Thursday, December 15, 2005

What I said, and what Jane Morley said, on children's issues

In a recent column for the Vancouver Sun I offered my thoughts on the failures of the Child and Youth Office set up to replace the Children's Commission and the Child, Youth and Family Advocate.
Child and Youth Officer Jane Morley had a different view.
Below are the column, and Morley's response. The dedicated can find her annual report at, under publications, and judge for themselves.

Children's needs still the same, they just don't get help now
By Paul Willcocks
VICTORIA - Jane Morley’s annual report as the child and youth officer struck me as hopeless, on so many levels.
And it added to evidence that the decision to eliminate the Children’s Commission and Child and Family Advocate was a damaging mistake.
The report, released four months later than last year, is often incomprehensible, mostly vague and about activity, not results. I have followed these issues, and I can not for the most part figure out what the report is saying.
Consider the officer’s first objective. “Contribute to increased participation of children and youth in decision-making processes related to issues affecting them personally, and acceptance of advocacy for and by children and youth as integral to their meaningful participation.”
First, that’s not really an objective. If you could figure out what that means - and I’m betting you can’t - there’s nothing measurable there, no clear actions or results, no way of judging success. No commitment.
So how is the officer doing on this topic? Not well, according to the report.
“We recognized that some confusion existed about our role in individual cases, and were also concerned about inconsistency in the way we handled telephone calls about individual cases,” the report says. “We recently established an advocacy team to provide more focus and consistency in our approach to individual disputes and complaints.”
And, by the way, the report mentions, the child and youth office gets about 1,000 calls a year from people seeking help with individual cases. That’s one-third the number the Child and Family Advocate got before the Liberals shut that avenue down in 2002. (Alberta’s Children’s Advocate handles up to 4,000 requests for help a year.)
The issues and needs haven’t changed. People just don’t get help now.
That’s by design. The former Child and Family Advocate was charged with helping families and children navigate the system. The legislation setting up the child and youth officer position bars advocacy on behalf of individuals except in “extraordinary cicumstances.”
Morley held a press conference this week to talk about her report.
I don’t think anyone left feeling that they had got answers to some of the most important questions.
Start with the most glaring. At the press conference Morley handed out a handy guide to the eight separate investigations under way into everything from Sherry Charlie’s death to the breakdown of public reporting on how government care for children.
Not one of those investigations was launched because Morley’s office raised concerns about the issues involved. Questions from families, news reports and opposition pressure uncovered the problems and forced the government - for the most part slowly and grudgingly - to act.
That’s a massive failure. The child and youth office has been up and running for more than three years. These issues should have been recognized, and raised. They weren’t.
The result has been a crisis that dominated this session of the legislature, and chaotic and overlapping investigations to try and deal with the unanswered questions.
And confirmation that effective public oversight has been lost.
I grabbed one of the last annual reports from the Children’s Commission as I was writing this. It included 24 specific priorities for the ministry to consider for the coming year, and reported in detail on progress on priorities from previous years. The commission noted it had completed and reported publicly on 137 individual child death reviews and made 101 recommendations to prevent future deaths. (The commission followed up each recommendation and about 90 per cent were at least partially implemented.) It offered exampls in the report.
The commission was also responsible for reviewing all critical injuries to children in the government’s care. It completed 32 reviews that year, half involving suicide attempts, and offered valuable findings on ways that the ministry could respond more effectively. External injury reviews are no longer done.
And the commission reported on its audit of care plans for children, and research projects on suicide and the role of alcohol in child and youth deaths.
The report was clear and specific, celebrating successes as well as noting areas for improvement. It provided insight and accountability. It let the public know that someone was watching to make sure we do our best for the children and familes who need our help the most.
It was, in short, most everything that the child and youth officer’s report was not.

