My way or the highway?

Take heart Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond! You're not the only government watchdog whose suggestions have been sidelined by the ministry of children and family development. Last week, the ministry's political boss Mary Polak rejected Ms. Turpel-Lafond's recommendation to re-screen the adults caring for kids placed in the government's children in the home of a relative program. This, after the representative found some of those adults had criminal records or previous child protection concerns. But that's not the only instance of the ministry not acting on a recommendation from an independent legislative officer.

For example, in May 2008, the province's auditor general John Doyle released a report on the management of aboriginal child protection services in British Columbia. In that report, Mr. Doyle made 10 recommendations.

Among them: having the ministry provide MLAs and the public with information "on the cost, successes and challenges" of those services, as well as developing measures - in consultation with First Nations - to determine whether an aboriginal child's needs are being met.

But, as of January 2010, those measures were nowhere to be seen. Instead, according to an update submitted to the auditor general's office, the ministry was taking "alternative action" that included supporting First Nations and aboriginal organizations in developing their own performance measures.

Nor are MLAs and the public any better informed on the costs and challenges confronting aboriginal child protection services even though the ministry claims they are. For example, before the auditor general released his report, the ministry's service plan had two performance measures relating to those services. Now, it only has one.

This, despite the fact Mr. Doyle stated the ministry "was not providing adequate accountability information about the impact services are having on the children" - an experience Ms. Turpel-Lafond is, by now, all too familiar with.

7 Comments

One more reason why the Liberals are planning to remove authority from the authorities. These pesky officers of the legislature keep saying things that make the politicians uncomfortable.

seems the Ministry exists not to protect kids but the minister's decisions

I have almost nothing but spite for the BC "Liberals" in general and their ministers, including Ms. Polak, in particular. However, in this case I think they are correct. CIHR families would have been screened already when they entered the program, and criminal or child welfare history considered. The factors involved in consideration would have included what the charge was and how long ago it was. Some convictions rule a person out as a caregiver no matter how long ago they were; some are time limited if you have not continued in criminal activity; others are not relevant to caring for a child. Frankly, if you ruled out as a caregiver anyone from an impoverished family who has any kind of criminal history or previous child welfare contact, you would end up with a hell of a lot more children in foster care. And the outcomes of long term foster care tend to stink to high heaven.

If people are going to be complaining about anything, it should be that the CIHR program was eliminated in favour of a new, time limited program that almost exactly duplicates other ones already in use, and with much higher barriers to participation. Again, it's going to take more children out of relative homes that would be wonderful for them and into government custody.

Mr. Cooper, do you agree or disagree with the Auditor General's request for: " having the ministry provide MLAs and the public with information "on the cost, successes and challenges" of those services, as well as developing measures - in consultation with First Nations - to determine whether an aboriginal child's needs are being met"?

I notice today that Mary Ellen has been elected to chair the group of other Children advocates in a number of provinces. Maybe they know more of the issues than Ms. Polak and her advisers.

There is a need to correct some of the misinformation about CIHR. That program has always been used as an alternative to foster care. There has never been any screening, or oversight to the homes that _parents_ placed their children in with relatives. There were never any criminal record checks, no home visits, no reference checks, no ongoing monitoring, or support. MCFD, and it's predecessors never had any involvement in screening the homes, although they often became aware children were with relatives. The only times those homes would be scrutinized is if child protection calls were made on those alternative caregivers, or if critical incidents, or even deaths of children have occurred in these homes.

The Representative is quite right that these homes should be screened, as many would likely be providing substandard and in some cases, abusive and neglectful circumstances to children. The sample her office used for their latest report demonstrated this. MCFD likely knows this and this is why it would open up a whole can of worms to start to scrutinize these homes. It would also necessitate hiring more social workers to study these caregivers and homes, which they simply won't do.

The new Extended Family program, which definitely has some issues, is a substantial improvement over CIHR since it will involve more scrutiny (criminal records checks, home visits, reference checks etc.) and children in these homes will have a greater degree of contact and oversight from MCFD. Caregivers will also receive slightly more funds (not adequate by any means), children will receive more material benefits (health & dental) and this program does increase the duty of care the province is providing to children who can't live with their parents.

Advocacy - not sure what you are reading in the office, but there is NO plan to increase contact and oversight by MCFD social workers and CYC workers. There are no extra workers do this. The clever plan is to raise the bar high enough that most of the families applying for EFP won't qualify. Most are told to go to court and get some legal rights (i.e. some form of guardianship) over these children so that they can register the children in school etc. As soon as the families obtain any form of guardianship, they are ineligible for EFP. The criminal record checks can be overriden locally, unless there are convictions for the usual main non-negotiable issue, sexual abuse. The "home visit" is just a place of safety check, it is NOT anywhere near a full home check as is performed for resticted and potential adoptive homes. The public have been scammed and the Representative is absolutely right.

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