Friday, April 07, 2006

Hughes confirms Liberals botched children and families

VICTORIA - Ted Hughes report on the ministry of children and families laid the facts out pretty clearly. The Liberal government has bungled for four years and bi changes are needed to get things back on track.
At 78 Hughes remains a highly respected, straight-talking problem solver.
He did not disappoint with his BC Children and Youth Review.
The Liberals cut too deep into the ministry, he found. They launched a poorly planned, underfunded re-organization, with senior managers spinning in and out through a revolving door. Child death reviews and other important efforts to ensure quality services were forgotten. Children and families lost needed supports.
"The strongest impression I have gleaned from this inquiry is one of a child welfare system that has been buffeted by an unmanageable degree of change," Hughes' report says. "Much of this has gone on against a backdrop of significant funding cuts, even though it is commonly understood that organizational change costs money."
None of that comes as a surprise. Except perhaps to Premier Gordon Campbell, who has steadfastly maintained that everything was fine, and the ministry had enough money.
Hughes wrote about the 900 child death reviews abandoned in a Victoria warehouse. "I can not agree with the premier's earlier assessment that budget cuts did not contribute to the failure of the transition process," he said.
In fact, Hughes found, budget cuts caused problems throughout the ministry. Asked about Campbell's repeated claims to the contrary, Hughes was blunt: "He was wrong."
The ministry didn't have enough money and the government's mismanagement created "a climate of instability and confusion," Hughes found.
This is not just another ministry. Failure here means children's lives can be at risk, their futures blighted, and families lost.
Hughes introduced a short, sharp dose of reality. For four years others have been warning of the same problems. Now, in the face of mounting public pressure and a determined opposition, the government should act.
Hughes has offered a clear blueprint.
For starters, he told the government to restore the important roles that were lost when it killed the Children's Commission and the Child and Family Advocate in 2002.
The replacement - the Child and Youth Officer - has not been adequate, Hughes found. Families have been denied the help they needed to navigate the system and protect their rights, and independent oversight has been lost.
He proposes a new Representative for Children and Youth, an office that would report to the legislature, not the government. It would have "the authority to advocate for individual children and families; advocate for system change; monitor the child welfare system; and review child injuries and deaths."
The representative and two deputies - one aboriginal - should have true independence, he says, and report to a new legislative committee on children and youth with representation from both parties.
Hughes wants the government to start over with its expensive and mismanaged plan to hand ministry operations over to new regional authorities - five aboriginal and five non-aboriginal. "Decentralization can not be done off the side of a desk," the report says. "It requires a dedicated team, and resources. It can not be accomplished in an environment of instability."
That shouldn't be a surprise. But four years after the government launched its effort, Hughes found it necessary to recommend it develop an actual plan.
That needs to include much more consultation with First Nations, he says, and a much larger commitment to supporting them in preparing for whatever changes are ahead.
There's not a lot of good news in the report.
But Hughes does offer 62 recommendations to help the ministry recover from four years of problems.
And he says the extra money in February's budget should be enough to address many of the issues. The budget included $100 million over three years to act on the various ministry reviews.
The four lost years are gone. But at last perhaps the government will face reality, and do the right thing.
Footnote: Hughes aid he expects the government to act on his recommendations, and won't sit quietly if it doesn't. He's been turning down invitations to speak about the review, he said. But if nothing has been done by fall, he may change his mind about those opportunities, Hughes warned.


Gazetteer said...

That tragic number, why does it keep rising?

We owe Kathleen Stephany.

anon1 said...

As a former social worker who took the voluntary departure package because I just could not stomach what was happening, I welcome this report. It articulates my feelings and frustrations when I worked there. However, I have no faith in the bureaucracy. Rationalization and group think is the order of the day there. Careerism is more important than finding the right plan for a child and family. I hope that I am wrong, but I fear I am right.

Anonymous said...

seems pretty clear to me. wonder why Hagen can't seem to get it.

Gov't must heed Hughes over child ministry mess

The Province

Monday, April 10, 2006

Ted Hughes, the province's former conflict commissioner, may be getting on in years, but he didn't pull any punches in his report on B.C.'s child protection system -- or lack of it.

Hughes blamed muddled Liberal budget-cutting for much of the mess. He also cited a revolving door of senior ministry leadership, with nine ministers and eight deputy ministers since 1995.

And he said his strongest impression from his independent review was one of a child-welfare system rocked by an "unmanageable degree of change."

The solution? The government must start by owning up to its mistakes. Then, it must act on Hughes' recommendations, including one for an independent child representative reporting directly to the legislature.

This rickety child-protection circus has been going on for too long -- with tragic results.