Top bureaucrat nixes giving briefings to watchdog

A top bureaucrat has refused to give the government's independent child protection watchdog any further personal briefings about her poorly understood effort to massively overhaul the way British Columbia's children are protected. But the bureaucrat's boss, Children and Family Development Minister Mary Polak, has said the children and youth representative is getting information about that four-year-old initiative - just through other channels.

The sole briefing that did take place between the representative, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, and the minister's deputy Lesley du Toit, happened on August 20, 2009, according to records obtained by Public Eye via a freedom of information request.

But it was only setup after repeated requests by the watchdog dating back to at least February 26 of that year - if not earlier.

"I have anticipated receiving this briefing since 2007," Ms. Turpel-Lafond stated in one letter, writing in another that her staff had been told, "This is an initiative flowing from (the deputy's) office and that only you are able to provide the information."

She also advised Ms. du Toit "a project of this magnitude, long promised and intended to make significant change affecting programs for vulnerable children and youth, will require my oversight."

In response, Ms. du Toit wrote she had "no record of any request for a briefing" any earlier than February - having previously blamed the election and the "period of time both of us had away from the office in the Spring" for the delay in meeting.

The deputy then went onto to clarify "one last time" that monitoring of the "day-to-day operations of the ministry, matters related to staffing, budget management, direction I give to ministry staff, and the changes to operations and policy" is "outside the role of the Representative."

As a result, according to Ms. du Toit, any briefings on such topics "will provide very broad, high level information on these matters without going into details."

It's unclear whether the deputy was referring to Ms. Turpel-Lafond's request for a meeting to discuss the ministry's so-called "practice change" initiative or another topic.

But Ms. Turpel-Lafond later described her briefing with Ms. du Toit as having been a "good introduction" to that initiative.

So, three months later, the representative asked Ms. du Toit for a "further and more detailed briefing on the ministry's practice framework."

To which the Ms. du Toit replied: "I will not be providing you with any further briefings on the Practice Change."

The deputy minister's December 4 letter then went onto list the places where the representative could find information about that initiative, including government Websites, written reports and whatever her ministry tells the legislature's standing committee on children and youth.

In an interview with Public Eye, Minister Polak found no fault in Ms. du Toit's refusal to give further briefings to Ms. Turpel-Lafond.

"We're receiving requests or sometimes orders (from the representative) to do briefings on things to an extent that would make it extremely difficult for a deputy minister of a ministry like this to have just the time to do it as often as the representative requests," she stated.

Instead, on November 27, Minister Polak said she and Ms. Turpel-Lafond arranged to have the representative's deputy and the ministry's chief operating officer discuss Ms. du Toit's initiative on an ongoing basis.

"At some point Lesley has to be able to say, 'Look. This isn't a practical way to go forward. There's too much information and too much going on for that to be handled through a briefing.' So what she's saying is a briefing is not an appropriate way to do this and it isn't. And I agree with that."

2 Comments

It's not just the Rep who is being shut out. MCFD promised 18 months ago to hold public consultations with families before implementing the surprise plans to move services for children and youth with special needs back from CLBC. The transfer was finalized months ago and the families are still waiting.

Same with the controversial autism policy changes that Minister Polak implemented last fall - not a word of consultation, resulting in disastrous policy changes that have been universally panned by every single autism group in the province (which is probably a first, because autism groups never agree on anything!).

Same with the budget cuts that we know are being discussed internally. The Deputy claims to have cut $32 million from admin cost to redirect it to front-line services. Where is it? All we're seeing is ever more cuts on the front-lines.

There's nothing being discussed and nothing to discuss because there is nothing good to discuss. Ms Du Toit's job is to endlessly shuffle portfolios around in an effort to disguise the fact that the BC Liberals don't care about these kids as much as they care about their corporate sponsors and are therefore not willing to pay for good practice and are in fact making it more impossible every day to have good practice with more and more being gutted every day.

I've been watching this shell game for 12 years now. The changes never end and nothing ever changes except for the steady erosion of the few dollars that actually make it to the front lines to support children. It's a gigantic scam and the stresses of maintaining it really show when you see a Deputy and Minister behaving this badly.

Another reason the Deputy may not want to talk the Representative about "practice changes" is that there is precious little to talk about.The so called changes, apart from promotions to her immediate reports amount to no more than empty braying.The mantra is "transformation".The reality is staffing cut backs and service reduction.

"Transformation" rhetoric from the deputy , now 4 years on has become for line social workers mainly a distraction in their working lives, like elevator music, of no significance in their day to day work.

This current regime ignores social workers, supervisors and managers and is on its own indecipherable track, lead in the mad charge by the deputy.

Not surprising she wont talk to the Representative.

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