VICTORIA - I am running out of ways to say how sad it is that we are so indifferent to the people who need us most.
The families on the edge, people who need a little help to cope, and the kids struggling to fall asleep in some new foster home, they all trust us to care.
That's mostly why we have a children and families' ministry, because we've decided that we won't let children's lives be wrecked. We - you and I - will make sure that somebody cares for a scared little boy when his family can't or won't.
It seems such a long time and so many columns about the mess we've made of this essential task.
I expected better from Gordon Campbell. The NDP government was hopeless.The children and families' ministry was underfunded and mismanaged, and the government ignored good advice and useful criticism.
But Campbell and the Liberals, they were inspiring with their principled, focused commitments in opposition.
The ministry had to have more money, Campbell said, in order to do what was needed. In fact Linda Reid, now junior minister for child care, wanted a needs-based budget. Figure out what it would cost to give people the help they needed, make the information public, and then make the hard choices, she said.
And Campbell and Reid were huge fans of the Children's Commission and the Child and Youth Advocate, the offices that provided effective, public oversight of the ministry. Reid grilled the NDP on a score of recommendations from Child and Youth Advocate Joyce Preston. Campbell demanded that every child death be reviewed, and the results reported, so no chance to improve our response was missed.
I believed him. Policies may change, but this was about principles, and they aren't shed like a cheap suit after a long hot day.
But the needs-based budget never happened. Instead of finding more money for the ministry, Campbell backed plans to cut its budget by 23 per cent. When that proved a fantasy, the cuts were reduced to 11 per cent.
Despite soaring revenues, and all the promises, provincial spending on children and families is about $160 million less now, in constant dollars, than it was before the Liberals were elected.
The Liberals also eliminated the Children's Commission and the Child and Youth Advocate.
And they halted independent reviews of children's deaths.
The Children's Commission used to review about 150 deaths per year, making scores of recommendations based on its findings.
Since the commission was eliminated in 2002, there has been one public report, by the coroner, on the death of a child in care, and two by the ministry.
If the Children's Commission still existed, the government would have been spared its fumbles and stumbles last week over the death of Sherry Charlie. An independent review would have been automatic.
Instead the government looked secretive, and inept. Attorney General Wally Oppal, who instructed Children and Youth Officer Jane Morley to investigate the ministry's review of Sherry's death, acknowledged he hadn't read the original report before deciding what questions that Morley should answer.
Instead of giving Morley a free hand, the government tried to restrict her review. Under pressure, Oppal amended the terms of reference to offer her slightly more freedom.
But still not enough. Morley rightly swept aside the government's instructions, and has launched her own sweeping review. (The Ombudsman and the coroner's officer are also reviewing Sherry's death. Scores of others have received no such attention.)
The ministry faces huge challenges every day, and terrible choices. Things will inevitably go badly wrong sometimes, no matter how well the system work, and people perform.
That's why we have to demand commitment, and openness, from government. We need to learn when things go wrong, or right. We have to know if we're giving the ministry the resources needed.
Government, the ministry, may do the work. But caring for the children and families is ultimately our responsibility.
Footnote: Morley has proposed an all-party legislative committee on children and youth, just as there are on education, health and finance. Campbell hasn't yet responded to the idea. He should seize on it as a chance to show that the issues matter to his government.