Thursday, March 13, 2008

Disabled kids aren't getting the support they need: report_

I can't imagine anything more challenging than being the parent of a disabled child.
It's not just the effort, the commitment that goes into making sure your child has the best life possible. Not just the exhaustion and expense and emotions and the toll on other relationships.
The parents also know that someday they won't be there. And then what will happen to their children, who can't care for themselves?
We've accepted the idea that this is a shared responsibility. That when parents can't cope, the government will provide help. Therapy and support, perhaps places children can go occasionally weekend a month while their parents have a small break, sometime specialized residential care.
Most of us would want to be there for those families.
But the provincial government isn't doing a good job. It's even ignoring a 2007 B.C. Court of Appeal decision that found the government has been breaking its own law by denying help to those who need it.
Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, the Representative for Children and Youth, has just reported on how well we're doing in supporting these children and families.
It's not great news.
Families who decide they need help can't figure out where to go. They face a "complex, fragmented service delivery system." That's a big barrier if you're already spending every waking moment caring for your disabled teen.
It's often not even clear where they should start. The Ministry of Children and Families and Community Living BC, the government's agency delivering services to people with developmental disabilities both have roles, too often poorly defined.
Even if families can find their way to the right office, the problems aren't over. Turpel-Lafond found wait times - or getting needed help at all - are a significant problem.
No one really knows what's going on. Or, as the representative puts it: "There is insufficient public accountability and measurement of child and youth outcomes. At present, with respect to CLBC and MCFD services to children and youth with special needs, it is not possible to decipher who is getting what services, by whom, at what cost and with what outcome. "
And there is the government's shame. It insists that once people turn 19, they are ineligible for help if they score at least 70 on an IQ test. Only five per cent of the population has IQ scores that low.
The policy discounts other problems that might keep them from making their way successfully - fetal alcohol syndrome, autism, ADHD, big psychological problems.
The B.C. Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal have both ruled the policy violates the government's own laws
But Turpel-Lafond says that continues to be the government's policy, despite the court ruling.
Her report includes examples that show the ridiculous destructiveness of the policy. A 17-year-old boy with a range of serious psychological and behaviour problems was removed from his last foster home after he assaulted the family's six-year-old son.
The children and families ministry had nowhere for him, so social workers arranged a placement in a Community Living BC home. There's a lot of support and supervision, so it's expensive - $8,000 a month. But he's doing well.
But he's aging out of care, as the social workers say. And although his IQ tested below 70 in the past, a new assessment put him just over the cut-off.
So, once he turns 19. Community Living BC says he's on his own.
Social worker and forensic services assessments say he won't make it. The young man is a risk to harm himself or others in the community once he turns 19 and the support is withdrawn, they say.
It's wrong and foolish stupid to condemn someone to a costly failure in life to save money - especially the long-term cost is much greater.
Turpel-Lafond has offered a useful guide for improvements. The government should welcome the help.
Footnote: Turpel-Lafond criticized policies that see help cut off for children in government care when they turn 19. "A prudent parent wouldn't send a developmentally impaired 19-year-old to the street and the state shouldn't do that," she said. Children in care should get transitional help until they turn 24. Christensen said the current policy would stand.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Liberals, Campbell look bad in Dobell affair

