Sunday, January 27, 2013


A Colossal Failure - That's the System that Manages 
Child Protection in B.C.

Today I am featuring a blog remark by Ray Ferris who is responding to a Victoria Times Colonist article written by Lindsay Kines and entitled Children's watchdog says computer system for social workers a “colossal failure,” dated January 25, 2013.  Hers is a copyrighted piece so Ms. Kines credited remarks are seen in red. Ray’s are seen in blue.

“We’re in deep trouble,” she said. “This is a deeply serious problem,” were the words of Representative for Children and Youth Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, in response to a consultant’s report released by the province on Thursday, which confirms her warning from a year ago that the $182-million integrate case management system is woefully deficient and inefficient. 

The report said that “previous ministry officials failed to properly monitor the computer system’s development and didn’t push for changes that would have created a system fit for child-care work.” Her actual words are “This report speaks to incompetent stewardship of [integrated case management] by government,” she said.  “And whether the manufacturers of the product play a role in that, I don’t know, but I think it needs a deeper look.” She called the report “brutal” and asserted that this government has a obligation “to investigate how the mistakes happened and to chart a course forward” from this report. “Senior government officials should be held accountable for the “colossal failure” of government’s new computer system for front-line social workers, the province’s child watchdog says.”
“The integrated case management system went online last April, linking information on thousands of social assistance and child welfare clients, including sensitive details on child abuse, custody disputes and welfare payments. Social workers complained that the new system was too complicated and buried critical child safety information under a series of hidden tabs.”
Meanwhile, the government is wasting time and money at the expense of vulnerable children who need help, Turpel-Lafond said.  “I’m still looking at a mess, and I haven’t seen today the plan to fully get out of that mess.”
Please read the rest of Ms. Kines article which carries as well, the explanatory, perhaps defensive comments of Stephen Brown, Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Children and Family Development.

Now for Ferris’ remarks.

Child and youth representative Ms. Mary-Ellen Turpel-Lafond is barking up the wrong tree. The children’s ministry has far worse problems than the computer programme and tinkering with the computer will not fix them. Good child protection needs the sort of knowledge, skills, integrity and accountability that one would expect in a truly professional model. Staff need to be trained in communication, interviewing and assessment skills. They need to know and follow the law under which they operate and they need training in the skills and presentation of good evidence.

A number or recent court cases have shown several staff members to be woefully lacking in such skills and especially ignorant of the emotional damage that long court delays can cause in young children. The legislation is supposed to prevent this from happening, but it is seldom honoured by both social workers and the courts. The skills of child protection are definable and teachable, but the top brass of the children’s ministry have no idea how to do it. They seem determined to try to turn their staff into obedient bureaucratic functionaries, filling in forms and sitting at computer terminals. What is needed is leadership and professional training. Computers do not protect children, but well trained and committed staff do.

Ray Ferris is an occasional contributor on this blog site because I enjoy his insightful and honest appraisal of a service area with which he is familiar having spent a career in competent social work in this province. He has advised many and advocated on behalf of numerous parents seeking return of their children when apprehensions were either unwarranted or returns unreasonably delayed. This is a letter he sent recently to the Victoria Times Colonist.


  1. Ray wrote "They seem determined to try to turn their staff into obedient bureaucratic functionaries, filling in forms and sitting at computer terminals."
    Agreed. And as one of those staff members who just wants to work with clients, it is crazy-making!

    Ray also wrote "Computers do not protect children, but well trained and committed staff do."
    Way to cut to the heart of the matter, Ray!! Despite the lag in documentation due to the new computer system, I and my colleagues were still talking to clients and writing things down on paper, still doing our best to ensure the children and families we work with were safe.

  2. Thank you Alison, I appreciate that you would continue to remain in touch. It means a great deal to me to know that someone conscientious as I know you are, is involved in the client care work of the MCFD. I trust that you can continue to extract enough time out of your work week away from the clerical responsibilities in order to satisfy your own desire for time with people.


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