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%