Monday, August 08, 2005

Children and families failing, says the front line

VICTORIA - The people at the front end, locked in the daily struggle to help children, families and troubled teens, they say the government has messed things up.
Child and Youth Officer Jane Morley talked to them to prepare the "Asking Questions" review. It's not, she says, her report. The message is based on more than 100 interviews and meetings across the province with the people and agencies who do the work.
It's grim. Families who need help to avoid tragedy can't get it, because there's no money or time. Scared teens who want to kick their addictions are turned away, because there's no treatment programs. Young adults suffering from fetal alcohol effect are launched alone into the world at 18, to become criminals, addicts, prey. A little continued support and their lives would be saved (and taxpayers would be spared the far more costly consequences of their later disasters).
There are successes, and these people are proud of what do. But they say the wins come despite the government's role, which has been to drive budget cuts and a mismanaged re-organization.
This is a testing time for Children and Families Minister Stan Hagen.
The government line has maintained that everything is fine, the resources are in place and the situation is well in hand.
Now the people on the front line say that is not true.
“Service providers described a chronic lack of funds sufficient to provide quality, consistent, timely and necessary services,” Morley reports. “Many service providers expressed a belief that the government's agenda is simply to reduce spending, rather than ensuring that the needs and interests of children are met.”
Yes, these people - some ministry staff, some from contract agencies - have their own interests. But Morley says they spoke from the heart, and the message needs to be heard.
The reality is that the ministry budget is seven-per-cent lower this year than it was when the Liberals were elected. Figure even a small amount for inflation, and you find it would take $250 million in extra funding to get back to the former commitment.
Money spent is not a measure of effectiveness.
But the reforms that were supposed to allow the reduced spending have not, for the most part, been put in place.
Clients, workers and almost anyone else involved with the system have warned that the cuts were hurting children and families.
And now the people who do the terribly difficult work say we've cut the budget so much that people can't be helped. (The Liberals acknowledged that the ministry was underfunded before they made their cuts. In opposition Gordon Campbell said the budget was inadequate, and urged the NDP to increase it. )
The government could argue that better support and protection for children and families is not affordable, or a priority.
But there's an economic problem with that argument. The report raises the idea of a vicious circle. The government doesn't provide enough support to deal with problems when they're small, which leads to much greater future costs, further reducing the money available for prevention. There is nothing more expensive than responding to each new crisis, instead of dealing with the causes.
And there's a moral problem. These people - the young addict, the neglected child, the scared mother - have one thing in common. They need help that we can provide.
None of this should be about politics. The NDP mismanaged the children and families ministry badly, and so have the Liberals. The ministry has had eight ministers in the last nine years, including three different political masters in the Liberals' four years.
Right now, Hagen faces a challenge. He can dismiss the observations and analysis of the people doing the work, using whatever justification.
Or he acknowledge the serious problems, and explain what he will do to begin to deal with them.
Children and families across the province are waiting on the decision.
Footnote: Morley confessed to some nervousness in releasing the report, fearing that the negative assessment may encourage cynicism and reduce hope about the prospects for improvement. She concluded, rightly, that the problems have to be raised, and that the people on the front lines are the core strength of the system.


Anonymous said...

On the other hand, I have heard firsthand stories out of MCF offices regarding moving the office every couple years, and having the new offices completely remodelled every time with all new furniture. I have heard firsthand stories of how when a given office looks like it is coming in under budget, they deliberately squander the rest of the budget so that they don't face reductions the following year. Of course, if they are under budget, then that means they SHOULD face reductions the following year.

There is no sense in the civil service that they are not there to "turn a profit" or "collect the most money". The civil service is a non-profit oraganization. Every penny they squander to keep their funding levels is a penny out of their own personal pocket when they pay taxes. Everyone is hurt when they waste. If the civil service had this attitude and tried to return money to the system whenever they could, we would ALL be better off.

Anonymous said...

my now 17 year old son went to live with his great aunt,against my better judgement.I told the social worker that wasn't a good idea,she of course wouldn't listen.Within 2 weeks he was given to his dad by the aunt,she had it planned with the social worker all along.My ex is a real drug user,not capable of looking after a pet rock,his girlfriend is 24,and my ex 42.They don't make sure he has clothing or food.My ex and his girlfriend are both claiming disability for nonexistant ailments.He also doesn't want to pay child support.He's well over $15,000.00 in debt to 2 of his 3 kids.There's nothing wrong with him,he's quite capable of working.i'm enrolled with the family maintenance enforcement program,but that's just a joke.Any money my son does earn,his dad's girlfriend goes into his room and lifts that for harself,she's also very abusive to my son,but the ministry won't listen.When he's 18 he's made it clear he's going out on his own,he's had it with his dad.I'd love to have him home with me,but the ministry won't allow it because my son doesn't always get along with his siblings.They got along pretty well when he was with us this summer,and he's changed alot over the last couple of years.The ministry just jerks these kids around,and not for the better.I know many kids who have been in foster care,its not always for the best.I have friends who work for the ministry,and say some of the ones working for them shouldn't be social workers.I know of 1 social worker who used to lock her daughter in the room so she couldn't come out.I reamember going for the bus one winter morning,and as I stood out across the street from her home waiting for the bus,I could hear the girl screaming to be let out of her room,no bathroom access,and a selfish bitch who couldn't deal with a 3 year old.She also has twin boys who she now doesn't have them either,her past partner does.He used to be a social worker also,and a real lousy one,treated kids very badly,finally got himserf canned because of his misconduct.The ministry system needs an overhaul.People who really care for these kids not just the paycheque.We have a very corrupt system going and its time for some serious changes.