Jane Morley:  Live Kids Need More
By Jane Morley
I recently received an email from a bright and lively woman who has a difficult task working with people who want to turn around their lives, many of whom are young people, some in their teens, who fall between the cracks in the system. She is a sometime journalist and knows that game very well. She writes:
My new line of work has made me acutely aware of the tremendous lack of services out there for struggling families, and I have to admit I get tired of all the media energy for this discussion about child deaths and long for them to apply the same diligence to getting services and support to the live kids.
That is exactly how I feel. I see my job as advising...and hopefully persuading...the Government to transform the child welfare system in British Columbia so that live children and youth can be better served. The excessive, and sometimes furious, focus on death reviews could well derail a genuine child welfare system transformation.
My first thought after reading Paul Willcock's column "Children's needs still the same, they just don't get help now" was a kind of despair. If an experienced journalist and former broadsheet publisher was prepared to willfully misread my annual report in such a fashion, then how could I do what I set out to do and persuade the government to stick to their plans to transform our child welfare system.  
Perhaps my politically knowledgeable friends were right when they advised me not to take the Child and Youth Officer's post. They warned that the issues and dilemmas surrounding child protection constitute an electrified third rail of B.C. politics that has shocked an often rapid succession of ministers and their deputies in Social Credit, NDP and BC Liberal governments.  For more than 30 years, this political electricity has proven fatal to most, if not all, of the superintendents and provincial directors of child welfare in their position. All those in that post were numbered among the bright up-and-comers in the system and many of them went on to have successful careers elsewhere.
This inspired a second thought, and second thoughts are often better than first ones. My second thought was to fight back against any derailment of the system's transformation and child welfare public policy improvements caused by an agitated hunt for political advantage that combines with the tabloid media's mantra that "if it bleeds it leads."  
My reasoning is straightforward. I have a statutory mandate to independently advise the government on how to transform the child welfare system.  This transformation will not happen without harnessing the strengths and commitment of those who went into child welfare to improve the lives of children and youth.  Constant negativity undermines this. There have been far too many buyouts and burnouts.
I feel an obligation, given my mandate, to try to stop the derailment. My independence is an independence to say what I believe is right, not what others want me to say. This includes the government, but it also includes the official opposition and even, dare I say it, voices in the media. If my job, in part, is to "speak truth to power" then it is important for me to recognize that the opposition and the media also have power.
I do not intend to bow to the pressure to focus on child death reviews. Nor do I intend to make broad public statements, extrapolating from the unhappy fact of child death reviews remaining undone, to join those who declare that our child welfare system is in chaos. There is no conclusive evidence that the child welfare system in British Columbia is worse today than 10 years ago or in any way significantly inferior, or superior, to the other child welfare systems across North America.
I want it to be superior. We now have a special opportunity in British Columbia to take a quantum leap forward in addressing the intransigent realities of our failure to improve outcomes for Aboriginal children in B.C. and to make our system the best in North America. The New Relationship, and the recently signed accord with First Nations, holds the promise of meaningful partnership between Aboriginal communities in British Columbia and the provincial government - a partnership that is necessary if we are to bring about transformative change for the most vulnerable children  and youth in this province.
Of course the Government need not accept my advice. They may well not like my recommendations because transformations and transitions cost money and there are many competing demands for money, including rapidly growing amounts for health and education.  But no one in government is saying don't give that advice and that is a good thing.  
It is unfortunate that Adrian Dix, the opposition critic, in ignoring, as did Paul Willcocks, the substance of my report did not take the opportunity to use it as a means to pressure the government to implement the recommendations I made. As most people who work in the child welfare system know, his Leader, Carole James, who knows first hand the system and its problems and the likely cures, is on record favoring greater aboriginal autonomy and community authority and as supporting the move to regionalization that I advocate for in my report.
I don't have all the answers. But in my annual report, I try to raise the necessary questions and issues so that government can provide better answers to protect all our most vulnerable children and youth, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal.


Anonymous said...

Let's not forget why this woman is sort of, maybe , a bit out to lunch. She was hired to review( get rid of the previous structure) and suprise, surprise she suggested a new system and surprise, surpise she got the job. So of course she isn't about to notice the obvious. Kids are losing out, she is getting a good salary and will have to dragged kicking and screaming out of the office. Who speaks for the kids? not her.

Anonymous said...

Paul, you have far exceeded the need for fair play in publishing Morley's pathetic response to the criticisms she so richly deserves.

Anonymous- I undertand she is not "getting a good salary". Rather she got $1300 a day (totalling $182000 last year) while maintaining her private practice. Talk about feeding at the public trough while giving cover to the politicans who hired her to hear what they wanted to hear.

