Monday, March 3, 2014
WHEN A NEED FOR A WATCHDOG BECAME OBVIOUS
We have in British Columbia a position called ‘The Representative for Children and Youth’ that is presently held by Mary-Ellen Turpel Lafond. This post is not about her but about the position. Government acknowledged in 2005-2006 that it was a necessary position. Why?
It made the Representative for Children and Youth responsible to support children, youth and families who need help in dealing with the child-serving system and to provide oversight to the Ministry of Children and Family Development and advocates for improvements to the child-serving system. Why?
The child-serving system for B.C. was then and is now known as the Ministry of Children and Family Development, for which there was a publicly elected Minister of the ruling political party and operated on the ground by several regional directors each with minions of social workers. The government in power annually pours millions of taxpayer dollars into servicing this department. What prompted the conceded need for what has been informally called a watchdog?
It was in November 2005 that the Honourable Ted Hughes was appointed to conduct an independent review of British Columbia’s child protection system. More than 70 individuals with special expertise and over 300 child welfare groups contribute to the review. On April 7, 2006, the “B.C. Children and Youth Review" was submitted to the provincial government. The review included 62 recommendations for changes to the child welfare system. Then on May 18, 2006, the Province passes the Representative for Children and Youth Act, establishing the Legislative Assembly’s authority to appoint a new officer of the legislature as the Representative for Children and Youth. The Representative does not work for the government but instead; the Representative for Children and Youth is an Independent Officer of the Legislature and does not report through a provincial ministry.
Among Socratic sounding questions would be, ‘What caused this sequence to happen?’ During 2005 it became public knowledge that the government child protection agency had failed to protect children who died while in Ministry care (foster parenting, medical and other care). MCFD audits also indicated that child welfare investigations were not being completed until well after the 30-day time frame. The BC Association of Social Workers, as well as former ministry social workers reported that staff shortages and government cutbacks were contributing to ethical dilemmas, low morale, the fear children would die and social workers’ resignations. The public became aware of the Coroner’s office failure to conduct child death reviews on 713 child deaths files. This occurred after the government consistently denied any child death review concerns and then incrementally revised the number of missing child death files from 80 to the final 713 total. Here is the BCASW Submission to TedHughes’ BC Children and Youth Review in its entirety.
This was a way by which conscientious social workers declared somewhat convincingly that fault for the flagged failings lay somewhere else than them, or in factors beyond their control. In their submission they said, “Social workers practicing in the field of child welfare social work are concerned about the current state of the child protection and family preservation system. Members note that many of the elements in the child welfare system, such as the legislation, are well crafted with the potential to provide excellent services to at risk children.
Unfortunately there has been degradation in services, budgets and staffing levels and the current system shows signs of severe stress, which is regularly leaving children at risk. This submission includes members’ observations and analysis, compiled and presented for your consideration.”
The government in power and the legislature did not provide the oversight necessary for a level of accountability from directors and social workers that would prevent or correct the blunders and ineptitudes. No one was watching. Successive appointed Ministers from the governing political party were customarily out of their depth until they crammed to understand their portfolios and then the question became, what weight did they have to changed anything. They delegated primary responsibility to Deputy Ministers who were trained in the area of childcare and protection. The need for accountability to a professional outside of the Ministry couldn’t have been more apparent.