Thursday, November 26, 2009

GDP Stories: How People Fall off the Edge of the World

One of 12 GDP Stories and short films from the NFB measuring the human side of the Canadian economic crisis.

My so-called plans

Date published : November 17, 2009

“My mom always had a job - I never had to work,” says 18-year-old Jessica. Then the recession hit, and those difficult teenage years suddenly got a little tougher.

'My so-called plans' is a new, intimate photo essay looking at the economic crisis through the eyes of 18-year-old Jennifer, who has moved out on her own after her mother lost her job and is trying to figure out her next move. You can watch the audio slideshow here:

GDP - Measuring the human side of the Canadian economic crisis |

PIB - L'indice humain de la crise économique canadienne |

Follow the GDP project on Facebook or Twitter, or via the NFB Newsletter.

Office national du film du Canada | National Film Board of Canada
3155, chemin de la Cote-de-Liesse, Montréal QC H4N 2N4
Téléphone | Telephone: +1 514-561-9919 | www.

Monday, November 23, 2009

BC Kids - Living in Poverty - Little to Celebrate on the 20the Anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child

I am surprised that the ministry hasn't adopted more of a poverty strategy that they want to be very public with and say: "We are going to tackle poverty. We're going to tackle it in first nations communities" — where it is often the most deeply felt, and it is intergenerational poverty — "and we're going to tackle it for the working poor. We're going to look at transitional poverty, and we're going to actually make that part of our mandate: to provide the best care for children and families in the province of British Columbia — and that we would actually address that." I haven't heard that from government, and it's too bad. I would hope that they would see that part of their responsibility is to address that.

- M. Karagianis, MCFD NDP Opposition Critic


BC Association of Social Workers, November 23, 2009

On November 20th 1989 Canada ratified the historic UN Convention of the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) with other State parties of the United Nations. The UNCRC was the first legally binding international instrument to incorporate the full range of human rights—civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights for young people.

The four core principles of the Convention are: non-discrimination; devotion to the best interests of the child; the right to life, survival and development; and respect for the views of the child. States parties to the Convention are obliged to develop and undertake all actions and policies in the light of the best interests of the child.

Read the whole release here.

Article 3 (1) In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.
UN Convention of the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) (Ratified November 20th 1989)


BC Continues Dismal Child Poverty Rate: Report
Lindsay Kines, Canwest News Service.
November 23, 2009
B.C. needs to follow the lead of six other provinces and adopt a clear plan for reducing child poverty if it hopes to shed its reputation as the worst performer in the country, says a report due out Tuesday.

First Call B.C.’s Child Poverty Report Card says the province posted the highest rate of child poverty for the sixth straight year in 2007 — even before the current economic recession.

The report, commissioned by the child and youth advocacy coalition First Call, says 156,000 children were living in poverty in B.C., a number “greater than the combined population of Nanaimo and Prince George.”

“We have failed a generation of children affected by poverty by our failure to keep the promise made in 1989,” the B.C. report says. “Now is the time for British Columbia to make the necessary commitment to a provincial poverty reduction plan with clearly defined targets and timelines.”

2008 BC Child Poverty Report Card


Official report of Debates of the Legislative Assembly

Thursday, November 5, 2009.
Hon. M. Polak: I want to emphasize that contrary to some of the statements that have been made both in that report and in other places, the ministry does not ever remove a child as a result of low income. We remove a child when it is felt that they are in unsafe circumstances.

M. Karagianis: I take it from the minister's comments that there's not a poverty plan. There is no specific focus on looking at intergenerational poverty and how we resolve that for aboriginal communities primarily, but not exclusively. Certainly, the minister sees that poverty issues will not affect the number of children in care.

Certainly, in the case of the family that I referenced, the child was removed from those parents because they were in unsafe housing. The reason they were in unsafe housing is because they couldn't access housing and adequate funding in order to live in a safer environment.

So the issues around poverty are certainly complex, and we can't isolate simply the ministry's role in the apprehension of a child to say: "Well, the child was in an unsafe environment, and that's why the child was apprehended." You have to actually look one step broader than that and say: "That family was in an unsafe situation because they were poor, and they couldn't access adequate resources to find safer housing for themselves at that point in time."

I'm just really disappointed that the government hasn't picked up the issue of child poverty as part of the ongoing, multi…. If we want to talk about across all ministries….

We want to talk about how we look at children through the lens of not being siloed, look at all of the ministry responsibilities in the various ways that children in care or families needing assistance at some point touch on the government and make contact with the government and why poverty and the reduction of poverty…. Deep intergenerational poverty is, I think, the most challenging. But, certainly, the issue of poverty and the growing concern about the working poor... When we have a government that actually directs families to food banks as a way to make income assistance stretch from one part of the month to the next, I think we've failed miserably in our ability to come to grips with the reality for families. So it is very disappointing.


Leaked MCFD Memo Reveals Plans for Cuts

MOMS in the Move. 11/07/09

Leaked MCFD documents obtained today by MOMS describe a process that has been underway since August 2009 to achieve "baseline funding reductions" for contracted agencies that deliver most of the Ministry's front-line services and supports - with a focus on cuts to community-based intervention and early intervention.

