Monday, February 20, 2006

Campbell just can’t admit Children’s Commission error

VICTORIA - Why is it so hard for the government to accept the obvious - that it made a serious, damaging mistake in eliminating the Children’s Commission in 2002?
The inquest into the death of toddler Sherry Charlie has wrapped up, a two-week review that outlined a string of failures.
No one - not the government, the RCMP or the First Nations agency involved - emerged from the inquest with reputation intact.
All made serious errors, either in placing Sherry in the home where she was beaten to death or investigating her death.
Human error, systemic problems, shabby investigations, botched communications, sloppiness - it was a dismal, depressing two weeks.
Sherry, only 19 months old when she was battered to death, never really had much of a chance. The agencies and people that were supposed to support her and keep her safe failed. Their failures weren’t the result of bad luck, or a rare confluence of events. The system didn’t work.
Sherry was placed in the care of relatives, even though the father in the home had a long criminal record, including convictions for spousal assault. Even though the children and families’ ministry had investigated previous reports about the safety of other children in the home.
And even after Sherry’s death and an autopsy that found evidence of repeated abuse, her brother was left in the home for five months.
The jury’s 19 recommendations make a start at addressing the problems.
Sherry’s life was in the hands of Usma, a First Nations’ agency that operated under delegated authority from the ministry of children and families. That’s a sound approach, ensuring workers are more knowledgeable about local issues and more trusted. But the jury urged that social workers at those kind of agencies should not have lower levels of training than ministry staff.
Sherry’s placement was one of the first under a new ministry ”Kith and Kin” policy, which stressed the value of finding a family member to care for a child as an alternative to foster care.
Again, a positive policy. But it was introduced in haste, with inadequate training. Proper criminal record checks weren’t required. (That problem wasn’t fixed until the last few weeks.) Rules around home and reference reviews were inadequate. The ministry guidelines were incomplete.
Fix it, the jury said.
The jury made 19 recommendations in all, to police, coroner, the health care system, the ministry and Usma.
The last recommendation was sent specifically to Premier Gordon Campbell. Bring back the Children’s Commission, eliminated by the Liberals in September 2002 - the month Sherry was kicked and beaten to death.
The commission would not have kept Sherry alive and safe.
But it would have examiner her death. It would have reviewed the Kith and Kin policy when it was introduced, and warned of problems. The public would have known some one was watching. Just as the public would have known that 713 child death files were abandoned incomplete in a warehouse.
And all those things would have happened automatically.
Premier Gordon Campbell rejected the jury’s calls for an immediate restoration of the commission. He wants to wait, he said, until other reviews of the ministry by Child and Officer Jane Morley and Ted Hughes are complete before making a decision. The final report from Morley is due at the end of June.
Campbell could plead for time to determine the best way to restore what was lost when the commission was eliminated, and a chance to incorporate Hughes’ recommendations.
But almost everyone involved in child protection and supporting families has called for the restoration of effective independent oversight.
Campbell could easily have acknowledged the error in eliminating the commission, and promised to accept the spirit of the jury’s recommendations. The details could await the various reports still to come.
Getting rid of the Children’s Commission was a mistake. It weakened protection for children, and removed an important independent voice that celebrated ministry successes, and warned of problems.
It’s time to face the facts, and fix the problem.
Footnote: The NDP pretty much called for minister Stan Hagen’s resignation this week. That’s the last thing the ministry needs after a decade of instability. But Hagen has to begin dealing publicly with the wide concerns about the issues facing the ministry, something he has been unwilling to do.


Anonymous said...

This ministry is a disaster. Hagan is the apologist for Campbell. They claim Clarke was a disaster well our present premier is a CATASTROPHE. He has perverted the very meaning of our Provincial Legislature by avoiding question period, the very reason for democratic responsibility. But then spending tax dollars to fly off to Turino with his special assistant is more important than attending to the Province's business I guess.

Kayber's Blog said...

This is typical Campbell. He has demonstrated his inability to admit public and personal failures from day one. It’s quite evident under his iron fisted leadership that Gordo and his flock of sheep know the cost of everything but the value of nothing. All those who got their huge tax cut shortly after these thieves were first elected could care less about you and I, let alone the children in this ministry.

Anonymous said...

Gordo doesn't make mistakes according to Gordo and Stan Hanen is OK because Gordo put him there.
So children are put at risk, most experts say it's a mess, except his mythical experts from somewhere else who say he is doing great. Dix asked who they were and was ignored.