This woman took the job of administrator of the Legal Services Society when the non partisan board of the Society resigned in protest over the cuts in funding which meant it was impossible for the Society to carry out its legislative mandate. She then went on to write the core review of the Ministry of Families and Children which resulted in the dismantling of the regimen which had been created in response to the Gove report. She then accepted the postion which replaced that regimen, and to add insult to injury did so, as mentioned above, on the basis of it being a part time job, albeit one for which she received $182,000 in compensation for one year. A public private patnership where the primary benficiary has been Jane Morley!

Anonymous said...

When the Children's Commission closed its office doors, I had been actively involved as a complainant in bringing forward a long running series of concerns, which remained unresolved, though part of a panel review and summary had been completed. The questions around the provincial governments responsibilities towards band children with band agencies in various stages of delegation, levels of independence to autonomy were re submitted to Ms. Morley’s office in the continuum of a quest for a larger scale investigation pertaining to the gross and disproportionate number of child fatalities involving band children, and decision making regarding the care, safety and placement decisions involving band children, the adequacy of staff training, protocols, practice standards, risk assessments, plans of care and political influence by band governments. In the case of Sherry Charlie, whose short life illustrates the problems with inadequate risks assessments, placement through kin agreements, and lack of care planning, these concerns were already known and documented and requests for investigation already brought to the table to be denied by the Children's Commission, the former Child Youth and family advocate and the Office Ms Morley stepped into, prior to the death of Sherry Charlie. Had they been addressed and protocols applied the scenario may have been different. It is not a lack of information. It is not a case of being unable to identify the problem, needing more data, or data analysis; it is a case of want of willingness to act against political will. It is my growing belief that money and liability speak more directly to those in decision-making roles. That a class action filed on behalf of aboriginal children in care, and in absence of service but in positions where risk has been defined, naming the Ministry for Child and Family Development and in select cases where funding structures split power / accountability provincially with the federal department of Indian affairs and northern development, will be the catalyst for change and growth towards a system prioritizing the protection of aboriginal children unfettered by jurisdiction splits based on ancestry rather than the specific needs for safety of the child. While the Ministry for Child and Family Development has a dismal record for providing care, services, assessments and protection to non aboriginal children, the primary difference is the structure, the rights of the child, the standards and practices are in place and that enables families and advocated to refer to the structure to demand, even through court action, that service standards be applied.

Anonymous said...

Surely Ms Morley's PR advisers could come up with a more creative excuse than Minister Hagen's tired attempts to blame everything on nasty people "playing politics".

If things weren't so downright awful at MCFD, the NDP would find some easier target to "play politics" with.

While Mr Dix has certainly been more effective at bringing these issues to public attention in recent months, none of these issues are new. I and other advocates from across the political spectrum--including many diehard Liberals--have been sounding these alarms for four years.

I would agree with Ms Morley on one thing--the children who are still alive are most definitely suffering and deserve our attention. But dismissing accountability just because things got so bad that a child died is no way to help them.

It's also true that MCFD was a troubled ministry long before the arrival of Ms Morley and the Liberal's agenda of cuts and restructuing. But the recent chaos and crisis is unprecedented. And it has happened under Ms Morley's watch. And it has happened in part because she has chosen to put the interests of her political masters ahead of the interests of the children she was appointed to serve.

Here's one very simple example. If Ms. Morley truly wanted to transform the child protection system (tranform as in better serving children, not just lowering costs), surely she realized that this would have required more resources, not less. At $13,000 a day, you'd expect at least that. And if she didn't understand that, MCFD had plenty of experts who pointed that out for them.

But where was she when the Liberals chose to make deep and unprecedented cuts? Where was she when they appointed Doug Walls to design MCFD's transformation--a Liberal backroom boy and close Campbell ally with absolutely no expertise in this area?

Her response suggests that while she could not respond to every individual complaint, she was trying to address the broader issues. Yet when I contacted her office outlining the impacts that budget cuts and massive, ill-conceived restructuring was having on vulnerable children in general, she dismissed that as well.

Ms Morley has lost any credibility. She'd be far better off just saying sorry and getting out of the way.

Anonymous said...

...and one more thing.

Ms Morley concludes by suggesting that her recommendations for regionalization/ devolution will solve it all.

What a sick, cynical joke!