The Liberals' biggest problem in the Ken Dobell scandal isn't the long-time Campbell advisor's illegal activity. The most troubling aspect is the failure of the premier's office to see the problems, let alone deal with them.
Even when concerns were raised about Dobell's activities and access, the premier's office denied any problems.
Jessica McDonald, the premier's deputy and top public sector manager, investigated. There was nothing for the public to worry about, she reported.
But there was. This week a special prosecutor - appointed because of opposition pressure - reported on the case. He concluded Dobell had violated provincial law by failing to register as a lobbyist, even though he was trying to influence government policy for paying clients.
He also found a "substantial likelihood" that Dobell could be convicted of the Criminal Code offence of influence-peddling.
The City of Vancouver had hired him to try and get provincial money for social housing; his lobbying activities included meeting Housing Minister Rich Coleman. At the same time, Dobell was being paid $250 an hour as a special advisor to Premier Gordon Campbell.
"One of the reasons he wanted the title Special Advisor in his contract was 'the linkage to the premier,'" prosecutor Terrence Robertson reports. "Mr. Dobell recognized that people would assume that he would make recommendations to the premier and that those recommendations would have some credibility."
So when Vancouver hired him to get as a consultant, in part to get housing funding from the province, Dobell was likely breaking the law, the prosecutor found. It's against the law to take money in return for providing special influence in government.
Robertson decided against influence-peddling charges, saying they wouldn't serve the public interest. Dobell held an honest but wrong belief that he wasn't breaking any laws and co-operated completely. The lead RCMP investigator "saw this as a case in which there was no corruption," Robertson said.
And conviction would likely result in an absolute discharge anyway, the special prosecutor said.
Dobell agreed to plead guilty to failing to register as a lobbyist and repay the $6,950 he was paid for his time spent meeting provincial officials. Attorney General Wally Oppal denied there was a plea bargain, but it looked that way.
It's a grimy, sloppy business. Dobell has been a close Campbell associate since the mid-80s, when he was the Vancouver city manager and Campbell was mayor. When the Liberals were elected in 2001, Dobell was hired as deputy minister to the premier. He ran the show for Campbell.
And through that time, he had an excellent reputation.
In 2005, Dobell stepped down and went into business as a consultant. Campbell was his best client, hiring him as a special advisor at $250 an hour with annual payment cap of $230,000. He chaired the Vancouver convention centre project - that didn't work out so well, given the massive cost overruns - and represented the province on the Olympic organizing committee. Dobell worked on the softwood lumber dispute, coastal forest problems, conflicts with teachers, the Gateway transportation project and as a lobbyist to push B.C.'s interests in Ottawa.
He even kept an office in the government's Vancouver headquarters. But Dobell had other clients, including the City of Vancouver. The work included getting money from the province. And who better to lobby than someone who Campbell valued so highly that he was paying $250 an hour for his opinions.
The conflict should have been obvious. No matter what Dobell might have thought, potential clients could reasonably expect him to have the inside track as a special advisor to the premier. Other municipalities, for example, must have wondered whether their housing plans were being ignored because they didn't have the premier's associate on the payroll.
Campbell and the government still haven't acknowledged any wrongdoing. Dobell is still a lobbyist, trying to woo the government on behalf clients. And the Liberals are looking more arrogant than accountable over the whole issue.
Footnote: Attorney General Wally Oppal was left to handle questions about the affair and he offered nothing but repeated claims that it would be inappropriate to comment until Dobell pleaded guilty. Campbell said only that he respected Dobell as a person. The Liberals would have slammed such responses from an NDP premier under the same circumstances.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Day is wrong: Kids need their moms, even in prison

Stockwell Day's reaction to the news that a mom will raise her baby inside a B.C. penitentiary shows why the Conservatives still make people nervous.
Sure, prison isn't a great place for a kid. But can anyone argue that toddlers don't really need their moms? Or that everything will work out nicely for a child apprehended by the government and launched into a life of changing foster homes and overworked social workers, to be cast adrift at 19?
Lisa Whitford is the mother. In 2006, she shot Anthony Cartledge, her common-law partner, in Prince George. He died. She was arrested at the scene. She pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to six years. With credit for time in custody after her arrest, the sentence means up to four more years behind bars.
When Whitford shot Cartledge, she was pregnant with his child. The baby was born while she was awaiting trial -- Jordyn, a girl.
This isn't some heartwarming movie. Whitford has had a wretched life. She was abused as a child, raped as a teen and has been an addict and criminal. Her first three children have already been apprehended and ended up in government care.
But she has done well with Jordyn, who is almost one now and thriving. In a rare sentencing decision, Whitford was allowed to keep Jordyn with her in prison. She'll serve her sentence in the Fraser Valley Institution, where she and he child will have a space much like an apartment, only with guards.
This alarmed Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day. He called for an urgent review of the program that allows mothers to look after their babies in prison.
That's fine, if the interest is in the children's welfare.
But Day, sadly, went farther. He was concerned, the Globe and Mail reported, about "the message that is sent to serious offenders when they are permitted to retain custody of a child while incarcerated."
It's an appalling thing to say. Should children suffer to send a message to offenders?
And does Day really think that women like Whitfield, shotguns in hand, will stop to consider whether they might be pregnant and at risk of losing contact with their unborn child before pulling the trigger?
I have two children and three grandchildren. They are, I am convinced, better off with their parents than in the government's care. Even if their mothers were in prison, they would be better off.
That's not a criticism of foster parents, or child protection workers. As a group, they have my admiration. Many children emerge successfully from the system. And many enter with big problems, physically and emotionally.
But I would work terribly hard to keep a child I knew from going into care. There are too many shuffles between foster homes, too much struggle and a terrible end to support on the day they turn 19 -- when they really need a helping hand.
Statistically, children in care face huge disadvantages. They're likely to end up living below the poverty line and more likely to be in trouble with the law. They're less likely to finish high school and much more likely to be homeless or on welfare.
It might all fall apart for Whitford. Her lawyer says caring for Jordyn has given her "a sense of worthfulness, something to live for. She cares so much for this child."
The program works for moms. Research on the American version of the program found that offenders whose children were taken from them were almost four times as likely to re-offend as moms allowed to keep them.
Critics have suggested prison is no place for a child. But it could be as safe and healthy as some of the apartments or neighbourhoods where children are being raised now.
Little kids need their mothers. (Fathers too.) And this should be about little kids.
When Day makes it about punishing their mothers, it's alarming and a little creepy.
Footnote: It's hard to see why the program has become enough of a priority that Day wants an immediate review. In Canada there are two or three women and children participating in the federal mother-child prison program. There are thousands of children in worse circumstances on reserves and in cities, yet Day's government hasn't ordered any immediate action.