Tuesday, October 07, 2008

More warning signs from children and families ministry

It's looking like things are spinning out of control in the Ministry of Children and Families, based on a meltdown at a recent meeting of a legislature committee.
The ministry has a difficult, important job. In 2006, a review by Ted Hughes found it had serious problems and recommended changes. Those included the restoration of an independent officer of the legislature - the representative for children and youth - to report on successes and problems and make recommendations.
Hughes said the representative should report to a committee of MLAs charged with monitoring progress.
The government accepted the report, with Premier Gordon Campbell promising action on all the recommendations.
The committee - six Liberal MLAs and four New Democrats - was established.
But the ministry doesn't seem to have accepted the idea of real oversight and accountability. Last month, I wrote about the ministry's failure to respond fully when representative Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond raised questions about the measures taken to ensure the safety of children placed in the care of relatives.
At the committee meeting, the ministry appeared to be trying to do an end-run around the representative's office to avoid accountability.
The subject is serious. Turpel-Lafond reported in April on the deaths of four children in care in northern B.C. The report - "From Loss to Learning" - found significant systemic problems and made recommendations to address them.
The recommendations called for real change. "The ministry must strengthen practice and supervision in assessing child safety in the north region to prevent injuries or deaths of children in circumstances similar to those of Amanda, Savannah, Rowen and Serena," the representative reported. "Learning from preventable deaths is essential. This investigation found that current safety and assessment practices and planning practices for children have not shown marked improvement since when these children died." The legislative committee adopted the recommendations. Its agenda called for a progress report some six months after the report was presented.
Things went off the rails. The ministry wanted to have a manager talk about the report.
But Turpel-Lafond spoke first. She noted that she had been trying for six months, without success, to get the ministry representatives to sit down and respond to the recommendations.
"I and my staff are deeply disappointed about this fact," she said.
The Hughes report didn't propose the legislative committee be some sort of ministry management committee, she noted. Her office was to provide expert oversight and report to the MLAs.
Instead it looked like ministry managers were trying to cut out the oversight.
And not even in a subtle way. The MLAs on the committee had been sent a lot of information by the ministry five days earlier. But the ministry didn't send the same package to the representative's office until the day before the meeting.
The delay looked much like an attempt to subvert the office's role. Especially given the representative's effort, over months, to get a response from the ministry.
Turpel-Lafond told the MLAs that this wasn't the way things should be working, based on the Hughes report and the legislation. The representative's office should be reviewing the ministry's response and providing its analysis to the legislative committee.
Liberal MLA absences gave the New Democrats a majority in the committee room. They voted to adjourn to give Turpel-Lafond time to review the material from the ministry and report to the committee. A new date will be scheduled.
Children and Families Minister Tom Christensen has a good rep. He shouldn't be happy that the ministry is withholding information and failing to co-operate with an independent officer of the legislature.
But that's what has happened, even though Turpel-Lafond told the committee she had raised the problems with Christensen this summer.
That creates questions about Christensen's grasp of the tough portfolio.
And about where the ministry is going. Why would the children and families management team have such difficulties with the idea of oversight?
Footnote: There was good news at the committee meeting. Turpel-Lafond's efforts to arrange a Children's Forum, bringing together representatives from the ministry, coroner's office, ombudsman, health officer and all the other agencies involved have paid off. The members reported progress in a number of areas.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the update PW.

Some of you might some more details and you can find the draft transcript of the Oct 01/08 meeting here: http://www.leg.bc.ca/cmt/38thparl/session-4/cay/hansard/Y81001x.htm Audio is available too: http://www.leg.bc.ca/cmt/38thparl/session-4/cay/index.htm

and what-the-heck is Claude Richmond doing on this committee? He is not seeking re-election next year.. another fine BC Liberal example of 'stabilizing' MCFD!

Anonymous said...

Ms. Turpel-Lafond have dealt with clowns before and I figure she can get things done. In the meantime kids are still at risk as the minister and his deputy try to prevent her from doing her job.What a dumb group , the Liberals are being seen to be, they seem to have little interest in their duty.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to say, but the leadership of this Ministry has been totally dysfunctional ever since I started paying attention when 30% budget cuts were proposed back in 2001.

The very fact that they considered such cuts in the first place should have told us something. When Michael Smyth subsequently revealed that they actually considering going ahead with budget cuts that would leave children exposed to "moderate sexual abuse" that should have been the clincher. But no, we persuaded outselves that this too was an aberration.

Sorry to say, but I no longer buy that this succession of dysfunctional leaders is any accident. Or that the state of constant chaos and crisis in this Ministry is any accident.

Yes, it's a difficult Ministry, but it's not that difficult. We had a brief period of near sanity when Allison McPhail was the Deputy about 3 - 4 years ago. She was quickly moved out. Christy Clark gave it a go, briefly, just before she decided to quit the BC Liberals.

It seems that anyone who takes the mandate seriously and actually tries to do it well must be thwarted and gotten rid of. And lest anyone believe that Paul's example above with the Rep's recommendations being thwarted was unusual, the examples are endless.

I can list a dozen "expert" reports that have been commissioned in the last eight years by the Province which the Ministry has totally or mostly ignored. After some initial pretense at implementing the Hughes recommendations, the Ministry leadership has pretty much admitted now that they've abandonned that.

Earlier this year, the Rep reported on the plight of young adults with developmental disabilities who were being denied services by CLBC because their IQ was over 70. She recommended urgent action to address their needs.

What was the response? Minister Christensen and Premier Campbell signed an Order in Council formalizing the denial of services to such individuals in law.

They didn't just ignore the recommended solution! They did the exact opposite!

Why? For the same simple reason that everythng else is dysfunctional. Because addressing the plight of severely diabled people with high IQ would have cost money and that's the one thing the BC Liberals are not prepared to do - they're not prepared to spend a penny more than they absolutely have to on supporting vulnerable people.

It's simply not a political priority. It's way down at the bottom of a list, behind more important things like tax cuts, 2010 Olympics, Gateway, Convention Centre, exploring commercialization of education, health care and hydro, pork barrel re-election giveaways, etc

That's why we advise families in crisis to take their stories to the media. It's the only way they have any chance of actually getting the services they need, and which it is the Ministry's mandate to provide.

Unless the BC Liberals are confronted with direct political consequences for abandonning people, they simply do not care!

I have seen this over and over, dozens of times - it's not an accident. I have sat with other parents through dozens of meetings and presentations with Ministers, Deputies, MLAs and legislative committees explaining the hardship caused - it doesn't make an iota of difference! Unless there is public shaming and political consequences, it stays at the bottom of the list.

The right wing of the BC Liberals simply does not believe in social services. It goes against everything in their laissez faire ideology. If it can be shown to work, people will just demand more, and how then will they be able to afford ever more tax cuts for the wealthy folks and corporations who help get them elected? So the only solution is to keep it dysfunctional. Of course there is a political cost, but it's far less than the alternative of actually making it work.