Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Dismal report on First Nations child protection

The stats for First Nations children in B.C. are dismal. Being born native brings a much greater likelihood of struggle in almost every area of life.
Including the risk of ending up in the government's care. More than half the approximately 9,000 children in care are native; they make up less than one-tenth of the population.
The auditor general reported on how the government is doing in looking after those 4,500 kids, keeping them safe and giving them the best possible chance in life.
Not very well, is the conclusion. It's a tough job. By the time children are in care they often have other problems, physical and emotional.
But the Liberal government - after seven years - hasn't even taken the most basic steps to address the problems.
They aren't complicated or mysterious. In fact, they are exactly the things the Liberals pushed for when they were in opposition, rightly criticizing the NDP for its mismanagement of the ministry.
That makes the failures worse. The government has knows what needs to be done, but hasn't acted.
"As a result," Auditor General John Doyle reported, "many of the child protection needs of aboriginal children and their families continue to remain unmet."
Start with the most basic management tools. In opposition, the Liberals called for a needs-based budget for the Ministry of Children and Families.
Figure out what services were required to look after children properly and what they would cost. Not everything might be possible, but start by understanding the needs.
The government hasn't done that. "The ministry has not identified needs and resources required for aboriginal child protection services," the report says. That's a pretty elemental failure.
Because of that, the ministry doesn't have enough money to fill important service "gaps," Doyle found. "We recommend the ministry make a persuasive business case for the funding needed to deliver the services in an effective way." After seven years, it's troubling - but not surprising - that the government still doesn't really know what it's doing.
The report found the ministry "is only partially successful at delivering effective, equitably accessible and culturally appropriate services."
Its major goal of shifting to service delivery by delegated aboriginal agencies is a good idea, but moving slowly. Some of the smaller agencies might never be ready to take over, reported Doyle.
In the meantime, the ministry needs to ensure uniform standards and effective services.
The auditor general reported the ministry still hasn't set up any reliable system for monitoring how well the child-protection system is working - especially in terms of how well the children and youth being served are doing.
The ministry's service plan includes just two measures dealing with aboriginal child protection. (It didn't meet either target.)
The auditor general said the ministry should be reporting to the legislature and the public "on the costs, successes and challenges of the aboriginal child welfare program."
The report was discouraging reading.
And the ministry's response, included with the audit, was perhaps more discouraging. It was two pages long, dismissive and vague.
The specific concerns raised by the auditor general were ignored. The ministry says it's a doing a great job and already implementing most of the recommendations.
But it doesn't say how, or by when. It points to a plan - Safe and Supported: A Commitment to British Columbia's Children and Youth - available on the ministry website. But the plan and the supporting "Operational Framework" are vague in many areas.
The ministry could have made a good start by responding clearly and completely to the recommendations within the auditor's report.
Minister Tom Christensen didn't do much better in the legislature. He acknowledged the problems, but still put considerable spin on his answers.
It's been 12 years of lost opportunities for aboriginal children and families since the Gove report.
If government had moved quickly and effectively to provide needed services, things would be different today for thousands of children, and for aboriginal communities.
Footnote: The report came as Christensen was forced to withdraw a bill establishing regional aboriginal child care authorities promised years ago. First Nations critics, who said their concerns had been ignored, staged a last-minute protest that forced the government to abandon the move.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As I sit ready to write another pleading letter, another stats loaded, look at how much information we have had and for such a very long time, another letter that says again, we do not need more information we have child fatality reports that represent the tip of the unluckiest outcomes on an iceberg of those who physically survive childhood but fall into the catagory of damaged by the journey. We don't need more information, we need action first, action followed by evaluation. Action that claims the role of making a difference while we learn. The information has been there, the Gove report was echoed in the childrens commission hearings involving Spallumcheen Band in 2000. The continuation of child fatality reviews province wide echoed repeated failures of the part of service providers who were overburdened and undertrained to assess risk and intervene with an action plan. I am so sick of this letter, I have written hundreds and I know I am only a small representation of people who can say the same. This is B.C's most poorly kept secret, the ministry would be running around with it's collective hands blocking it's deaf ears not to know, children have been left behind and they are not fairing well.