Friday, November 18, 2005

Government failed 713 forgotten children

VICTORIA - They sat in a Victoria warehouse for almost three years, partially completed reviews of the deaths of 713 children.
Almost 50 children who killed themselves. Twenty-five who were victims of homicide, and another 25 whose deaths were still mysteries. Fourteen who were in the government’s care.
Apparently no one in government had noticed that the deaths had fallen through the cracks when the Liberals eliminated the Children’s Commission.
Solicitor General John Les walked into the Press Theatre this week to announce the forgotten children, only days after he had said there might be about 80 cases. Work will start now on the forgotten reviews, he said, and his deputy minister will report on what went wrong.
I can offer some suggestions.
The Liberals eliminated the Children’s Commission in 2002 and handed the responsibility for child death reviews to the Coroner’s Office. But they cut the coroner’s budget by $600,000 at the same time, without reducing his responsibilities. The Children’s Commission, by my best guess, had been spending about $1.5 million a year on child death reviews. The coroner was doomed to fail.
And the government made the change without any real transition plan, or monitoring system.
Premier Gordon Campbell denied that this week. The legislation clearly set out a transition plan, he said.
But the premier is forgetful. The Office of Child and Youth Advocate Act simply says the Children’s Commission must transfer any remaining incomplete death investigations to the coroner’s office. The coroner “may” continue the investigations, the law says.
That’s the supposed transition plan. And it was followed. The coroner signed for the 713 incomplete death reviews, taking legal control of the files. And then they sat in the warehouse.
Why does it matter?
For the families of those children, it matters because some wanted answers. They wanted to know why their children died. They hoped that the deaths would gain meaning if something was learned that would help others.
For government, and all of us, it’s important to understand any lessons that could help prevent future deaths. That is the purpose of child death reviews.
And in 713 cases, that wasn’t done.
What is more worrying is that no one noticed. The ministers who should have been paying attention over the last few years - Rich Coleman, Gordon Hogg, Stan Hagen - all said they have no idea what happened.
But those cases represent about two years worth of deaths. How can the government, if it is paying attention, not notice that those reports have just dropped from sight?
Ted Hughes is looking at the whole system of death reviews. He was chairing a panel that included Child and Youth Officer Jane Morley and Chief Coroner Terry Smith. Hagen changed that Friday, handing sole responsibility to Hughes.
That’s reasonable. Morley designed the current system; Smith, according to the premier’s interpretation, was legally responsible for the 713 incomplete investigations. They shouldn’t have been on the review panel.
The small good news is that this failure should end the government’s claim that public accountablility and open reporting is unnecessary.
The Children’s Commission, and the Child Youth Advocate, reported frequently on how children were faring in B.C. The commission reported publicly on close to 200 deaths a year, and over its history made 800 recommendations to keep children from harm.
In the last three years the coroner has released a report on one death, and one report on keeping children safe in bed. It says it has done 546 other child death reviews, but hasn’t released them, or shared recommendations.
And all the while the government has maintained that all is well.
But the Sherry Charlie case and the 713 forgotten children show that all is not well. The secrecy has made it impossible to tell how large the problems may be, or what we must do to respond.
It’s time to admit a major mistake, and restore full, independent reporting on the lives - and deaths - of children in B.C.
Footnote: Campbell said this week that all of the 713 deaths had already received a coroner’s review, which determines cause of death and other basic information. But in fact 40 per cent had received no review before being sent to the warehouse. The coroner says he hasn’t yet begun doing any full child death reviews and needs more money and authority.


Anonymous said...

! W ! H ! A ! T !

"Campbell said this week that all of the 713 deaths had already received a coroner’s review, which determines cause of death and other basic information. But in fact 40 per cent had received no review..."

Looks like gordo fibbed... again.

RossK said...

I know we've discussed this before Paul, but I can only conclude that this failure was fueled by ideological motivations.

In this case they were used to justify the rationalization of services by invoking a centralized business-like model.

Clearly, this has failed on many levels in the MCFD.

I think it is time that we had a serious discussion in this province about which government services can, and which services absolutely cannot, be delivered in this way.


Anonymous said...

The Premier was forgetful. How polite Paul. Spin at work as usual. One hopes Ex Judge Hughes will cut to the chase. We can bet on it. Let the chips fall where they may.

Anonymous said...

As this sad tale progresses from questions about one case, to disturbing revelations about one case, to disturbing revelations about another case, then maybe 20 cases, and now over 700 cases, few are prepared yet to state what is so painfully obvious--these are not isolated mistakes, but part of a far more serious systemic failure.

And this systemic failure did not just tragically cut short one young life or overlook the reasons for 700 untimely deaths.

This Ministy holds the key to life and death, success and failure, hope and despair, for tens of thousands of children, teens, families and developmentally challenged adults. The impacts of systemic failure are far, far broader and all we need to do is to look around us, if we want to see them.

In a world where we're all too busy to be our brothers' keepers, we decided along the way that we'd hand over some tax dollars and let the good folks at MCFD do the job for us. But when offered tax cuts and rationalization in the name of economic progress, most of us chose not to look too closely at the human costs that this entailed.

So the systems and programs that deliver on this Ministry's weighty mandate were stripped of hundreds of millions of budget dollars and over 1,000 core personnel; at the same time they were ordered to undergo an ill-conceived, drawn-out and badly bungled restructuring that was inspired and driven solely by the "Liberals" ideological doctrine of small government and individual freedom.

Those who've watched in horror have understood full well the utter chaos that has been MCFD for several years now, despite the repeated insistence that all is well, that reforms are on track, that risk assessments have been done and that risk management plans are in place ("Um, apart from the stuff that you already know about, that is").

The disastrous Liberal agenda for MCFD has touched countless lives and created untold misery and it will continue to do so until there is acceptance that the ideology of "small government and individual freedom" is not at all helpful to serving battered children, broken families, children with special needs and adults who may need some help fitting into a world that was not designed with them in mind.

Anonymous said...

Can anyone consider for one tiny moment that all of this is part of an organized group of pedophiles that are covering up crimes against children??
When are the people of British Columbia going to stand up to the clowns in government and refuse to allow them to continue raping and murdering our Province?