Hey cut every program as long as it gives a tax break, and puts money aside for the public drain called the Olympics.
And of course the longer he stalls, especially as the house won't be in sesson so he can be called to account. so all is well in the land of Oz in Gordos head.
Shameful performance in the house yesterday.

Anonymous said...

Some points to consider in discussion to reinstate the children’s commission:
One of the roles of the commission included the investigation of child fatalities. In looking at the disproportionate numbers of child fatalities involving aboriginal children, out of three hundred cases reviewed from the inception of the commission until 2000, 73 of three hundred involved aboriginal children, that means roughly 25% of all child fatalities reviewed involved children of 5% of the population. The incidence of sids in aboriginal communities is six times higher than in the general population for British Columbia. These figures would suggest a desperate need to openly evaluate what the hell is happening in the care and service delivery to aboriginal families that is reflected in this outcome.

Another role of the Children’s Commission was to pursue special investigations, though asked repeatedly to investigate and evaluate the only existing autonomous child welfare program in Canada, located in the geographic borders and jurisdiction of B.C for child service delivery, specifically to consider its impact as a model in emerging band systems with the ministry for children and families, Paul Pallen refused with the ridiculous explanation being it involved too small a portion of the population. The commission also rejected the request to review historic deaths relating to this band.

The Children’s commission is a provincial body. The protection of Children is the legislated responsibility for the Director, a provincial role. Bands are funded through the department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, and child protection is funded through the province. In one unique instance, Spallumcheen Band, the absolute absurdity of this kind of jurisdictional split is illustrated wherein the child protection system is funded through the diand, and the provincial government claims when pressed to the legal wall jurisdiction but does not investigate, evaluate or review spallumcheen child services. The band does not go through family court process in removal of children, and provincial court is fuzzy on its role passing it for a Supreme Court decision, a constitutional challenge that never seems to quite reach judgement. The band does not recognize provincial authority. The confusion for this bands operation of an autonomous child welfare system is a labyrinth of law and political conundrum that has left children at greater risk in the 26 years it has been operating and mounting liability potential blocking any real investigation from any of the three involved layers of government.

In a review involving this band and the children’s commission, the band simply chose not to participate. No band witness were compelled to appear, band files were not available for review, the only way the case would be examined was through the ministry’s relationship with the band. This overlooks a portion of the Commissions legislated authority to call any witness and review any materials relating to the welfare of a child. The ministry simply showed up and lied. This is evidenced in a voluminous series of files; the children’s commission was told did not exist, received almost a year after requested by the complaint through federal and provincial foi requests. The Children’s commission could have accessed those files when the hearing was in process as requested by the complaint. The Ministry was represented by an attorney, a Regional Operating Officer, and had at their disposal resources from the Directors offices, funds for expert witness, and the ability to call their staff as witnesses. The Child Advocates office sent a minimum of two and up to three people to observe. The complaint is afforded no counsel, no access to experts, left to fund or ingratiate the services of interested parties independently, left to present their concerns in a highly adversarial, quasi court forum. The imbalance of power and lack of advocacy is not conducive to hearing the concerns or addressing best interests of the child. This would need to dramatically change to allow meaningful participation of the child and family seeking a voice.

And while the Children’s commission slapped the director’s wrists, absolutely nothing changed at spallumcheen. To date you would get the same variety of answers to the question, who has jurisdiction for spallumcheen children depending on who the question was directed to, the official answer would almost certainly not be reflected in the community.

Sherry Charlie’s life and death are not minimized in recognizing the most tragic part of this soul-breaking story is its redundancy. Further to question, are we somewhat penalizing the children who continue to live by not examining their circumstances, the places they are left for care, the lack of planning for their care and their futures and the inability to hear their voices in life.

Big changes are needed in B.C.’s commitment to provide real service to children in need. My fear is we will rest falsely if the first step in this battle is confused with a last step; the reinstatement of the children’s commission is just one piece.

Kali Advocacy Project said...

So now Morley's report won't be coming until the end of June, why's that? Where's the fanfare there?

Hmm, makes one wonder if it's possible to set up the interim Aboriginal authorities & try to devolve to community governance in that short a time frame?

But I will say, to be on the fair side, any new funding to MCFD will be helpful, so thanks. And, bring on a forensic audit, we need to see where 2005/06's budget went, because a good portion of that one was never even seen. Begs the question, where did it actually go? Also, how much of this one will be seen?

Anonymous said...

A quick read of the local papers and the BC section of The Globe should show us who is attempting to bafflegab us. My God blame anyone except themselves. Too bad about the kids , but we have to stay elected.