Friday, February 27, 2009

Child care "system in crisis" starved in budget

Let us begin with four realities.
It's bad to be a kid in the government's care - in foster care or group homes. No matter how well it goes - and statistically, it likely won't - the care of the state is not the same as a family home.
It's challenging to give kids in care a real chance. When parents can't care for a child, things have usually already gone wrong. Children born into neglect, abuse, poverty, illness, disability - or simply unlucky - wear some scars.
It's certain that things will go wrong, sometimes with terrible consequences. Child protection workers, for example, make huge decisions based on their best professional judgments. Leave a child with a struggling family or send her off, with a little suitcase, to a home of strangers? Either way, the outcome can be bad.
And how we do in helping these children is one of those fundamental tests of whether we are a successful society, or a collection of self-interested individuals. There is no moral difference between walking past a lost toddler in the street and failing to pay attention to the life of a four-year-old in care.
The NDP had a leaked government report this week that suggested that, in some form, that's what we're doing.
The ministry of children and families had noticed that residential costs for the some 9,000 children in care were rising, even though the number of children being raised was stable and they weren't doing any better.
So it set up a group to look at why costs were going up.
They did good work, although the recommendations focus heavily on process and more study.
The report, completed last summer, found costs were rising for a lot of reasons.
The level of support required for children in care has risen. They are more likely to have serious health and behavioural problems. That could be seen as a positive, of course, because it might mean children with fewer problems are being supported with their homes.
Compensation, for foster parents and care home workers, has fallen behind. The ministry report noted that the pays is the same for hosting an international student, with few responsibilities, or a troubled 14-year-old foster child with attitude to burn.
Foster parents were either aging, or inexperienced. (About 12 per cent per cent were over 60.) Either way, they really weren't able to foster the more challenging children.
And schools, facing their own pressures, have become more inclined to expel or suspend students, the report found. That's obviously bad for the children and also increases the costs of providing care.
The results of all this compound the problems. The report found social workers were scrambling to deal with the lack of resources. That means less attention to the needs of the children - barely one in four children in care have the required plans for their development. And it means more foster parents give up in frustration.
The number of foster homes fell by eight per cent across B.C. in the 18 months prior to the report. In the North and on Vancouver Island about 15 per cent fewer homes were available; in the Interior, about 11 per cent.
As a result, foster homes often had more children than ministry guidelines called for and costly alternative placements became more common.
The report, done by the ministry's own staff, highlights real problems. It concludes that the review "revealed a system in crisis and in need of innovation."
You would expect some specific actions in response, starting with the most obvious - additional funding to deal with the problems.
But the provincial budget for child and family development is effectively frozen for the coming year - it will increase less than one-quarter of one per cent. The budget increases for the following two years are about the same.
It's no response to a "system in crisis."
Footnote: Child and Youth Representative Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, the legislative officer tasked with monitoring the ministry as a result of the Hughes report, said she had asked for any reports dealing with financial pressures. This report had not been provided by the ministry. Christensen could not say why.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Anybody have a link to that leaked government report?

Sean Holman has an interview with the Minister - Tommy C. fumbles badly. link