Power not money

Last week, it was reported the provincial government would be scrapping "teams of advisors who help families with special-needs children get in touch with the right child-care workers and who give guidance to those workers." This, according to CTV's St. John Alexander. But one of them, Dana Brynelsen, has stated that decision wasn't made for fiscal reasons. Instead, it was about "power and control and the direction" of the ministry of children and family development.

In an email to colleagues, Mr. Brynelsen - the provincial advisor for British Columbia's infant development program - wrote, "I understand now that the decision to close the Provincial Offices was made over a year ago. It is very difficult to understand how we could have worked with MCFD staff for over a year without this information being shared, without consultation and opportunity to have a thorough analysis of impact."

"Our biggest challenge is that this is not about money." Instead, the decision was "about power and control and the direction of MCFD which is to devolve all power and control to the regions. I have been told that the move to decentralize is in part a move to remove standards and that for our field this will lead to increased caseloads and services which will be viewed increasingly through a child protection lens."

"As you know MCFD, under the current Deputy (Lesley du Toit), does not support family centred practice," she continued. "All MCFD documentation I have viewed through the Strong Safe and Supported work does not use that terminology. The current Deputy is from South Africa. I do not know her vision of early childhood intervention but I fear that we are heading in the direction of South Africa, which to my knowledge has never been a leader in our field."

The following is a complete copy of Ms. Brynelsen's email.

***
Dear Infant Development Consultants,

Thank you all for your support over the past week. I see the letters coming in and the newspaper articles and I know that you are speaking up from your perspectives throughout BC. Some of you have contacted your union to express concern that if this Office goes you will be without the technical supports you need to do your job. I have attached a press release from HSA. Parents are speaking up as well. Many parents seek advice and direction from this office in their search for answers for their child's development. Many are referred by us on to you. As you and the families we serve are the 'constituents' of our Provincial Office there are no more important voices.

You have many allies. I have attached a letter from Dr. Michael Whitfield whom many of you know has served on the Provincial Steering Committee for many years. He is on holiday in New Zealand and has written from there. I am also sending a letter by separate email to you from my nephew who is in Grade 10 and a friend who was the first psychologist consultant to the IDP to let you know that family and friends are in this as well. They don't always have the facts exactly right but they are concerned. So we do have much support.

It was of course professionally devastating to me and to Amelia and the Regional Advisors to be dismissed by MCFD so abruptly last week, with no acknowledgment of our work of many years. So the supportive letters you are sending are very rewarding.

I understand now that the decision to close the Provincial Offices was made over a year ago. It is very difficult to understand how we could have worked with MCFD staff for over a year without this information being shared, without consultation and opportunity to have a thorough analysis of impact.

Our biggest challenge is that this is not about money. If this was a fiscal issue, we could win this battle. We have kept the fiscal wolf from the door for 34 years.

This is about power and control and the direction of MCFD which is to devolve all power and control to the regions. I have been told that the move to decentralize is in part a move to remove standards and that for our field this will lead to increased caseloads and services which will be viewed increasingly through a child protection lens. The implications of the child protection lens in our field are of particular import for many families in the IDP who are struggling with many issues in addition to having a child with special needs. And of course this will have a significant impact on AIDP and Aboriginal families.

As you know MCFD, under the current Deputy, does not support family centred practice, all MCFD documentation I have viewed through the Strong Safe and Supported work does not use that terminology. The current Deputy is from South Africa. I do not know her vision of early childhood intervention but I fear that we are heading in the direction of South Africa, which to my knowledge has never been a leader in our field.

If our population base and specialized resources were equitably distributed throughout BC then the closure of a provincial resource like the IDP Provincial Office would have no particular impact. But we are serving a relatively low incidence population and in some situations children with very rare conditions. Even conditions as common as Down syndrome are not common at all in small communities. In the North region in our last statistics there were only 4 babies referred with Down syndrome in that huge region over an entire year. And two of these babies were born at opposite ends of the region. How do we keep up to date with low incidence conditions? These are the issues we need to address.

