Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Too little information on the way we treat kids in care

VICTORIA - The Gove Inquiry, looking at the horrific death of a little boy who should have been saved, was clear.
"Death and serious injury reviews should proceed promptly. . . "  The Liberals and the NDP both supported Judge Thomas Gove's recommendations for children and families' reform.
Now it's ten years on, and a little girl is dead. Sherry Charlie was only 19 months old when she was placed in a Port Alberni foster home. Weeks later she was dead. Her foster father, Ryan George, pleaded guilty to manslaughter. Sherry was battered to death.
It's not just another sad story. Because before Sherry was sent to the home, there were warning signs. George had a long and violent criminal record, and was still on probation for spousal assault.
Sherry died in September, 2002. Two-and-a-half years later, no review of her death has been completed. The public hasn't been told if any avoidable errors were made, or if it could be happening again as you read this column.
It's a big commitment, taking on the responsibility for children. On any given day that's the role the government - on your behalf - takes for some 9,000 children in British Columbia. It is difficult, but necessary. And it creates obligations.
We aren't honoring those obligations, according to three people who should know. Former children's commissioner Cindy Morton, children's advocate Joyce Preston and former B.C. ombudsman Dulcie McCallum wrote Gordon Campbell nine months ago because they were worried that British Columbians no longer know how well the ministry is serving the people who desperately need its help. They wanted a confidential meeting, to talk about solutions.
But they never got a response, despite three follow-up calls over several months, and decided to release their letter publicly.
The Liberals eliminated the offices of the children's commissioner, and children's advocate in 2002.
Nothing would be lost, they said. The BC Coroner’s Service would take over investigating and reporting on children’s deaths. But the coroner's budget was cut, and pressures mounted.The service hasn’t released a single review of child deaths, which were prepared every three months by the children's commission.
A new position, the child and youth officer, was established to replace both the children's commission and the youth advocate.
It hasn't been an adequate replacement. Officer Jane Morely may be active behind the scenes, and raised important concerns in her last annual report. But the public accountability has almost vanished.
It's a serious loss. The children’s commission's last annual report, in June 2002, found the ministry had acceptable care plans for only half the 9,700 children in care. It examined 107 cases in which children in care suffered critical injuries, and found half didn't have adequate care plans, and many had been poorly placed in foster homes and moved frequently.
Are we doing better, or worse by those children today? We don't know.
Gordon Campbell used to support the role of the children's commission and the children's advocate. He championed their work, and used their findings to hold the NDP government to account.
The Liberals have, by any reasonable standard, mishandled the ministry. Their initial plans for a 23-per-cent budget cut - obviously unrealistic - had to be abandoned, and the cuts scaled back (but not eliminated). A restructuring plan went wildly off-track, with the deadlines missed by years. Only in the last year has some stability emerged.
Those problems make it more critical that the public receive complete, independent reports on how the ministry is doing. It's not a question of second-guessing frontline workers, or finding fault. It's simply fulfilling our duty to children and families.
We - you and I - have taken on responsibility for some children in very tough circumstances. The evidence over the last decade is that government has great difficulty in meeting the huge challenge of offering the life and hope.
We need to know the job is being done right. And that means independent, public reporting.
Footnote: The coroner and ministry both say they will soon complete reports on Sherry's death. Advocates have been pressing for answers for at least a year, including information on whether the pressure to reduce costs affected her placement, and whether her foster home was appropriate to her needs and adequately supported and supervised.


Anonymous said...

Leaving aside the fact that the Gove Report was incoherent, incomplete, and unable to make sense of simple data sets, it continues to mystify me that anyone believed Gordon Campbell's 1996 operatic performances over dead children. The simple fact is he (mis)used the Gove Report to score political points. As did his opposition critic, Christie Clark. They used the Gove Report to coerce the NDP government of the day to spend millions on a pointless reorganization excercise so they could claim the NDP were fiscally incompetent. It was the sort of political cynicism that ought to have been punished. Instead, Campbell got to be Premier. Go figure.
Campbell and his minions have no commitment to children - never have and never will.
All this current hand-wringing over lack of transparency regarding the Liberal style of government is all too little and far too late.

Anonymous said...

They are now asking for a further 5% reduction over and above what they have cut already.This inspite of the fact that they have had an increase in children in care after they dumped many children out of care and they do not have the budget or resources to deal with this increase.In spite of this resource shortfall they are still pushing these over and above cut.Of course they have not announced this to line workers, the budget cut, or you the public who may have a thing or two to say about this.Does any one in the media care about this cynical act.If so research it and expose it as that is the only way these minions will back off from this ideological fanaticism which is hurting children and those who work wiith families and children.

Kali Advocacy Project said...

Anonymous, I am coming to the great disillusioning idea that the vast majority of people don't care, or have concern about children in the care of the BC government living in third world conditions, being relegated to a life of poverty and marginalization. Or, how about dying in the care of the BC government in as much silence and invisibility as they have lived their lives. Death stats, news stories and etc. are out there. Have been for a while now. There has been no thunderous gasp of shock, horror and indignation from the masses, or frankly from those who are in a position, to oh, I don't know ADVOCATE and SPEAK UP. Hmm, people like Jane Morley. Or others in the Officer's office. Or how about Sheila Davidson, Vancouver's Child & Youth Advocate?

I urge anyone who might attend all candidates meetings for the election to bring up the subject of the Ministry of Children and Families. Found out what all candidates have to offer to improve and protect the lives of BC's children and youth.

Thanks for keeping the topic alive Paul.


Anonymous said...

If I understand this right, the workers did not do a criminal record check, the most basic of check. Coaches, girl guide leaders, boy scouts all need criminal record check if they are to volunteer to be responsible for children, even for a few hours a week. But here children who were taken from their parents were put with people without a criminal record check.

Has the worker been fired? This is about a social worker who did not do her job and a child died.

Anonymous said...

The only reason more children have not died in the care of the B.C. government is because of the social workers whose conscientiousness and dedication caused them to tenaciously investigate and ensure the children's safety. Management has done nothing to help social workers do their job; there is a culture of mediocrity within MCFD and workers are not encouraged to question decisions made by management. Instead of the system being designed to help the front line workers (and hence the families and children they serve), management does what it can to put roadblocks and obstacles in their way.
Despite the hardships they are subjected to and the relentless stress they are under, workers continue to do their jobs most valiantly. But it could all be so much easier and more helpful to families if management got off their high horse.
In the Interior Region of MCFD (from Williams Lake to the Alberta Border, Kootenays and Okanagan) the management is so over their heads that it is a wonder anything/anybody is able to work at all with any kind of success in helping/protecting children.