Safety first?

The ministry of children and family development is supposed to protect British Columbia's most vulnerable children. But safety outcomes for those children are no longer being used to measure the ministry's success in its primary planning document. Here's the background: in February 2006, the Campbell administration was under intense criticism over its failure to protect Sherry Charlie, a toddler who was receiving services from the ministry and was beaten to death by her great uncle. In an apparent attempt to address some of that criticism, the ministry began publicizing the rate of recurrence of child abuse and neglect its service plan - an annual report on the department's aims and how it intends to get there.

It also established targets to reduce that rate, which was to be used as the principle means of determining if the government was being successful in its efforts to ensure "vulnerable children and youth are healthy and safe."

The government has consistently missed those targets. If everything had went as planned, that rate was supposed to have been reduced to 13 percent by fiscal 2009/10. But it's actually increased from 16.9 percent in 2004/05 to 20.4 percent as of December 2009.

A ministry spokesperson pointed out the total number of families where there's abuse and the total number where there's re-abuse has actually dropped.

Although it's unclear if that's because of government action (as the ministry has said) or a decline in the number of children being born in British Columbia - a fact frequently cited by the Campbell administration to justify school closures.

Regardless, the ministry has now dumped that performance measure from its service plan. In an interview, children and family development's political boss Mary Polak explained the plan's measures have been changes so that they "more directly align with what we're doing with practice change and Strong, Safe and Supported."

That's the ministry's massive and poorly understood effort to overhaul the way children are protected in this province. But none of those new measures deal with child safety outcomes.

Speaking with Public Eye, New Democrat children and family development critic Maurine Karagianis accused the government of attempting "to bury the facts once more and continue to try and put a rosier glow on British Columbia's real situation regarding kids in care and kids in jeopardy."

"I don't think it's responsible," continued the Esquimalt-Royal Roads legislator. "I don't think it's accountable. And I think it's major deceit to do away with that performance measure."

Minister Polak dismissed such criticism, noting British Columbians can still find out about the rate in a separate document posted online, among several other measurements not included in the service plan.

But fact it's no longer in that plan means the ministry has abandoned setting public targets for reducing the recurrence of child abuse and neglect. And, eight years after the tragic death of a two-year-old triggered a now four-year-old independent review of British Columbia's child protection system, one has to wonder what that says about the direction that department is headed in.

The following is a complete copy of the government's past and present reporting on the rate of child neglect and/or abuse in British Columbia.


Rate of recurrence of child neglect and/or abuse by family

2006/07 - 2008/09 Service Plan

2004/05 Baseline - 16.9%
2005/06 Target - Forecast 16.6%
2006/07 Target - 0.6% less than 2005/06 actual
2007/08 Target - 0.7% less than 2006/07 actual
2008/09 Target - To be determined in 2006/07

2007/08 - 2009/10 Service Plan

2005/06 Actual - 18.1%
2006/07 Target - 17.5%
2007/08 Target - 1% less than 2006/07 actual
2008/09 Target - 1.5% less than 2007/08 actual
2009/10 Target - 2% less than 2008/09 actual

2008/09-2010/11 Service Plan

2006/07 Actual - 20.9%
2007/08 Target - 19.9%
2008/09 Target - 19.4%
2009/10 Target - 18.9%
2010/11 Target - 18.4%

2009/10-2011/12 Service Plan

2007/08 Actual - 18.0%
2008/09 Forecast - 17.0%
2009/10 Target - 18.0%
2010/11 Target - 18.0%
2011/12 Target - 18.5%

2009/10-2011/12 Service Plan Update

2007/08 Actual - 20.1%
2008/09 Actual - 20.9%
2009/10 Target - 18.9%
2011/12 Target - 18.4%

Public Reporting of Performance Measures March 2010

2005/06 - 18.1%
2006/07 - 20.8%
2007/08 - 20.1%
2008/09 - 20.8%
2009/10 (Dec. 2009) - 20.4%


Polak will say just about anything to keep the facts from the public. She should do her job or ask Gordo to let her resign as she is quite inept in her present position

Thank you Sean.

I am sure those mythical imaginary PAB friends of mine are really hoping that you, Sean Holman, control the real weather and not the political weather. Once again, MCFD's real Critic emerges.

Oh and Rockette Polak, go get 'em!


We're talking about a $1.3 BILLION Service Plan for which the primary legislated mandate is child protection and they've simply stopped formally reporting on performance in protecting children from repeated abuses once the Ministry has gotten involved to cover up the fact that they've totally failed to improve their dismal record?

Thanks for bringing this to light Sean.

Something about the numbers in the other document also don't make sense, though. Why would you get a sudden overnight drop of 10% in the number of cases where children were found to be in need of protection (as happened in 2006)? That indicates a practice change of some sort in who's identified or reported as being at risk, because real life doesn't change overnight like that.

And if the absolute numbers of at-risk kids changed that suddenly, it doesn't seem to follow that the rate of recurrence of abuse among a smaller sub-group would nevertheless remain almost totally steady all those years.

(FYI: Declining demographics would not explain the drop - it's something like 0.03% over that period, so not even detectable in this sub-population. The constantly-repeated "talking point" about declining school enrolment is hugely over-stated -- birth-rates have actually been growing for at least the last 5 years or so.)

Avoter | March 17, 2010 2:14 PM

Okay, name for me please the lies Mary Polak has told? Let's have a good debate based on fact.

Dawn, great comment. I for one am hoping for answers to your Qs.

One thing to remember: There are lies, damn lies and statistics.