The "North Region STOB 80 Reduction Planning Process and Principals" (sic) document refers to a process for "cost recovery" for the current year and outlines planning, roles, principles and provincial direction guiding a second process that is also now underway to determine further reductions for 2010-11 in order to meet Ministry budget targets.

Children's Minister Mary Polak has confirmed that this is a Ministry-wide initiative that affects all regions.

Minister Polak told Public Eye Online today that there were no targets and that this was just a discussion document, which is not consistent with what the Ministry document itself states (the Minister has also repeatedly claimed that there are no cuts, which is not consistent with any grasp of reality).


After an Exhaustive Search

Public Eye Online. November 17, 2009.

Ministry of children and family development's contractors could be forced to reduce the social service they provide as a result of government budget pressures... reductions will affect "community based intervention and early intervention services" and only happen if "all other opportunities for savings have been exhausted."

Asked for comment, Children and Family Development Minister Mary Polak stated, "This is a discussion document that seeks input from contracted agencies on the 2010/11 regional budget and is part of ongoing consultations with our agencies to find efficiencies and new ways of delivering services."

"Non-residential services continue to be the focus of this process, so areas like child protection and children in care are critical front line services that will continue to be protection [sic]..."


Children's Advocate Pulls No Punches

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond says B.C. is weak in addressing the needs of its most vulnerable children

Jonathan Fowlie, Vancouver SunNovember 21, 2009.

"I would say British Columbia, particularly around the child-welfare and the child-serving side, would be in the mid-to-low rank," she said when asked about how well British Columbia protects vulnerable children.

"I'm not even sure it's a system," she added. "I think it's weak. It's still weak."

She was highly complimentary of front-line workers who she said often come to her with concerns and ideas about how to make things better.

But when addressing how well the system deals with children, she consistently returned to the same answer: more needs to be done.

"Government has challenges to speak with confidence about the outcomes it achieves for some of the most vulnerable children," she said, "because in fact they're not graduating. A lot of kids in British Columbia live in poverty.

"I'm not confident we are doing everything we can."

Minister of Children and Family Development Mary Polak said the relationship between Turpel-Lafond and her ministry is an "evolving" one.

Polak acknowledged there were challenges in the early days, especially developing lines of communication between Turpel-Lafond's office and the ministry, but said that has since changed.

"There's been some major progress in terms of the way the ministry interrelates with her office," Polak said.

"I thought I was moving to one of the wealthiest provinces in Canada that had significant investment in kids," she said.

"I was really surprised to learn through the work to date how vulnerable those children are in British Columbia and how the systems do not meet their needs.

"A lot of these kids are in grinding poverty and really, what is there for them is limited."

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The High Cost of Not Caring: BCASW Submission to the 2010 BC Budget Consultation

The High Cost of Not Caring:
Submission to the 2010 BC Budget Consultation

Prepared by Tracey Young, MSW, RSW
Chair, Child Welfare & Family Committee
October 2009

BC Association of Social Workers

Investing in children, families and poverty reduction strategies is the underpinning of a civil, progressive society.

We ask the BC government to dedicate the 2010 budget to the interests of dignity, human rights and respect for all
our citizens.

“Bearing in mind that the peoples of the United Nations have, in the Charter, reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights and in the dignity and worth of the human person, and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,

Recalling that, in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the United Nations has proclaimed that childhood is entitled to special care and assistance, convinced that the family, as the fundamental group of society and the natural environment for the growth and well-being of all its members and particularly children, should be afforded the necessary protection and assistance so that it can fully assume its responsibilities within the community.”

- UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (November 20, 1989)


The BC Association of Social Workers is the professional association for social workers in British Columbia, a membership-driven organization of more than 1200 social workers employed in all areas of the province, in child welfare, health care, community agencies, universities, institutions, private practice and actively retired. We have a wealth of wisdom and experience as a result of our frontline social work with children, youth, families and vulnerable individuals. Our submission is grounded and arises out of our collective expertise and the honour of working with citizens throughout the province of British Columbia.

We have witnessed the rapid erosion and dismantling of the child welfare and child and family serving systems and its toll on our most vulnerable people in BC. These circumstances are preventable and can be remediated by the province. Improving investment in our social infrastructure through sound economic and public policy decision-making, made in consideration of proven best practices in child welfare, anti-poverty strategies and economic development, have all yielded measurable results and improvements in other jurisdictions. We believe that BC can and must do better for our current and future generations of citizens. Our very health, well being and future as a province depend on it.







Read our full Submission and Recommendations to the BC government here.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Everyone Needs a Roof over their Head: Homelessness Action Week - October 11 - 17, 2009

Canadian Charter of Rights & Freedoms

Life, liberty and security of person

7. Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.

Treatment or punishment

12. Everyone has the right not to be subjected to any cruel and unusual treatment or punishment.

United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Whereas the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom...

Article 5.

  • No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Article 22.

  • Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.

Article 25.