Just look at the community living parallel, where even the biggest cheerleaders of community governance are now acknowledging what others have warned all along--that this has ended up being just a way for the province to dump the problems in someone else's lap.

They spent four years trying to "transform" community living, just as they've tried to "transform" child protection, based on the same recipe of budget cuts, community governance and the Liberals' DIY (Do-it-yourself) ideology.

This year, Minister Hagen finally faced the fact that they were getting nowhere, because deep budget cuts and Walls' bungling plan were just making things worse, not better. And because, wishful thinking aside, the whole point of these systems is to provide a helping hand where DIY isn't working. So Stan's solution, as Ms Morley is now suggesting for child protection, was to just hand over the whole mess to the community, thus allowing the province to perpetuate underfunding while someone else takes the heat for the resulting human costs.

It's too late for community living, which was handed off to the new community governance agency, CLBC, on July 1. But communities should think very carefully about taking this on before MCFD cleans up its mess and demonstrates that budgets and systems are adequate to fulfill the mandate.

That a loyal foot solider like Ms Morley should be banging the drum of community governance just as the political heat is at its most intense only illustrates the real motivation behind it.

Kali Advocacy Project said...

Another interesting tid bit is that one of the current staff of Ms. Morley's officer, a deputy officer, was one of the CEO/RED's, who presided over the slashing and burning in one of the regions. That is after he received his golden handshake through early retirement. I guess now he gets to be a "good guy" and report on all the carnage?

MCFD needs to do these things:

1. Increase the budget for social support for families and child in care. They've been slashed beyond what is humane and acceptable as a public serve organization.

2. Hire more social worker's to assist with the increased and increasing caseloads, the burn out, as well as the serious nature of the abuse, neglect and marginalization of children, youth & families.

3. Decrease the administrative tasks expected of SW's & supervisors, hire SW assistants to help now. Fine tune what is a workable amount of paper- work that is humanly possible.

4. Review Kith & Kin, Out of Care placements for adequacy of due diligance, "success" rates, removal rates, critical incidents and deaths. Provide training and support to staff for doing these types of agreements. And use them more moderately and carefully.

5. Review community service contracts with feedback from front-line SW's & supervisors, client and other stakeholders.

6. Offer training and professional development. The public deserves skillful, educated and helpful SW's
& supervisors. Not stressed out, overworked and tired ones.

In many places, there is an unwill- ingness of many people to move up into supervisory positions. And a big portion of the work force is very new. But many of the others are getting burnt out & not being replaced fast enough. SW's don't grow on trees. A finite amount graduate every year and not all of them want to go into child protection. I can't imagine why not?

7. I agree that the Children's Commission and a real, independent Child and Youth Advocate must be re-instated. However the call for these is not as imperative as the things stated above.

This is a time for pragmatics and reality because the hurting children and families and child protection complaints keep coming in, despite all the efforts to shut it down.
And the child in care rate is rapidly increasing, again in spite of the efforts to stop it. Dams burst, it's a fact of nature.

This government and it's petty bureaucrats and politicans better wake up and start doing the right thing. They've already helped destroy a future generation of BC citizens. How many children starve, live, hurt & die in BC while everyone offers debate, lame excuses, spectacle and sophistry?

*Kali Advocacy Project*

RossK said...

Sure would appreciate it if someone could explain the specifics of the so-called 'genuine child welfare system transformation' that Ms. Morley is trumpeting.

Anonymous said...

Gazeteer, it means "greater aboriginal autonomy and community authority".

Translation: Make it their problem, not ours.

Anonymous said...

The Children's Commission states in a comment in file, 1-46, 'The children's Commission support the implementation of the Aboriginal Strategy and encourages finalization of Delegation Enabling Agreements with Aboriginal Communities, if adequately resourced and standards for the care of children are clearly expressed.' In another document the Commission states, it is sensitive to the differences in communities but is equally concerned with the application of Provincial standards. Many of the reports reviewed include statements and recommendations previously made by the commission that reflect this continuing challenge.

