“Yesterday I wrote about the Walker judgement. Today I continue with some other lessons to be learned from this case. One reason why this case is important is because it is a good object lesson in how the children’s ministry functions and malfunctions. It can be viewed as a staff performance evaluation of the ministry, because it assesses competence at many levels. It does this either directly or by strong implication. If this were a staff performance evaluation it would compel remedial training at every level. These high profile cases are always governed from on high. Can you imagine that the local director could spend the millions that this case cost and other cases have cost without the top brass being involved? No you can’t and neither can I.
I want to give you a bit of history on how the top child welfare bureaucrats have functioned and how they function today. In the early days the legislature considered child welfare to be so important that they appointed an official who reported directly to the legislature and had statutory powers that were not controlled by the deputy minister or the minister. One of the first of these was the superintendent of child welfare, called Ruby McKay. She was beautiful, feisty and knowledgeable. She was a fearless fighter for children’s rights. She provided staff with leadership, inspiration and informative seminars. Staff was still under the normal command hierarchy, but they were accountable to the superintendent for child welfare matters. This situation continued until a very controlling deputy minister found a way of ousting the superintendent and appointing himself in that role as well as being deputy minister.
Then the law got changed. The legislature in its wisdom granted all power in child welfare matters to the regional directors. This was to protect them from undue political interference. However, the legislature in its innocence failed to consider that some of these directors might be incompetent clots and should be held accountable. These directors were, in theory, answerable to a head bureaucrat, but he usually rubber-stamped their decisions. When some nasty cases got bad publicity for the ministry, the top guy had to take the heat. Eventually he made a very dumb decision and embarrassed the government. Then they did away with the top child welfare official and returned all power to the regional directors. That way the top brass could not be embarrassed.
One thing you have to understand. The law protects regional directors from political interference and it also protects them from accountability. (Read more tomorrow)
Ray Ferris is a retired child-protection worker and the author of The Art of Child Protection.