Thursday, November 08, 2007

Surely children deserve adequate protection

When children are at risk of being abused or neglected, their safety - their lives - can depend on a quick, thorough investigation.
The children and families ministry isn't doing that. Investigations routinely remain incomplete for months, while children are at risk and clouds hang over families.
And the situation is substantially worse now than it was a year ago, or even four years ago, when the ministry was in chaos.
The ministry's standards say that child protection investigations should be completed within 30 days.
But that's not happening. NDP critic Nicholas Simons revealed that in September there were 3,264 child protection investigations that were still incomplete more than 90 days after the files were opened. That's three times longer than the ministry standard.
More than three out of four active cases had been open longer than 30 days and were still incomplete. Half the cases were still incomplete after three months.
Worse, the situation is deteriorating. The number of cases still incomplete after 90 days was up almost 20 per cent over last year. And it was 60-per-cent higher than the backlog in 2003.
This is one of the most important and basic indicators of the ministry's effectiveness.
Social workers can never protect every child. At times, they will do their best and bad things will still happen. A boy who is apprehended will suffer in care; a girl who is left with her family will be abused.
That makes it even more critical that frontline workers are able to do the job to the best of their abilities. Their inability to complete child protection investigations signals a critical breakdown.
Children and Families Minister Tom Christensen didn't have any good answers. He noted that the ministry had added 200 social workers this year to address underfunding and staff shortages. And he said there were fewer investigations open for more than a year than in 2001 - hardly a bragging point.
Sometimes, Christensen said, investigations just take longer to do properly. Managers review cases that drag on once a month, he added.
But remember, the ministry set the standard of 30 days. It said that the risk should be assessed and any needed protection measures taken within that time.
And for thousands of children, that's not happening.
The children's ministry continues to be a problem for the Liberals, as it was for the NDP.
The day after Simons raised the issue of incomplete child protection investigations, Times Colonist reporter Lindsay Kines revealed more problems.
Earlier this year, Kines reported that children who had been sexually abused were waiting months for counselling and support, because the program's budget had been frozen for 17 years. Christensen had refused funding requests from a Victoria agency that worked with abused children and was being forced to lay off therapists.
Kines also submitted a freedom of information request for information the ministry had on the issue. He received a review done in early 2006, heavily censored.
And then he tracked down the original and found what the government had tried to hide. The censored passages reported that the 47 agencies providing services to sexually abused children "were unanimous in their view that program funding is inadequate to meet the needs." Programs for abused children had been "neglected" for several years. Children in remote communities were particularly poorly served.
It looked like a cover-up. And it also raised questions about Christensen's statements that he didn't know about funding problems. "It hasn't been identified by communities as a priority for increase," he said this spring. "I'm asking my staff questions about that to see if it's something we need to be looking at more closely."
But that was a year after the report highlighting underfunding was delivered,
Meanwhile, as all this was revealed, Sean Holman at revealed the ministry had spent $560,000 on a truly lavish head office reno.
It's discouraging.
Footnote: I made a stupid mistake in a recent column on the release of forestland from tree farm licences. I wrote that TimberWest benefited in 2004 when the government ripped up a tree farm contract. The benefits really went to Island Timberlands, en entirely different customer. It was a bad error; I apologize.


Anonymous said...

The additional point of concern, of course, is the bizarre line drawn that excludes the new Representative for Children & Youth from investigating the deaths of children in the care of a relative. Minister Christensen claimed it's "complicated" because that program is run by another Ministry (Ministry of Income Assistance - MIA) -- another BS excuse that further strains the Minister's credibility.

The child in care of a relative/(kith & kin) program was initially launched (around 2001/2002) by no other than MCFD. In fact, I wasn't even aware it had been shifted to MIA. They've shuffled other programs like Child Care between ministries so many times in the past 5 years of restructuring and could shift if back to MCFD tomorrow if they cared. Indeed, it would indeed make far more sense to do so.

Secondly, the Representative is allowed to investigte adequacy of services provided by other ministries like Education, where the child has an MCFD file, so why not MIA programs?

I think it's especially important to get the Child in Care of a relative program under the Representative's investigtive umbrella, as she is pushing for. Notwithstanding the obvious benefits of keeping kids with their families where possible, it's important to recall that this program was launched in concert with massive MCFD cost cutting when the BC Liberals took office and also had a very cynical cost-cutting objective. Relatives/ friends are given less funding to provide the same care as regular foster parents, and there is less stringent screening of caregivers.

So all the more reason to know if these factors contributed to child deaths, and I'm not at all surprised that Minister Christensen and the BC Liberals don't want the public to know that.

Anonymous said...

This government needs money for the big show of 2010. Everything else is of lower need.

But they still like to keep the executive offices looking real nice in case someone drops by. One wonders how staff manage to do their jobs when the government doesn't seem to believe the kids really need help.