Even something as seemingly simple as Gesell training cannot happen with ease regionally unless many more of you become qualified to train others. And then you will need the time from your caseloads to do this. So we do have challenges ahead. And I am working with the Regional Advisors to document the impact and figure out ways that some work can be done to support you when the office closes.

In regard to the work that will be done when the office closes at the end of December I was informed that inservice training and Summer Institute will be in future organized under the direction of a committee of three social workers with child protection backgrounds. Social work is a great profession but when I reviewed the curricula of all schools of social work in Canada a few years ago, not one had as a graduating requirement, a course in child development. These three social workers to my knowledge have not worked in our field. They have not attended training we have held, or taken the certificate or diploma. They are now called Children and Youth with Special Needs Specialists. So in the absence of skilled leaders we need to figure out how you will be able to influence to the best of your ability our field in future. This is what we are working on.

On a personal note, as you know I am on medical leave. Some of you have expressed concern about how I will manage without a pension or medical plan after December 31. I have been assured by my employer that I can remain for a period of time on extended benefits with some compensation.

So let's concentrate now on how we are going to get you the support you need in your communities in the coming years.

Many, many thanks for your caring support.

Kind regards,

Dana

21 Comments

Replace the words Infant Development Advisors for "EIBI program for autistic children" and this sounds eerily like what happened to the EIBI program.

Our biggest challenge is that this is not about money ...

This is about power and control and the direction of MCFD ...

a move to remove standards ...

The implications of the child protection lens in our field are of particular import for many families in the IDP who are struggling with many issues in addition to having a child with special needs ...

As you know MCFD, under the current Deputy, does not support family centred practice ...

If our population base and specialized resources were equitably distributed throughout BC ...

I wonder what role Leslie du Toit had in the closure of the highly effective, tremendously cost effective, EIBI program?

Chris.

I'll just add that with an openly libertarian Minister, I think it's time some hard ball questions were lobbed about how far Minister Polak is going to take that libertarianism. As in does she believe in calling, "for the end of all government grants, loans, tariffs, and other such favors designed to benefit certain individuals and groups at the expense of others. Libertarianism states that government should offer equality to men not in the forms of equal pay, equal housing, or equal happiness, but instead, in the form of equal opportunity to earn these things in voluntary dealings with other men" (SOURCE).

Thanks to Chris and the warm evidence of kids thriving due to EIBI, I think Min. Polak made a bad call. The question is... was it ideological?

I think it is remarkable, that a mandated Ministry is talking about "decentralizing" at all, let alone in private and behind closed doors.

I can see the political elements of government rejoicing at such a possibility of devolving this troublesome ministry to the regions. The Premier must easily recall the uneasy days in the Leg and how such a plan beckons.

But in reality MCFD needs stronger leadership than it currently has, a budget that works and a consistent practice framework throughout the province if is to meet even its own mandate. To meet the expectation of the ambitious "five pillars document" ... how about restoring funding to even pre 2001 levels as a start? Then value the work of this Ministry on an equal ground with that of Health and Education ? The old three legs necessary to create a social chair is what I was taught?

Without Social Services as a primary prevention tool, Health and Education pay more and more as a result of not identifying children and families in who will need additional support.

Pay me now ... or pay me much MORE ... later.

We brought in a Deputy from South Africa ... she has failed miserably and has proven herself to be vindictive, prone to emotional outbursts, difficult to work with and isolated. Ministry staff live in fear of her. If we decentralize this Ministry does that mean we get 5 more Ms DuToit's or can we divide her salary to the most needy, given her new found redundancy?

Time to launch a massive investigation of this long flawed Ministry before it, yet again, becomes a flogging boy of Liberal budget imperatives and cutbacks and, we are once again mired by investigations of individual tragedy when the real culprit is chronic underfunding, flawed leadership and negligent systemic neglect.


Whew ... I do feel better ...


It seems to have become the modus operandi in government social and health programs these days to hire folks from outside Canada to come in and restructure these services. My personal experience in these environments is that nothing but rubble left in their wake and that it felt somewhat similar to what First Peoples must have felt under colonialism. I fear the results will be the same.

