Friday, June 18, 2010

Polak stumbles on issue of children at risk

It's tough to figure out what Children's Minister Mary Polak was thinking.
The Representative for Children and Youth had just released a detailed audit of a government child support program that found many problems.
The most significant was that ineffective - or non-existent - screening meant some of the 4,500 children had been placed in homes that posed risks. The audit found children had ended up in homes with past records of child protection issues or where caregivers had troubling criminal records.
The report included a number of recommendations - the first identifying an "urgent need" to rescreen all the homes. More than 1,000 children could be at risk.
No, said Polak. I disagree.
Polak did not dispute the report's findings of incomplete or missing home assessments. She didn't say why she believed there weren't risks. She just disagreed.
It was an inadequate response to a report involving children's safety.
Representative Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond had audited the Children in the Home of a Relative program. The concept is excellent. If parents can't care for a child and a relative is willing to take on the responsibility, the program provides a small amount of financial support - $250 to $450 a month.
It's much better for children, as a rule, to stay with relatives than to go into government care. Their lives are more and stable and they remain connected with family. The financial support makes that possible - and saves government a great deal compared with the costs of care.
But there are still risks. The government belatedly realized that; in 2008, it started a screening process to make sure homes were safe and suitable and the relatives could actually cope. Once we're involved, as a society, in a child's life there shared obligations. The government has acknowledged that.
Front-line agencies have warned about problems with the program for years. The audit found they had grounds for concern.
"These children do, in most cases, become invisible to government and are unable to have their voices or concerns heard," Turpel-Lafond said.
Screening was inadequate and even when risks were identified, there was no action to protect the children's safety.
Polak's talking points in responding to the report were bizarre.
In rejecting rescreening, she said wanted to reassure relatives that they don't "have to be living in fear of us coming and knocking on their door."
It's a bad way for a minister to characterize front-line staff - as people families should fear.
A reporter asked if that meant relatives whose criminal records - perhaps for sexual assault - hadn't been identified before a child entered the home also wouldn't have to fear a knock on the door.
Ridiculous, Polak said.
But she didn't say why it's ridiculous, since the audit found children could be living in such homes.
The minister also suggested rescreening wasn't needed because no new children were being taken into the program.
The average stay is three years, she said, so the 4,500 children would move out of the program over the next several years.
That hardly reduces the risks.
Polak didn't have to accept all the recommendations. But when children's safety is involved, she did have to offer a credible response.
The Children in the Home of a Relative program was cancelled after the representative started the audit. It's been replaced by the Extended Family Program.
The report expressed concerns about that program as well.
Eligibility has been tightened, so fewer children and families will be helped. Some of the changes make little sense. Relatives who have legal guardianship won't be eligible; even though they were encouraged to seek guardianship under the previous program.
And while there are improvements in the plans, funding appears inadequate.
These relatives are making a great contribution and show the way families can stick together. Many are grandmothers raising grandchildren. Many are poor - 20 per cent are on income assistance themselves.
They deserve our thanks and support. And the children also deserve the basic efforts to ensure they are in a safe and secure home.
Footnote: The representative reports through the legislature committee on children and youth, which currently has no meetings scheduled. Given the ministry's response, chair Joan McIntyre, a Liberal MLA, should be calling a meeting as soon as possible.


Anonymous said...

Why should Mary Polak be expected to flinch because of the findings of this or any other audit. She's never been wrong before, she's not about to start being wrong now. Facts, laws, or common sence to the contrary.


Raymond Graham

DPL said...

Gordo stuck her in that ministry even though she doesn't seem all that bright. Mary Ellen is a judge for God's sake so knows her job. The unfortunate thing is the present government doesn't like anyone showing them just how wrong they are on any subject.They care not that some kids are possibly still in a unsafe environment. Polak should be replaced and as soon as possible, or is Gordo leaving her there until some one else gets hurt? what a stupid way to run a ministry and a government

Anonymous said...

I came across this comment in an article in Harper's Mag. July 2010, titled "Laughter Curve."
It contains comments from the Federal Open Market Committee meetings in 2004. This is one that Mary Polak and the BC Liberals in general, could use.
"I was using what I thought was constructive ambiguity there."

Anonymous said...

Justine Hunter writes in today's (18.June.2010) Globe and Mail about the falling percentage of BC voters who cast a ballot and examines some of the reasons why. SFU professor Kennedy Stewart opines in the article that: “I think the problem is with the political class. Politics is an elite game.”

When politics is treated as a "game" we all lose. Whether it is NDP dirty tricks, or BC Liberals cramming phone lines to support their dear leader... we all lose.

Let's compare: MLA Margaret MacDiarmid, the B.C. Education Minister, turned to BC's Comptroller-General Cheryl Wenezenki-Yolland to do a quickie audit of the Vancouver School District. The C-G turned in a political hit job. Minister MacDiarmid treated the C-G's report as gospel and demanded that the Vancouver School Board march to the C-G's tune - fun times.

Next: Representative for Children and Youth Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond audited the Children in the Home of a Relative Program and the newly created Extended Family Program.

The response? "Hogwash!" - No, wait, that was another BC Liberal - Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources Minister Randy Hawes - spitting in the face of BC's natives over a Harvard University study.

MCFD Minister Mary Polak was spiteful and contemptuous when questioned about Judge Turpel-Lafond's helpful and insightful audit.

Leah said...

So, to my way of thinking, should anything serious happen to a child in government care...that leaves us no choice but to charge Polak as an accessory. She could have done her job - she just chose not to.