Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Strong Leadership for MCFD #1 / Part 201 / For Love and For Justice / Zabeth and Paul Bayne/

The importance of Good Leadership in British Columbia's Ministry of Children and Family Development - Part 1 of 2

Organizations that are managed by regulatory frameworks like MCFD don’t work well without strong leadership. Does the MCFD have strong leadership? Most will say, yes of course. “Strong” should not be understood exclusively in terms of training, experience, authority and decision making power. We have a deputy minister, and regional directors who are strong in that fundamental sense. “Strong” must be defined with significantly different qualities as well in order to make an organization framed like the MCFD to become a stellar performer. For this, 'strong' becomes synonymous with 'good'.

I have led a national organization with distinct provincial district entities and I know about governance and structure, cooperation and outcomes. I have heard social workers speaking about reform to MCFD and decrying present practices and leadership.

Good organizational leadership will not ignore or minimize the importance of staff beliefs and values or they risk implementation problems. How are we doing? Strong/good leadership is eager to hear and act upon staff opinions and suggestions. If staff realize their views do not matter, then implementation becomes lethargic; at worst, staff undermines or sabotages the policy or program. A strong/good leader has the ability to motivate others and to inspire confidence. How are we doing?

Strong leaders acquire influence by telling the truth, by exhibiting passion, by fostering idealism and by affording opportunities for action. Strong leaders are good leaders. Truth-telling can serve as a wake up call to everyone in the MCFD. I'm not saying leaders are untruthful .... Just follow this logic. Up and down the chain of command, truth telling is a barometer of the organization's health. How healthy is the MCFD right now? Passion is the raw energy of leadership and without passion it is impossible to overcome challenging obstacles. A certain passion exists in the Deputy Minister's office to affect the transformation goals she envisions. I have no information one way or another to determine whether similar passion can be found in the regional offices. Further, when speaking of passion it is critical to note that idealism keeps this passion pure. Without idealism, passion can focus on wrong priorities or objectives and become destructive. Misplaced objectives are self protection, covering tails after questionable decisions, winning court cases at any cost. Good leaders not only act but they also motivate others to act. Good leaders are not out exclusively to develop a laudable reputation for themselves as charismatic leaders without whom the organization fails. Rather, good leaders encourage and motivate others to take initiative because that freedom energizes the organization.

Such energy leads to creativity that is free. It is in house. Essential and invaluable creative energy could be gained within MCFD internal community collaborations and in unit or office cohesion groups. But it is so hard within a regulatory (restrictive) framework to grow a learning organization. If top management will endorse them rather than punish them, empowered groups will produce creativity and a culture of learning and professional development themselves. Social workers want to be effective in their work and satisfied that they have genuinely helped children, parents and families. Learning organizations make a consistent effort to become better at achieving their mission, and 'better' will be good for all of us.


  1. Ron; it is a privilege to write on your page once more. Just as it has been a privilege to work with you and Doug Christie on this horror story of mindless bureaucracy. Just to reassure readers that I am not a bleeding heart idealist, I mention that I have removed hundreds of children from parents in my career. I also make a point for those who think that children should never be removed. I would say that I saw far more children come into care by demand of the parent than otherwise. About leadership. Judge Hughes mistakenly believed that if Ministers and their deputies stayed in their jobs longer, that leadership would follow. First, Ministers have no real power and secondly all the top management are bureaucrats. Bureaucrats create processes,design forms and computer programmes. They do not provide leadership. Fifty years ago the welfare system did have some good leaders. They were all single women and badly paid by today's standards. They had courage, principles and passion. Many will remember Ruby McKay and Amy Leigh. There have been many fine people who have shown leadership in recent years, but not at the top levels. They were district supervisors and local managers. They were slowly stifled by an upper management that was as adversarial to its own staff as it was to the clients. Two fine supervisors that I knew retired early because their expertise was no longer respected. How does an organisation like this hope to retain people of intelligence integrity and commitment? Eventually you will be left with the stupidity,ignorance and deceit that was vividly illuminated in the Chilliwack courthouse. Enough for today.

  2. Ron, that was a good post. You should know there are MANY examples of "MCFD internal community collaborations and in unit or office cohesion groups." Committees, boards, MCFD and community program collaborations etc.

    Ray - well written also.

  3. To Ray Ferris:

    Parents who give up their children in their own free will are in a totally different situation from those who have their children forcibly seized or consent to the removal under duress. In my humble opinion, state-sponsored child removal should be outlawed except in the following conditions:

    1. when parents are unable or unwilling to care for their children;
    2. when parents consent to give up custody in their own free will, not under duress or under any influence of monetary incentive;
    3. when parents are convicted of crimes of a sexual or violence nature and there is reasonable ground to believe that children in their care are unsafe.

    This is the only certain way to protect people from oppression and abuse of government authority. It even look after the financial well being of special interests as many will still keep their jobs but more geared towards helping instead of harming families. When people are in favor of the foregoing one day, CW please don't worry. You will still have your pay cheques and your fat pension.