Good one Jim. I think it's time the Minister made a vision statement, just one of those special order or whathaveyou speeches on Monday. Make sure to drop in the word or a variant of the word "libertarian" so we all get how far that's going to go.

After all, she's on YouTube what 40-something times now? Obviously she can inspire the masses and communicate.

The sad irony is that the shift of kids with special needs back to MCFD (from CLBC) and the accompanying move back to regionalization takes the BC Liberals full circle - right back to where they started in 2001. After being elected on a promise to stop the endless restructuring, the head of their 2001 Core Review (Premier Campbell) said they needed to do just that, condemning everyone to spend the next decade & to waste tens of millions of dollars going round and round the restructuring circle.

Dana raises some excellent points, though I'm afraid the abstract nature will make it hard for many people to grasp how important they are to resolving the MCFD problem.

Under-resourcing means the Ministry's statutory child protection mandate is focussed almost entirely on crisis intervention - rescuing kids from unsafe homes where the parents are the problem.

The other part of the mandate (special needs, ECD, child care, IDP) etc is consistent with what child protection should be, if it were 100% proactive, preventative and successful. So it would make sense to meld them if you were dealing with an ideal situation - which is far from true & unlikely to change anytime soon.

So in our less-than-ideal world, you will now have the same under-resourced social worker tasked with the statutory obligation to rescue kids from unsafe situations and trying to juggle that with the *desire* (not statutory) to provide early intervention, preventative supports etc. to both populations. What do we expect is going to happen to ECD, child care and special needs services in this context? The same as happens on the child protection side - an increased shift to crisis management vs. early intervention.

We'll see the erosion of early intervention programs (already happening) and more families of kids with special needs being pushed to the crisis point where they have to put their kids into care because they can no longer cope. This will hike costs on the statutory side, leaving less for prevention etc

When you accompany this with a loss of centralized coordination, oversight & quality control, the problem becomes even worse. Just like Vegas - What happens in the Region, stays in the Region.

The most worrying part - which clearly affirms the loss of family-centred practice - is that this transition has been ongoing for a year now, and nobody at MCFD has thought to engage the families who rely on all these services (IDP, EIBI and other services to kids with special needs) to ask them if the new system that's being designed is going to work for us.

We're the senior partners in delivery for this sector - it's our kids, and we're most often the ones coordinating and delivering the services to our kids at home. How can you design an entire new service system (which is supposed to be going live sometime this month) without ever having involved us? This, more than anything, speaks to the strong likelihood of a disaster in the making.

Where is Mary Ellen Turpel Lafond? We urgently need someone who has the knowledge and insight and independence who can look at this and give the public advice on whether what's going on is in the best interest of children, understanding that the very different needs and challenges can't be resolved by one-size fits all solutions, or ramming everything into a regional child protection framework just because this allows the Ministry to claim it demonstrated fiscal responsibility by cutting $32 million in admin costs.

Thanks Dawn, I may be (and am a somewhat now tempered) Polak booster, but you raise some great points. MCFD is going in what seems to be the wrong direction.

Dana - You are concerned that the Deputy does not use the so called "family centred" approach. To me the whole system of the children`s ministry should be focussed on the child -that is its purpose in being. Speak to two people and you get a different definition of what is a family. If there is no consensus on what is a "family" it is a useless policy tool. We all know what a child is so let us all focus on her/him.

Josef, I have a question for you. You seem to know this minister better than anyone. What do you think is the likelihood that she'll change her mind on these funding cuts? (I'm thinking the EIBI program here as well as the Provincial Advisors.)

Catherine, to answer your question I think it would take two of the following turning on this Minister for her to do it:

1) The Media (which soft-of has)

2) The Caucus - as in the backbenches and the budget process.

3) The Grassroots - as in the people, but preferably BCLibs.

Of course, there's the Premier who's pretty much tapped Mary on the shoulder for quite a while now as a possible heir apparent and even gave her positive reinforcement for a QP performance on EIBI buried at the end of THIS pro-Polak YouTube (that'll likely make you mad but that's my source). So back to two of the three.

