Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Liberals flip-flop and admit child death failures

VICTORIA - Now we're getting to the truth about child death reviews.
The Liberals first denied there were any problems. Once that was clearly untrue, they denied that the failures had anything to do with chopped budgets or bad planning.
"This is not a result of anything like budget cuts," said Campbell last month as questions mounted. "The transition plan was pretty clearly laid out in the legislation."
Neither claim was true, Solicitor General John Les confirmed this week. Releasing an internal report on 713 forgotten child death files, Les said that budget cuts and mismanagement were to blame.
"There was a failure in the transition process, there was a failure to provide sufficient resources," he said. "There were failures all over the place." There was no plan.
I'm sure Campbell wasn't being intentionally misleading. He just didn't know what was going on, months after the issue had begun to create serious public concern, years after his government eliminated the Children's Commission.
That's telling. The issue wasn't important enough for anyone in government to pay attention, despite all the talk about the need to learn from children's deaths.
That's the root of the failures.
The Children's Commission used to review all child deaths in the province, and investigated about 170 a year in detail. It looked for lessons that could be learned, and reported publicly. In opposition, Campbell was a huge supporter.
But the Liberals were looking to cut costs in 2002. So they eliminated the commission, and the Child and Youth Advocate. A new Child and Youth Officer position was created, with a limited mandate. The responsibility for child death reviews was shifted to the coroner.
Or more accurately, largely abandoned. The coroner's budget was cut by 15 per cent at the same time, so there was no chance the work could be done.
So someone - Les' summary of the report didn't say who - took one look at the 713 child death reviews that had been partially completed by the Children's Commission and decided to forget about them. Too much work, too little money. Off to the warehouse.
Les released a sketchy but welcome report on what went wrong, apologized and said he's referring the whole issue to Ted Hughes, who is already doing an investigation of many issues relating to the children and families ministry. Hughes is to deliver his first report by Feb. 28.
But the whole affair shows that the government didn't consider the child death reviews, or the other work of the Children's Commission, that important.
Otherwise the coroner would have made an issue of his inability to do the work., and the government would have responded. Rich Coleman, the minister responsible for the coroner's office, would have noticed that the reviews had stopped. Gordon Hogg, Christy Clark and Stan Hagen, the three children and families ministers, would have noticed the missing reports. Child and Youth Officer Jane Morley would have raised the issue.
Nobody did.
Morley is not convinced the reports are that useful.
But the government's position, from Campbell on down, is that they are important. "It is really a learning tool to make sure that we do whatever we can to prevent these things from happening in the future," he said.
And the government gave up the chance to learn from hundreds of deaths.
The issue goes beyond that failure, and raises questions about what else has been lost.
The Children's Commission audited ministry practices and reported on successes, and problems. It reviewed critical injuries to children in care, did special reports on issues like suicide and alcohol abuse and offered its views on the ministry's progress. The Child and Youth Advocate helped thousands of children and families deal with the ministry.
Those services were valuable. And they have been lost.
And British Columbians can only wonder what else has been lost to neglect and budget cuts.
Footnote: Les, who moved quickly on the file once it was raised, rejected claims that there was too much emphasis on the issue of child death reviews by parents, the media and the opposition. "It's entirely appropriate that we pay lots of attention to all of this," he said.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

They got right on to it, after tons of paper articles on the subject. a large number of questions in the house. and the big kicker is Ted Hughes who will focus like a laser beam on such issues. Hey we were saving money for a surplus somewhere down the road so it's really not our fault. They tried to blame the NDP but ran out of reasons to blame them.

Stan Hagen should be forced to walk the plank at the very least. The buck has to stop somewhere and nobody will miss Old Stan anyway.

Dawn Steele said...

Paul is nudging in the right direction: They knew. They all knew; they just didn't care.

I and thousands of other parents of kids with special needs wrote every Liberal MLA repeatedly starting in fall 2001 when they were originally planning 35 - 50% cuts at MCFD to explain how reduced services would harm our children as individuals and vulnerable children in general.

I remember getting a personal reply from one MLA saying sorry, but everyone would have to make some sacrifices for the sake of getting B.C.'s economy on track. (This was before the PR folks took over the task of replying to such letters.)

They didn't care. The safety and wellbeing and happiness of children were so far down on their list of priorities that it simply was irrelevant. It was all about, and is still all about, helping businesses to make more money. Unless kids' issues threaten their ability to carry out that task (i.e. they start generating too much negative political fallout), the prevailing view is that it's simply not their "real" job.

It's like complaining to your accountant that you've been feeling run down recently. S/he will murmur something polite, momentarily consider whether it might be serious enough to have tax implication and then return to the real task at hand--your taxes.

Anonymous said...

This continues, especially in the ara of street children and prostitution where the government has but all abandoned services.It is worse than you think in most areas and they really do not care.

Anonymous said...

Call Me Cynical

Is it just coincidence that Les waited to face the media until gordo was safely off to Maui for his four week vacation?

"This is not a result of anything like budget cuts," said Campbell last month...
I wonder if the corporate media will send reporters to Hawaii to get a response?

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