    Speaking of 50 years ago, the infamous residential school was still in operation under a welfare banner. Why this could possibly happen in a "free" land? Because government has the power to arbitrarily remove children under the pretext of child protection. Such oppressive power remains the largest single institutional risk to the well being of children.

    Ron, regarding your comment posted on May 26, 2010 9:27 AM in your blog dated Tuesday, May 25, 2010, you commented that "People coming to Canada from some other cultures and countries find it abhorrent that the State has this authority in this free land. They seem not to be able to discern that some family situations are so disgusting and some parents so short on skills that the children are safer somewhere else."

    I find this offensive and prejudiced against immigrants as it suggests that they lack discernment and are ignorant on the existence of abusive parents. Abusive parents are everywhere. No law can prevent them from abusing children. I am suggesting a fairer and safer way to deal with the problem. This is not a minority agenda.

  4. Anon above,
    I am careful not to offend people. Truth offends at times. I cannot protect anyone from that nor avoid the possibility of offending. The truth I was sharing came from conversations with people who have emigrated to Canada within the past few years and who have expressed to me their shock at a government agency having removal power. That's true. I stated that very clearly. So please get over being offended. You might consider that your statement “CW please don't worry. You will still have your pay cheques and your fat pension,” might similarly be considered offensive and it was directed at a person. Let's stay on subject.

  5. You can tell when there is a lack of good leadership when there is inconsistant service delivery across offices. When I hear that one parent experiences completely different results from me or another parent in the same MCFD service region, you know there is a real problem.

    The structure and rules are in place, but nonetheless, rules are ignored, and "process" and chaos reigns supreme. The Baynes are the inevitable result of such chaos.

    Retired social worker Ray Ferris has been pointing out the problems for years. I've read through his book "The Art of Child Protection" and found the half dozen social workers involved in my case did not follow even the most basic of his common sense guidelines.

    Parents do talk to one another and compare notes even if ministry staff do not. The press is slowly putting two and two together and is conveying public anger at MCFD for their poor performance and constant whining about lack of resources.

    Plenty of funding and resources will be available when MCFD stops paying foster parents for months on end when kids run away, when they stop paying for expensive supervised visitation after a month of no-problem visits, when they stop paying $300/hr lawyers to show up just to adjourn dates.

    Imagine if you had a McDonalds burger at one outlet that was completely different in taste and presentation than one down the street, or even in a different city or Province. The McDonalds name and reputation would certainly suffer, as would their leaders.

    In the real world, if someone gets sick from a hamburger at say, a White Spot for example (remember jokes about the bochelism "bocho-burger" some years back) the entire restaurant chain gets a bad rap for months or years.

    This is what is happening with MCFD. It has a bad reputation and the leadership is not trying to locate or address the problems. There does not appear to me that there is any incentive to "fix" anything.

    It is not as if there is an alternative child protection agency, or even a path of escalation when RCY is so constrained in their powers.

    When I think of ideal leadership I think of a company like Apple Computer, where Steve Jobs' "keep it simple" vision, focus and passion for satisfying the end user with a great and lasting product is his entire company's highest priority.

    RCY's Mary-Ellen Turpel Lafonde has recently distinguished herself as exemplifying some of these fine leadership qualities. At the same time, MCFD's Mary Polak manages to fumble the ball at her leadership attempts.

    MCFD individual staff members already have enormous lattitude to unilaterally decide to remove retain your children on a moment's notice (in my case, 5 minutes after an interview at their school completed) for years or return them on a moment's notice.

    Social workers can also choose to leave return decisions up to the judge, then they look at you innocently and state the matter is out of their hands.

    It is not good leadership when the minions run amok, removing children on the slightest provocation with flimsy reasons and are then rewarded for the removal by their superiors.

    When the leadership turns a blind eye and defers to the courts, you know something else is going on. That, my fellow readers, I believe has to do with maximizing taxpayer cash flow at the behest of MCFD.

    In the meantime, parents who have their kids removed, get a protection trial court date as soon as possible, pre-address protection concerns by taking parenting courses independantly (without MCFD knowing about it until after you complete them), pay for your own psychologist for PCA assessment, keep your tape recorders hidden and running at all times, and produce the transcripts only after you catch social workers lying on the stand at a protection hearing. MCFD may then just magically return your kids with no questions asked.

  6. Ray: These are the only section 13 reasons in the CFCSA for removal. As a former social worker you are surely aware of this?

    Ray said: "state-sponsored child removal should be outlawed except in the following conditions:

    1. when parents are unable or unwilling to care for their children;
    2. when parents consent to give up custody in their own free will, not under duress or under any influence of monetary incentive;
    3. when parents are convicted of crimes of a sexual or violence nature and there is reasonable ground to believe that children in their care are unsafe."

    I guess you could also add reasons such as "parent dies and there are no other family members/friends" and situations like that.

    Also - yes, Ray, your statement about my collecting a pension was very offensive.

  7. A simple alert CW,
    I believe it was Anon, not Ray, who made the salary and pension quip.

  8. Thanks, Ron - apologies to Ray!


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