The issues identified, include in part:
*The importance and adequacy of risk assessment, including checking collatorals, interviewing the children, considering previous reports, considering family history and community supports, parental capacity
*review of risk assessment prior to any major changes in the child's plan
*The importance of integrated case management, communication between all service providers
*The importance of timely and comprehensive investigations into child protection concerns
*complete and thorough documentation
*consultations for assessments
*comprehensive plans of care
These considerations are part of good practice for all children receiving MCF services and one would assume equally important in terms of a provincial standard to children receiving care / service planning from delegated authorities, and all other Child Welfare systems [including Spallumcheens unique agreement] in B.C.
Additionally files reviewed frequently include the comments,
*'protocols between MCF and aboriginal agencies and communities are required to ensure effective interventions and supports to children and youth'
*'Coordination and clarity about roles and responsibilities during the transition to delegated aboriginal authorities for child protection is important.

I have included statements from several files illustrating some of the above concerns. These statements are by no means inclusive of every reference to each identified concern, rather are a sparse offering of the collected references in the files reviewed. As the summaries included as appendixes are quite comprehensive and illustrate many of the consequences of inadequate assessment of risk, protection investigation and planning, the statements and recommendations that follow are intended to further illustrate MCF / Delegated Agencies Challenges. More importantly, those which have been identified by the Commission and brought to the attention of the Director through Child Fatality Reviews.

cc 1/115 'Three times in 1982 and again in 1996 the Ministry concluded its involvement with this family once the matter had been referred to the Band social worker. No monitoring or additional supports were offered. Monitoring of support services should include working with on reserve aboriginal support services.'
Same report recommends a review of adequacy of Band services.

cc 1997-00018 'Two months after the MSS file was opened on the child, it was closed as MSS decided that it was not necessary for the child to remain in care. The reasons for this were that the local band was now actively involved with the family...' This report recognizes the limits of services and serious community challenges in a significant way.

cc 1997-00164 The Aboriginal Child Welfare Agency Critical Incident Report states in part: 'The agency report notes when the placement request for the child and his sibling was first received from MSS and comments: "We were unaware that [the siblings] were officially placed in the home since we haven't received communications from [MSS]. We found out officially [2 months later]. The children were placed by the former foster parents from [the community] and there was no social worker involved in the placement. [the agency] received a letter from [the band on date] that they stated the wish [the agency to be granted a Courtesy Supervision Status for their band members [the siblings] who are permanent wards with MCF. To date, it was unclear which delegated office retains guardianship of these two files.'

Recommendation one includes in part, '...The Regional Operating Officer will provide the Children's Commission with a regional plan designed to meet the challenge of working cooperatively with northern aboriginal communities to ensure the planning and safety needs of aboriginal children are met. '

The analysis states in part, 'Transfer plans were not adequately communicated by Ministry staff to agency personnel prior to the placement of the children in their foster home'
This report draws attention to a section of the CFCSA. 'Section 95 of the CF &CSA allows for the transfer of guardianship or supervision between directors. If the transfer is one of continuing custody, the other director becomes the guardian of the child's person with the same rights and responsibilities as the director who transferred custody.' It further states, for the time being there is one director recognized in the legislation.

'What was clearly omitted in the process of transferring the children to their new foster home was adequate communication between the parties involved. Of equal concern is the reported absence of any social worker involvement on the day of transfer; a substantial omission given the significance of this development in the children's lives. a meeting among MCF, agency and Band staff prior to placement would have facilitated communication and ensure there was an adequate exchange of important information in relation to the needs of the children, even while the question of formal file transfers was being addressed.'

A further issue identified in this file identifies a gap in protocol policy, 'an allegation of abuse or neglect occurring in a foster home approved by an aboriginal agency and / or situated on reserve land is not currently addressed in MCF policy.

Recommendation 3 states in part 'That said policy should specify roles and responsibilities and include a provision for information sharing concerning the conduct and outcome of the investigation in cases where the band or band agency has delegated authority under the CFCSA to supervise children in care.
A further example of standards applications and roles in assessing homes and caregivers exists in 1-98. In this case the subject child was being cared for by a Grandmother in a house that had many children and was chaotic with supervision described as inadequate. The MCF SW suggested relocating some of the children. The Grandmother became verbally abusive and the SW stated she would return with RCMP to apprehend some of the children. On her return, the house was much less crowded, the Grandmother said some of the children were moved to the homes of other relatives. There would seem to be no identification of the individual children or assessments of the homes they were distributed to, no follow up is recorded.

