-based residential service providers. A press release and letters to the Minister and others urging immediate action will be sent out tomorrow.

We will keep you posted on the Ministry's response

Please feel free to contact me should you have any questions of feedback.
Jennifer

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