The primary focus of child protection is to ensure children are safe and supported. It is a limited but vital function when too many children are neglected or abused in their own home. Teachers know this as do police but sometimes well intentioned people in this ministry forget. Poverty may contribute but solving poverty is not the primary job of this ministry, keeping them safe and supported is. This "new" ministry approach sounds like the approach taken before Matthew Vaudreuil's death at the hands of his mother. He, like Sherry, was not safe nor supported.

Quote direct from a previous years service plan:

The Rate of recurrence of child neglect and/or abuse by family measure describes the
proportion of families who neglect and/or abuse their children within 12 months of a
previously confirmed incident of neglect and/or abuse. Recurrence within a set period
of time may indicate an ongoing problem, which may signal the need for increased
intervention services. Trends and the focus on reducing the neglect and abuse of children
and youth have been factored into establishing targets for this measure.

To tell the people of the Province of British Columbia that this measurement somehow does not align with what the ministry is doing is an insult.

If their mandate is not to protect children and report out on how they're doing then what in the name of hell are we paying them to do?

How many other service measures have been changed in the service plan? Polak says this happens from time to time. Going by this change I think we really need to cast a sharp eye on this ministries service plans to see the other changes she is referring to.

"We don't let them drop and we don't stop using them" -- No apparently you just stop trying to reduce them and to have your performance (and bonuses) measured against them.

Is the "practice change and strong safe and supported" fully endorsed and supported by The Office of the Representative for Children and Youth? Does it align with the many recommendations handed down as a result of lack of safety for children in this province?

"Move in concert with a strengths based developmental approach, and that our performance targets reflect that kind of change" -- What on earth is a strengths based developmental approach? Going by the words alone it sounds frighteningly similar to the 'no criticism, no fault' school of thought.

"You are limited to the number of performance measures you can choose". -- Yet you have chosen not to measure safety outcomes for at risk children? A role that the majority of people in this province if asked would tell you is a KEY PERFORMANCE MEASURE?

"If we're simply responding at the tail end of when things have gone wrong for a family we're not accomplishing what we need to, so this is part of that" -- No one is suggesting this and this argument does NOT justify the removal of this measurement.

She doesn't know that the rates have gone up? "IF that were the case"??? -- You have GOT to be kidding me.

At the end is she really saying that they are going to track the numbers of children that leave school between grade 7 and 10? Is that not the job of the Ministry of Education? Why is she wasting our time?

How can these decisions possibly be justified rationally or logically?

I'm stunned.

I notice that Polaks one person rah rah team is asking me to show him the "Lies" she she has come up with. Sorry Joseph , maybe you should read my comments I didn't say she lied but would do anyhting to keep the public not informed. You said Lias so maybe you really believe she did just that

"How can these decisions possibly be justified rationally or logically?"

They can't of course. That is not what, or who, the taxpayers of BC are paying for. The longer the incompetence continues in MCFD the greater the harm. Seven generations...

From Safety first for BC's Abused & Neglected Kids: I call B.$.

The service plan is NOT what should guide MCFD, the Child, Family & Community Services Act should. Maybe Minister Polak and Ms. Du Toit should read it sometime, since it is supposed to be the legislated mandate of the Ministry. Here's some Coles notes:

Guiding principles

2 This Act must be interpreted and administered so that the safety and well-being of children are the paramount considerations and in accordance with the following principles:

More here:

This is just another example of how the BC Liberal party operates. When they cannot meet the obligations they have agreed to they change the channel hoping that people will forget their commitments.

It is nothing more than their version of the pea game. They don't give a tinker's damn about the welfare of these children. These kids will never vote for them and are therefore are not worthy of the effort. This may be viewed as a callous statement but sometimes the truth hurts.

Corporations measure their success by the profits they reap and political parties measure their success by appeasing those that are likely to vote for them and the rest can suck sewer water. It's called retaining power. Sometimes reality bites and this is one of those times.

4 thoughts:

1) This comment thread is just another example of how to the left lobbing attacks for attacking's sake is debate, to the right this is annoying. One commentator is called out for saying Min Polak lies and can't back it up, another caught for that last week now spreads blatant cynicism. Of course on YouTube some of the anti-Polak people go so far as to call her a devil and things not fit to print. Perhaps ruining that might be good after all.

2) dawn steele is right on, the MCFD bureaucracy needs some butt-whipping. The MCFD Minister had better get it together and TAking ChArge And Moving Out/TACAMO.

3) I'm very sure Mary Polak gives a damn for kids and fixing MCFD's problems. She volunteered for this job and talked at length about her commitment to fight poverty and especially child poverty by empowering the individual. I link to these YouTubes to cite my statements. I would appreciate in future debate we cite to our sources please.

4) Sean, happy to give you $10/month to keep things interesting. At least here we get to the truth and once in a while get close to an academic discussion with our biases disclosed, something corporate media and the parties equally have no interest in providing.

Josef K.

It's obvious that you have a problem reading the words that I put on my comments. Nowhere in my posting of last week did I use the word "lie". As a matter of fact my statements referred to the BC Liberal party, not any specific candidate.

Also, unless you are a protege of the Great Kreskin, you have no reason to state I vote for or support any particular political party.

As for me being cynical, your damn right I am. The disdain this party has shown towards the citizens of BC in favour of their financial supporters has become increasingly hard to stomach.

I say what I think, and I'll apologize to nobody for that.

Have a nice day!

Re: Crankypants | March 19, 2010 9:50 PM

a) I have a high opinion of the BCLib Party and its heroic, swashbuckling leaders.

b) It's okay to be a political independent so go blast the BCNDP. They too bow to their financial masters, much more so - ever read Barbarians In The Garden City?

c) "I say what I think, and I'll apologize to nobody for that." Me too!

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