cc95-00001- A case involving the homicide of a 14 month old male, non-aboriginal included in Recommendation 4, 'The ministry should develop contingency plans for appropriate staff deployment over holiday periods and known times of increased demand on Ministry services for children and families. ' The analysis recognizes, ' the social service areas traditional holidays are often crucial times of stress and upheaval for families. Thus, instead of reduced service there is a need for greater service and deployment of increased number of staff.'
Also noted in reviewing the response to recommendations was the various levels of cooperation specific to Band recommendations.
1-74 A case summary is attached with many of the comments regarding jurisdiction included, however in this section I will include one statement from this file regarding the perception of the band on the Children's Commission jurisdiction to comment, 'It is most surprising to us that given the comments in the report regarding the RCMP investigation (or perhaps, we should say non-investigation) of this death, that no recommendations appear in relation to the RCMP. If this is because they are a federal agency and the jurisdiction of the Commission does not extend to them, then the Commission should not be making recommendations that involve the Health Center as we too fall under federal jurisdiction.

97-00223- While practice concerns regarding assessment of risk were not thorough and child protection treatments were inadequate both in MCF and Band reviews this Band has developed new policies and practice initiatives and a risk assessment model that adds residential school experience, multiple partners, or parents and multiple and inappropriate care givers as well, a category to consider drug addiction in infants.
*if available a copy would be appreciated as previously requested. (no response to this request)

1-74- In response to Recommendation 2, regarding assessment of risk, the response from the Band Health Center states in part, 'Again, the efficacy of risk scoring is a matter of great debate. We believe that relationship building, focusing on the strengths of individuals, families and the community and the interactions that flow between the service providers and families as a result of this work, are more effective then making sure that we have all the shades of black a risk assessment provides.'

cc97-00020- includes some responses from the Tribal council to recommendations which include frustration over lack of adequate and long term funding, funding cuts with increased service demand, historical and cultural issues, and the impact of poverty. This report responds to recommendation four to the Tribal council as 'a waste of time.'

97-00065- Enormous problems are illustrated in the care and services provided this family and the lack of protection given these children. Included are excessive delays between on and off reserve workers with a consequence of leaving children in the home without a safety assessment for twelve weeks after an assault of this infant. Findings state Service provision was inadequate and at times inappropriate. Continuity of services between communities was non existent. A further challenge to small and isolated communities is illustrated in the following statement, 'Following the mothers sexual abuse disclosure in 1988 she was provided with a new child care worker. This worker was also the mothers relative. This raises concerns over the issue of objectivity and confidentiality of services.'
The baby in this case was placed with a caregiver who was involved in an active child protection investigation. Inadequate communications allowed this to be funded through the Ministry of Human Resources CIHR program.
Two Recommendations, 5 and 6, involving Band protocols, supports and developing community strategies are posted as awaiting response from the Band. This cannot be researched by a member of the public or tracked outside of the generalized annual report by the commission as previously stated. [footnote 5, summary 1-99]

File 1-48 Recommendation # 1 'That the Band Agency and the Ministry for Children and Families complete a case study on service to the eldest child and his family. The case study should focus on the impact on child protection investigations and family support services during transition periods when First Nations Bands are in the first three stages of full delegation, and report to the commission on outcomes.

Recommendation #2-That MCF, the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and the Bands establish joint guidelines during the negotiations of delegated agreements that will ensure on - going child protection and family services at levels consistent with Ministry policy expectations.

Recommendations required from the band on this file as listed as awaiting response, a member of the public cannot research the outcome as previously explained.

1-111 The Deputy Directors Review states in part, 'There needs to be some mechanism / protocol between the Ministry and the Band for children when they have moved off reserve, especially for high risk aboriginal children such as this youth.'
1-70- Recommendation 6- 'MCF conduct a Management Review of all previously signed MSS Delegation Agreements in order to ascertain their current legal status and adequacy under the CF and CSA and Regulations.

The above information was collected in 2001. The sample study included the first 300 child fatalities reviewed by the children's commission. The findings list 73 aboriginal children represented in the 300 deaths. The is a skewed statistic in proportion to population demographics. It clearly shows the issues relating to subsequent deaths as being known and unaddressed. It is an off loading of responsibility as well as services disguised as an attempt at respectful autonmy. Where is the working model?

Anonymous said...

I think Ms. Morely should step down.

Nexpider said...

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