Thursday, April 28, 2005

New children's ministry cuts an election issue

VICTORIA - It's time to ask Liberal candidates how many more cuts are ahead for the ministry of children and families.
Issues come and go quickly in an election campaign, all parties claiming the high ground.
But the news that the children's ministry faces still more staff cuts deserves your attention. The ministry provides critical support for thousands of kids and families who desperately need help, and acts in the role of guardian for some 9,000 children.
And despite wonderful words in opposition, the Liberals have badly mismanaged the ministry.
The NDP released leaked minutes from a ministry regional meeting on Vancouver Island to show that still more front-line staff cuts are ahead.
The region was trying to deal with a budget letter ordering it to cut $1.3 million in spending. That means, according to the minutes, 18 job cuts in the groups that deal with child protection, fostering, adoption, child and youth mental health and youth probation. "The budget letter was clear about the numbers to be reduced over the next three years," the minutes record. "There are more FTEs than salary dollars."
So one in 10 of the people who work with children in the region will vanish.
That might be tolerable in some organizations. But the ministry has already been cut to the bone. The region has lost 25 per cent of its staff working in these areas since the Liberals started cutting.
The ministry says the job cuts aren't certain. But the spending cut is, and that leaves no real alternative but fewer services.
Anyway, the ministry argues, there are fewer children in care, so it's OK to cut staff.
Independent observers dismiss that argument. The ministry provides a range of services, and demand isn't determined by the number of children actually in government care. They work to protect children before they are in peril, on adoptions and other issues. The demand for all those services is rising, not falling.
In fact, keeping children out of care can require more staff. It takes more work and time to help a troubled family, while ensuring child safety, than it does to apprehend a youngster, says the BC Association of Social Workers.
Do other regions similar cuts? The budget letters are secret, so we don't know.
The Liberals' handling of the ministry has been one of its biggest broken promises, and biggest failures. In opposition Gordon Campbell argued passionately for more money for the ministry, which simply didn't have the resources to meet the needs of children and families. He promised to fund it properly, and to restore stability after years of re-orgs.
Once elected, the Liberals said they had a plan to cut the ministry budget by 23 per cent. The plan fell apart, but they pressed ahead with an 11-per-cent spending cut on services for children, families and disabled adults through the ministry.
And instead of stability, they launched yet another major restructuring - and mismanaged it badly that the process created confusion, and disillusionment, wasted money, and languishes years behind schedule.
At the same time, the Liberals eliminated the Children's Commissioner and the Child and Youth Advocate, independent government agencies that reported publicly on the ministry's successes and problems. A new Child and Youth Officer has not provided meaningful public reporting since then.
The NDP's past record in managing the ministry is as bad.
But the party's platform calls for a $30-million boost to the ministry budget - enough to head off the cuts revealed in the leaked minutes. And the NDP would restore both the Children's Commissioner and the Child Advocate to ensure effective public reporting.
We entrust the ministry with some of the most critical functions in government, including looking after children in serious trouble, and providing care for them when families fall apart.
It deserves the money to do the job. And it demands out attention to make sure that it is an election issue.
Footnote: The ministry responded to the leaked minutes not by providing information on budget issues in other regions, but by launching an investigation of the leak and telling employees to keep quiet. Meanwhile, staff and social service agencies are still waiting on any reports from a February consultation by the Child and Youth Officer, at which staffing and service concerns were repeatedly raised.

4 comments:

Shane said...

No question the Liberals have not done well with this ministry. It is good of you to note though that the NDP have not done better. I come at the issue from the side of actually participating and having family who have worked with the Ministry of Children and Families for years.

I want to say that given the NDP's record and the Liberal's record, all we can do is lobby whoever is on power to come up with a real plan to reform this needed service and help it perform what it is supposed to do - help those who cannot help themselves.

I do not believe this should be a deciding issue for any candidate in this election - both platofrms are equally bad in light of past records.

BC Liberals Suck said...

Thanks again Paul for raising the profile of this Ministry. Treasury Board is running the show at MCFD. That angle has not been explored enough. Every decision made about funding has been made to appease the Hungry Beast. Find the transcripts on Hansard, it's all there in black & white. This greed and mismanage- ment has promoted dramatic and problematic changes in front-line practice, changing the way risk is viewed, leaving many more kids at-risk, or farming kids out to marginal friends & relatives chosen by parents who lack the judgment to be caring for their own children at times. The Ministry will do _anything_ to keep kids in need of protection off the books these days. Youth over 17 are wholesale being placed on Youth Agreements. Ask yourself, are most kids you know ready to live on their own at that age? What kind of supports do they have available? BC's youth, many who have special needs, are not ready, or able, and many are ending up on the streets, homeless & exploited.

The reality is, the kids are already starting to flood back in. The beds are all gone. The specialized foster homes and services are gone. The kids are coming back into care and they aren't going home, because they are so much more abused, damaged and neglected their families can't care for them anymore. That is the reality of these policy and funding decisions. Treasury Board doesn't have to see that. They don't have to see the bruises and the scars.

If the lives and deaths of children and youth in government care and who depend on government for their very well-being, protection and safety isn't an election issue I don't know what is.

This will never be an easy, fun Ministry. There will never be simple solutions. But with sound best practices, used moderately, with values of respect, compassion, dignity and justice, this system doesn't need to be resigning a generation of children to the welfare rolls, exploitation and despair. People better start caring, because some of these kids will be breaking into your house and car for money to buy food. Some of these kids will be dealing drugs at your kids' school. Some of these kids are your kids, the ones you weren't able to get the help for before it ended up this way.

Fundamentally these kids are the responsibility and obligation of the citizens of BC. They are our children. We all better start caring about them and providing them with a better life.

Read more about this topic & others here:
http://bcliberalssuck.blogspot.com/

Anonymous said...

Children in care are in fact increasing because they are not safe and concientious social workers are doing what they have to do inspite of incredible pressure not to do so.Children are being abused and some are dying and these folks, the Liberals do not care.Both parties records do not even compare Shane, so do not be an apologist for the fibs

Gazetteer said...

Paul--

This one's a personal one for me.

I volunteered with a small, local non-profit social service agency that helped hundreds of families in need per year.

The past tense is purposeful, because we are no more.

Why?

Because as it did with scores of other small non-profits around the province this government pulled the plug on us completely.

Which saved them the princely, some might say mini-Wallsian, sum of $28K per year.

Guess we deserved it though.

After all, we were running on a shoestring with one part-time co-ordinator and a staff of volunteers who live, work and try to help out in the community itself.

Which is just crazy and wasteful.

Right?