Of course the caucus could do it, but they'd need prompting - and a lot of it - to turn on Cabinet. Any Minister - and especially this ex-pollster - who sees the media & grassroots united on an issue would have to listen.

Otherwise, our Minister Polak's going to stand and hold her ground barring a major scandal forcing her out before 2011. Arrrgggh!!!!

Me, I'm disappointed this Minister is keeping on keeping on when it comes to autism - just watch this Wednesday QP performance. The evidence is growing the Ministry needs to change momentum or put out a backup plan. That doesn't mean my NDP membership card is in the mail but EIBI has at least credible evidence of working and needs expansion to save a future Polak Premiership in 2013 or Cadieux Premiership in 2021 the spirialing costs of caring for autistics.

Hi, Josef K,

(1) The media would be great, but I've been a bit disappointed in coverage to date, especially of our rally. I'm sure, of course, that everyone is disappointed in media coverage of their cause. I think going to the public direct, as via our Facebook page, and web pages in future, and Twitter, and blogs, is also really going to help us.

(2) We are talking to our MLAs. We are sending the following messages to them. (a) we don't want our kids to benefit at the expense of others (b) we don't expect Minister Polak to produce miracles and come up with money that doesn't exist (although reversing this decision would cost $0 to BC taxpayers) (c) we expect the BC Liberals to give MCFD the budget it needs to fully fund services to all children in BC (there have been tremendous cuts to Fetal Alcohol Syndrome children, autistic children, Infant Development programs, and on and on and on) (d) we expect Mary Polak to stand up to the Premier and demand the budget she needs (e) we expect all BC Liberal Cabinet Ministers and MLAs to be standing right along side her, we don't expect Mary to do this by herself (f) we expect every BC Liberal to use the influence they have with this Premier to adequately fund MCFD, and if they have no influence with this Premier, then why the heck are we electing them (g) we may survey each and every MLA on their position on cuts to services to children, and publicize the results (h) we do not believe there is a single citizen, businessman or (we hope) politician in BC that wants to reduce the deficits on the backs of our disabled children.

(3) The Grassroots - well, we've got lots of ideas on that too, but our Facebook group now has over 1,100 members and is still growing.

As to Mary's future, unless she is going to follow in Premier Campbell's steps, there are few minister's in recent memory that have come out with as many inaccurate statements as she has in justifying these cuts. I personally expect more from our leaders. I think we in BC deserve better.

Chris.

Eric, if govt was prepared to do all the work for us while we just sat back and took vacations and time out at the spa or the pub like other normal parents, a child-centred approach would be entirely appropriate.

The reality is that families are the key players in responding to "special needs" - we're the ones actually doing 80% of the intervention and we're the ones who care about outcomes. So designing a system in which you expect us to do even more of the heavy lifting, without ever once stopping to ask if your new system is actually going to work for us or consiering how we fit into it, is mind-bogglingly stupid, short-sighted, disrespectful and blind!!!

Chris, writing you back.

I'm a bit worried about the media too. I think too many of them haven't gone in-depth like we have and Sean has on this issue. Also if they don't stay on this, EIBI loses. Game over. Ministry bureaucrats and/or new ideology wins.

I appreciate going after the MLAs - good work. Mary's future and the future of EIBI hinge on it. And yeah, contrary to the Sunday morning heads, she can defend. Defend like the best of the best. Problem is, I don't know if she wanted this or if the Ministry wanted this change. Nobody does, since BC public records law is so expensive/shoddy.

Hopefully the people of B.C. rise up and say point-blank that the province of so much innovation and human wonders is not going to turn its back on people who don't have a voice, people who don't have the $$$ to hire a lobbyist or even the ability to start a blog or work Facebook. I agree that passing the buck to the parents isn't too wise dawn steele. I also am a bit unnerved at the NDP narrative that the budget is being balanced on the backs of the vulnerable.

Hi, Josef K,

You wrote "I also am a bit unnerved at the NDP narrative that the budget is being balanced on the backs of the vulnerable". That's not NDP narrative. That is the reality in this province right now.

Chris.

