Saturday, January 29, 2011

Behind the statistics on children we failed

There is a useful editorial on the Representative for Children and Youth report on the death of 21 children involved with Ministry of Children and Families here.
And the entire report is on the representative's website.
But the individual case studies tell much of the story.
Here's one.

Case Example
The mother of this First Nations infant was actively involved with MCFD child protection social workers during the prenatal period due to concerns regarding the care and safety of an infant sibling.
The MCFD file information indicated a lengthy history of involvement with the infant’s family over a number of generations. When the infant’s mother was a child, she had been removed from the care of her own parents due to domestic violence, mental health issues, neglect, sexual abuse and lack of medical attention. The infant’s grandparents had suffered the impacts of attending residential schools and lived in severe poverty. The infant’s mother
was suspected to have been affected by prenatal exposure to alcohol.
Numerous health hazards in the family’s home had been reported to MCFD. Despite the information regarding the historical abuses affecting the family and active child protection involvement, no discharge planning was done by MCFD and the hospital when the infant was born. MCFD did not make contact with the family until six weeks after the birth. Public Health had extensive and frequent contact, noting the infant’s medical concerns relating to care and hospitalization for failure to thrive. MCFD was not advised of the hospitalization, nor did they appear to be monitoring the situation in order to know that the infant had been hospitalized.
MCFD received another report regarding the infant’s care, and the infant was removed from parental care at approximately four months of age. At the time of placement in the foster home, the foster parent noted that the infant’s body was covered with eczema and that the infant made “odd sounds.” The foster parent attempted to access medical care for the infant at a walk-in clinic but did not get to the clinic before it closed for the day. The infant died that night. The death was identified as sudden unexplained death in infancy with contributing health problems.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Heed's 'star candidate' status looking dim

You could make a pretty good movie based on Kash Heed's disastrous political career. A cautionary tale about ambition, the perils of modern politics and the risks of a "star candidate."
Heed was supposed to be a golden boy in the Liberal ranks. He looks good, presented well, at least in a superficial way, and was most recently chief of the West Vancouver police. Ambitious, confident of great things in his future, encouraged by Liberal operatives who pushed Wally Oppal out of the way to create a safe riding for Heed.
And it's all gone to ruin.
Heed is now going to B.C. Supreme Court to try and hold on to his seat. An Elections B.C. audit has determined that his campaign broke the rules. Candidates could not spend more $70,000 on their campaigns; an audit found he spent $4,165 over the limit, the office says.
There are a lot of other issues around the tainted campaign. But let's start with the spending.
It matters. Heed won by less than 850 votes. Illegal campaign spending could have tipped the balance.
B.C. has a Wild West approach to political donations that allows big backers to write unlimited cheques to support parties and candidates. Any violation of the few rules is significant.
Elections B.C. has been asking for a new finance report from the campaign since June and granted Heed repeated extensions.
Last month, it warned Heed's election could be declared invalid and a byelection held.
Heed is pleading ignorance. That's never a great defence, and particularly bad for a police chief and political star.
But in an affidavit filed on Christmas Eve, Heed says he had nothing to do with his campaign spending or financial reports. Oppal recommended two people to run the campaign. Heed says he accepted and they made all the decisions.
Heed says he can't compel them to provide the information and he knows nothing. So all should be forgiven.
But that would mean an election might have been stolen by cheating.
It's a scandal in itself. But there's more.
A Chinese-language brochure smearing the NDP with false allegations was sent out in Heed's riding near the end of the campaign. It was illegal, because there was no indication who sponsored it.
But an investigation linked it to the Liberal campaigners.
Heed's campaign manager Barinder Sall faces five charges as a result, including obstructing justice, submitting a fraudulent document and improper election advertising. Two others involved with the campaign also face charges.
The unreported spending on the brochure is part of the campaign overspending, Elections B.C. alleges.
Heed stepped down as solicitor general while the incident was investigated.
Last May, a special prosecutor cleared him. Gordon Campbell, off at a meeting in Europe, put him back in cabinet.
And then the special prosecutor revealed his law firm donated to Heed's campaign. He resigned. Heed stepped down again.
And a new special prosecutor was appointed and the investigation started again.
The police report is now with the new special prosecutor.
Now an RCMP application for search warrants alleges Heed used $6,000 in public funds that was supposed to furnish his office to pay two campaign workers, including the campaign manager.
It's quite a spectacular mess.
Heed has the right under the Election Act to ask the court to clear him if he acted "in good faith."
But his affidavit doesn't reveal any effort on his part to get the needed information or press his campaign's financial agent to complete the reports. And the act appears to say the "good faith defence" applies only if the financial agent and the candidate both are found to have met the standard. It's not enough for the candidate to plead ignorance.
The Liberals - politicians and party officials - have been silent on the affair.
But the prospect of a continuing scandal, and perhaps a byelection, can't be cheering.
Footnote: The searches also uncovered a 2008 e-mail in which Heed touted his prospects to his future campaign manager.
"Think of things this way: You are a trainer that has a few horses in your stable ," he allegedly wrote. "Wally [Oppal] is getting on and needs to be put out to pasture soon. You have a stallion that has been in training for some time and you and everyone else know he's a winner, but can't wait on the sidelines forever."
Oppal gave up his seat for Heed and lost in a new riding.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

On Kash Heed and the RCMP contract

Two useful editorials in the Times Colonist today.

