Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Liberals stumble – again – on children and families

I can't figure out why the Liberals are bungling the important work of protecting children and helping families.
They made a mess of the responsibility in their first five years, with reckless budget cuts and mismanagement. That ended with the Ted Hughes review of child and family services in 2005, when the problems spun out of control.
Hughes held the government to account. He blamed the problems in part on budget cuts and botched restructurings. And he made 62 recommendations to get things back on track.
It was an opportunity for a fresh start, and Premier Gordon Campbell grabbed it. He promised to do better. The government would accept and implement every one of the recommendations, Campbell said.
But the Hughes report was delivered in April 2006. And the government has a dismal job in acting on the recommendations.
One of things it did do was restore independent oversight, appointing a representative for children and youth.
This week, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, the Saskatchewan judge who got the job, reported on progress on the Hughes recommendations.
It was horrible. She found only 18 recommendations had been implemented, or almost implemented. Progress was made on another 19.
But that left 25 recommendations - 40 per cent - where there had either been no action, or the Ministry of Children and Families hadn't been able to provide any information to indicate what had been done.
We're talking about protecting the most vulnerable kids and helping struggling families.
The recommendations that have fallen by the way were serious. Some dealt with making sure First Nations child protection agencies were fully supported in the terribly important and difficult work they do. (The death of Sherry Charlie, beaten after being placed in a home by a native agency, led to the Hughes inquiry.)
Hughes said the ministry urgently needed a functioning complaint process, both to help people and gather information about problem areas.
There should be an actual plan for the regionalization push at the core of the government's strategy, Hughes said.
But 19 months later, the ministry couldn't show that those basic recommendations had been acted on.
Worse, the representative's report - couched in polite language - said there were signs the ministry was paying lip service both to the Hughes report and the principle of independent oversight.
Turpel-Lafond said she had hoped the ministry and her office would do a joint, co-operative report on progress on the Hughes' recommendations, which they would present together. Children first and all that. But the ministry balked.
Turpel-Lafond also noted that after she reviewed ministry plans and asked about the lack of reference to the recommendations, it sent her the same document with a few references to the Hughes report inserted.
All this left the government in a bad spot. And then things got worse. When the ministry entered its public meltdown phase, Campbell hired Lesley du Toit, a South African who had been on a ministry expert panel, as a special advisor. Weeks after the Hughes report came down, du Toit was named children and families deputy minister.
Since then, there have been a lot of meetings and talking about transformation, but not much in terms things you can see or measure.
Du Toit did an interview with the Times Colonist - the first time she had agreed to speak with reporters at any length since taking the job. She maintained the representative was wrong in finding a lack of leadership on the recommendations,
Her explanation for the missing information on progress wasn't reassuring. "Part of that is because a lot of the progress we make isn't written into documents; it's progress that is made that can be reflected by saying, 'this is what we've done,'" she said.
Anyone who has been a manager knows that when people can't offer any evidence of actions - especially on specific recommendations like Hughes made - they generally don't exist. Talk of restructuring and continuums is not a substitute for actually getting things done in the meantime.
Campbell and the Liberals were rightly critical of the wretched job the NDP did in managing the children and families file.
Amazingly, they have done worse and are blowing their chance to make a fresh start and set things right.


Anonymous said...

Everyone seems to know the kids are our future,except of course the present government. They will trist things, talk about how much money they put into the system etc etc. It isn't working and the woman hired to ensure the kids are being treated correctly now finds herself, in the Liberal's eyes as the one to belittle. she has a lot of smarts, the numbers and can leave her job at will. she stated so when first recruited. OK Gordo, get a minister and a deputy minister that have children as thier top priority.

Anonymous said...

Why you ask in your column, Paul? Why isn't government doing a better job with kids?

Because the government doesn't actually govern, it spins.

And 200 press releases and one transformation plan does not actually mean better services for vulnerable children.

And the flurry of press releases and endless service plans won't ensure climate change targets are met or the Olympics are on budget or that seniors are being cared for in old age homes.

Anonymous said...

I've been watching MCFD for years and have people close to me who work there. It has NEVER been so bad.

I would characterize what is occurring as child abuse and if it does not stop forthwith, the Deputy, her staff and consultants should be charged.

Wasted money on frills, wasted human capital, wasted opportunities and the squandering of good will and trust.

The Premier must return from his tour overseas without delay, fire Ms du Toit and the Minister and replace both of them with people who are experienced managers who have the best interests of children (and BCs taxpayers) as their priority.

Good for you, Paul.

One issue that has not been raised yet and which, I believe, needs to be is the fact that Ms du Toit is sharing her living space with one of her Deputy Ministers. We are paying her a "living allowance" of $2,000 per month on top of her salary. How ethical is it for us to be espected to also be subsidizing the living space of one of her staff and how ethical is it, to begin with, for her a Deputy Minister to be sharing living space with one of her staff?

Anonymous said...

Why is nothing happening? As Anon #2 said:

"Because the government doesn't actually govern, it spins.

And 200 press releases and one transformation plan does not actually mean better services for vulnerable children."

That's it in a nutshell...

Gazetteer said...

Did not Mr. Hughes promise to hold this government to account if his recommendations, which were accepted in their entirety by then Minister Hagen at the time, were not acted upon forthwith?


BC Liberals Suck said...

This gigantic cluster f#@k that is MCFD is a big ship being ripped apart, plank by plank, because of an ideology that is predatory, inhumane and imbibed with unadulterated greed. This is what Campbell, his ilk and a bunch of others are all about. And hundreds of dead babies, children & youth is not going to get in the way of even more spoils. Or thousands of children, youth, adults and families who need services from CLBC and find the door slammed in their face. Or youth who are being abused, sexually exploited and have nowhere else to go who end up on the street. Or food banks running out.

In all honesty, I do not see how this self-perpetuating horrow show is ever going to change with the leadership they have. But it's broader than that, the entire BC public service is being ground into the dirt. It'll make it all easier to privatize you see. And make even more money for Campbell and his pals who get the contracts.

And, with all of our personal information making it into American hands, through privatization, accreditation with transnational and American organizations and other insidious ways, it make the Security & Prosperity Partnership (SPP)so much easier.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the previous poster and it is alarming, in the context of MCFD, that the "leadership", as you refer to it is reflected in a Deputy Minister from South Africa who looks to consultants and organizations from over the border to guide her "transformation". A Deputy Minister, by the way, whose "credentials" are suspect. Why have we not had access to information about her background?????

I'd also like to see Paul and other commentators from BRITISH COLUMBIA expand on the comments above re the SSP. There is very little information out there about it and we need to be thoroughly educated on its' impact here.

front line worker said...

Concerning Deputy Minister du Toit sharing living space with one of her Assistant Deputy Ministers, it may not be illegal but it is another example in the long list of issue concerning her serious lack of judgement. She has zero respect on the front lines.

Anonymous said...

An uncredited story in the Vancouver Sun - published on Tuesday, December 11, 2007 - reports that "On Tuesday, both Turpel-Lafond and finance committee chair Bill Bennett said the issue will now be revisited."

I don't think that $740,000 will cause a 'structural deficit'.

Perhaps the BC Liberals can be dragged in to the 21st century after all... Well there is always hope.

Anonymous said...

From Vaughn Palmer, Vancouver Sun, Wednesday, December 12, 2007:

"'It was a stupid mistake,' said committee chair and B.C. Liberal MLA Bill Bennett. 'I don't mind if you print me saying that because it was.'"


"'I've got to eat the crow,' Bennett said. But no need for the chair to hog all the blame. Given the role of the other Liberals on the committee, this is surely a dish for six."