Hi, Josef. Thanks for your comprehensive reply. I also wonder what Minister Polak thinks of this $20 million that Rich Coleman gets to hand out for a putative autism centre (or, vanity project, depending on how you look at it).

Why on earth isn't she asking the Premier to re-direct some of that money her way so she doesn't have to cut EIBI at all? (not to mention saving other programs like the IDP)

If I were in her job, I'd be pretty ticked off.

Chris, I just agree to disagree. I think part of the problem is I don't see or hear of any alternative NDP budget anywhere... part of the job of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition is to... oppose. Also the team has to make cuts... somewhere. Obviously, you and others have brought me to support EIBI. BUT this government got itself into a bind with an optimist budget.

Catherine, you are very welcome. However here's what Minister Polak said about the autism centre in QP. It's a good idea (but inappropriately timed).

Hi, Josef,

I don't want an alternative NDP budget. I want the government in power now, the BC Liberals, who have the power to act now, to meet the needs of children in this province. The Liberal team does not have to make cuts to services to children in need. Period.

Do you really think there is any citizen or business leader in BC that is going to object to an increase in our deficit in order to meet the needs of children in our province?

Hopefully, there will be no politicians in this province, Liberal or NDP, that will oppose this either. Or do we in fact want to try to reduce our deficit, after all, on the backs of the needy children of this province?

Dawn may have more to say about this than I do, but her group surveyed ALL parents of children with autism in the province over a year ago. 95% of them agreed there were better ways to spend this money.

The Premier's friends, Wendy and Sergio Cocchia, who personally lobbied him for this building, in response to questions, said they were unaware of any needs assessment, formal RFP, advertisement or competitive process. The purpose of the centre was not determined. Government is providing NO FUNDS funds for any of proposed activities, and families will have to pay from existing resources or fundraise to cover all costs.

How many services in this building with no operational funding do you think the extra $2,000 the ministry is giving to families will buy? I'm guessing precious few.

Where did Mary Polak come up with her figure of thousands of children being served in this new center?

I'll bet you anything you want not one, single solitary minute was spent obtaining one, single solitary fact to back up this statement by the minister.

It is truly, truly shameful that this decision of the Premier's, which is taking away precious dollars from needy children, is being defended by anyone.

Chris.

Just to clarify, when I wrote "Dawn may have more to say ...", I was referring to the proposed autism center in the Vancouver area, where the Premier unilaterally decided to give $20 million dollars to this private center to be run as a for profit business, by people who have no experience delivering services to children with autism.

When it comes to his Minister, who has a mandate to meet the needs of children in this province, this Premier says there is no money. When it comes to his own pet projects and his own friends, money is no object.

When it comes to defending this shameful decision, the premier sits back comfortably in his chair, leaving his Minister to defend the indefensible. And she does so, making statements that have no basis in fact. And Liberal Cabinet members and MLAs sit back and clap!!!

Truly shameful performances all around.

Chris.

Yes, I saw her response in QP - I was more interested in your take. Personally, I wonder how she feels about another minister getting to make the good news announcement when it's technically under her ministry's purview.

Catherine, well I think she did damn good but what do you expect from a Polak fan...

But damn, EIBI treatment is more important than making a new Aerospace Engineering & Test Establishment (AETE) or Edwards Air Force Base or some other new high-tech geek toy laboratory for research on autism. There's other ways of funding autism research & enabling it then building a special centre - such as expanding the shuttering EIBI centres, offering grants to universities and the like.

I also think Mary Polak the political hero doesn't give a damn about who gets to give good news announcements. She's a public servant, not a glory hound who subsititutes media attention for oxygen (e.g. Gordon Campbell, Jenny Kwan, Christy Clark, Adrian Dix & to some extent me). She'll do her job and march off into battle with the bravest of faces.

What it'll take for her to turn around and stop this is realizing she's been betrayed. Or for a caucus to tell cabinet this is going to be a living moral hell for them to back.

That's my take.

Thanks, Josef - I would agree that she has been betrayed by her Cabinet colleagues and her boss especially. It'll be interesting to see how this all plays out.

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