Heed's tainted election

"Liberal MLA Kash Heed is trying to escape the consequences of illegal campaign actions by pleading ignorance. It is a defence that cannot be allowed to stand, as it undermines the basic principles of fairness and democracy."

Read more here.

Changes needed in RCMP deal

"Citizens have a right to demand two things from police - accountability and a commitment to learn from mistakes and address problems. The RCMP has, so far, failed to meet the required standard.

The force's official response to its handling of the Robert Pickton case is disturbing. It raises serious doubts about the RCMP's willingness to change."

That editorial is here.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

How serious is campaign spending oversight?

The Kash Heed affair is covered well elsewhere.
But a review of his affidavit material suggests a casual/sloppy attention to financial reporting.
The auditor's report on campaign finances, attached to the affidavit, was prepared by Robert Ikoma, the Burnaby chartered accountant who signed the opinion.
The heading says it's the "Auditor's Report on Kash Heed's Election Financing Report Pursuant to the Election Act."
But in the first paragraph, the auditor refers to the financial agent for Linda Reid, another Liberal candidate.
It looks like a standard form letter was prepared and candidates' names pasted in as needed.
And not, as this gaffe indicates, with any great care.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

FSA tests far too useful to boycott or kill

It's important to know how we're preparing our children for the challenges ahead.
And it's stunning, even tragic, that the teachers' union campaign to kill the Foundation Skills Assessment tests in B.C. schools has made such gains.
The tests, introduced by the NDP government in 2000, provide a snapshot of student performance.
Every year, students in Grade 4 and Grade 7 write tests to assess their basic skills in reading, writing and math.
Of course, the results aren't definitive. But they give parents a report on how their children are doing in developing basic skills that are essential for life today. (And no, report cards with their often bafflingly oblique comments are not a substitute.)
The results also identify classrooms, schools and districts where children are doing better than average in learning to read, write and do math.
That's important. A teacher might have come up with great ways to help children soar in math skills.
But unless the success is measured and identified, the knowledge might never be transferred to other schools.
The value goes much farther. We have more than a decade worth of data now, information that's invaluable for researchers.
The University of B.C.'s Human Early Learning Partnership, for example, used FSA data to look at the link between where children lived and how they did in school.
The researchers followed 2,648 students from kindergarten to Grade 7. Partly, the findings were expected. Children from affluent neighbourhoods had better skills, unsurprising given advantages from preschool programs to better nutrition.
But the study also found that even if students moved to more affluent neighbourhoods, their performance in basic skills lagged.
That's important for anyone who cares about equal opportunity for children. The research shows the focus has to be on children's lives from birth to the time the start kindergarten.
And according to the researchers, the study would have been impossible without the FSA test results.
The B.C. Teachers Federation has waged war against the tests. They take too much time, the union says. But six tests in 12 years of schooling hardly seems onerous.
Some teachers spend too much time in preparing students, the union says. But that's a professional problem for teachers to deal with.
Results can be misused, the federation complains. Indeed they can; but it's insulting to claim the rest of us are incapable of identifying misuse.
Schools do much more than help students read and write, the union argues. Which is true; but it's not an argument against assessing progress in those skills.
Parents and policy makers know you can't reasonably compare results from an expensive private school and a school drawing students from a poor community where many children are learning English as a second language.
But you can compare two schools and classes from similar rural communities. And you can learn something it one is much more successful in helping children develop the core skills for a successful, happy life.
The union's opposition is disheartening. It hasn't offered a pragmatic alternative.
The campaign seems aimed at removing any independent assessment of children's progress in learning basic skills. That's in the interests of the union's members. And, legally, that is the first priority for the union.
But it's not in the interest of students or of society.
It matters that children should be able to read and write and comfortably calculate interest rates and the costs of groceries.
The teachers' federation has waged a fairly effective boycott campaign. And, on some level, many others in the system are also keen on the idea of killing one of the few measures that let us look at one aspect of how well our kids are doing in developing basic competence. Politicians are caving.
It's sad time for anyone who believes it's important for all children to have a fair chance at success in this life.
Footnote: The government undermines the tests as well. If the information was used to find ways of improving student learning - from anti-poverty measures to new approaches to teaching and learning - the government would have a much stronger argument. That has happened far too rarely.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Christy Clark's baffling campaign

A couple of items last week raised questions about Christy Clark's campaign positions.
Over at, Jody Paterson reprints a Clark release on the role of non-profits and comments:.

"Here's Christy Clark on...what, exactly? I do quite a bit of work with the non-profit sector and am familiar with the initiatives she mentions here, but I still couldn't make heads or tails out of what the Liberal leadership candidate was actually saying in this news release."

And Les Leyne of the Times Colonist tried to puzzle out what Clark was actually saying about the HST referendum. Her explanations were nearly incomprehensible. His conclusion was summed up by the column's headline.

"One flaw in Clark's HST plan: It's nuts"

Kevin Falcon's promise to solve Victoria's traffic congestion - something he never paid any attention to in five years as transportation minister - also gets a look in the Times Colonist, in an editorial.

Meanwhile, an important and concrete commitment from George Abbott hasn't got much attention.
Abbott has pledged to bring in civilian oversight for the RCMP.
More significantly, he's also said the current RCMP policing contract should be extended for two years to ensure that the oversight actually happens and is included in the agreement. He also says the delay in signing a new 20-year deal would allow recommendations from the inquiry into the missing women case to be included in the contract.
The government seems intent on rushing into a new long-term commitment; Abbott offers a smarter, more responsible course.
His release is here.