  • (1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
  • (2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection. - Homeless Action week Events

dignity for all:
the campaign for a poverty-free Canada

I believe that freedom from poverty is a human right.
I believe in equality among all people.
I believe we are all entitled to social and economic security.
I believe in dignity for all.
NOW is the time to end poverty in Canada.

Sean Condon. The Megaphone: Vancouver's Street Paper

On any given night in British Columbia, some 10,000 to 15,000 people are without a home. Some sleep in the streets, others in shelters and thousands more on someone’s couch or floor. In Metro Vancouver, the number has doubled to at least 2,500 in just six years. All of which has happened under this government’s watch.


Call to action in Metro Vancouver's war on homelessness
Lora Grindlay. The Province. October 11, 2009.


Three Metro Vancouver mayors urged residents to pressure politicians to do something about the homeless in their communities Monday.

Alice Sundberg, co-chair of the Greater Vancouver Regional Steering Committee on Homelessness said the problem crosses all Metro Vancouver boundaries.

It’s estimated there are more than 2,600 homeless people in Metro Vancouver.

“It’s not just homelessness though, it’s the thousands of people in our community that are at risk of homelessness because the housing market has not worked very well,” said Stewart.

There is simply not enough affordable places to rent, he said.

“It’s single parents, it’s seniors, it’s young people. A broad range of our community is a pay cheque or two away from losing their homes. We need to tackle that,” said Stewart.

(Gregor) Robertson noted that Canada is the only G8 country that doesn’t have a national housing strategy.

We’re letting people fall through the cracks without homes to go to and no other country at our level is doing that,” he said.

Poverty, Human Rights and the Global Society
Hosted by Theresa Fay-Bustillos (October 2009).
Social Edge

As we continue to address the problem of global poverty, we will need to determine what standard we apply, at the level of multi-lateral as well as non-governmental organizations, to ensure that the UN Declaration either stands or—if it is deemed irrelevant because outdated—does not obstruct the establishment of a different standard by which to engage in helping the world’s poor.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Stopping Domestic Violence is a Job for All of Us: But Governments must be More Accountable for Creating Solutions

I've been working on the front lines in various capacities since the late 80's. I've seen up close and personal the impacts of domestic violence on children, on women and on men. It lasts a lifetime.

Just prior to Wally Oppal being appointed Attorney General First Call invited him to attend a monthly meeting. At that meeting I gave him a verbal and written report and recommendations for suggestions to improve the criminal justice system as it pertained to youth and domestic violence. This was based on my experiences as a Social Worker and in other capacities working with individuals in those systems. I called on the soon-to-be new AG to improve and increase counseling services to men who abuse their partners, because there is a shameful dearth of male-focused services.

I've worked with many men who've been involved in violent relationships. Most were abused and witnessed violence as children. They were not protected and years later still in pain and had no-where to turn. I have never met a man who wanted to grow up to abuse his partner. I have heard the stories of violence many men have experienced as well. That needs to be recognized and they need help too, especially since they often go from one abusive relationship to another, causing damage in each one.

Over the last decade there has been a vicious slashing by both the federal and provincial government for services to women - no more Court Challenges funding, no more funding for Status of Women across Canada, no more funding for Women's Centres, often the only safe haven for women being abused, cuts to transitions homes and community support services.

The single biggest mistake and damage made to women in BC has been cuts to access to Legal Aid for Family Court. Mediation is fine, expanding the program is fine, but not for families where there is a vast inequality of power, in income, in ability to retain lawyers.

Sometimes the real truth of what is happening behind doors is difficult to ascertain. Try living with an abuser day-in and day-out and see whether your mental health remains intact for too long and how you are judged and pathologized by others. Even when victims, such as Sunny Park, reached out desperately for help, their pleas go unanswered. Law enforcement, lawyers, judges and child protection systems generally just do not receive adequate training in domestic violence and the impacts on individuals and children. That must improve.

As women, I do not know if we are in touch with our power, the influence we can have with our elected officials, we have the numbers and need to use them. Joined by men who also want domestic violence to stop, who want support for families and for women feeling abuse. We are are a powerful lobby and we must work together and tell our elected representatives that they cannot count on us for our votes and support if they will not act to improve domestic violence. Too much harm has been done and something needs to change and NOW, enough women and children have been murdered because of systemic failures. As a civil society, we cannot tolerate this anymore.

If a government can reverse funds for Arts & Culture, important as well to the health of a society, then they can see sense, and restore and improve funding to services that decrease domestic violence that shatters children and parents lives. As those of us who work in the field know, the damage continues throughout people's lives, if we don't intervene, protect and offer real solutions to all involved parties.


Honouring Their Lives and Experiences: Creating Effective Intervention in Domestic Violence in BC
Sept. 25 2009
BC Association of Social Workers

Excerpts, read the whole release by going to the link above:
The life and death of Christian Lee, his mother, Sunny Park, his grandparents and Peter Lee, who took all of their lives highlights the complexity of decision-making, processes and actions that cross many systems - criminal justice, legal aid, mental health, child welfare, health and family justice. As this tragic story illustrates there continues to be an appalling lack of coordination, communication and accountability built into these systems that leave a terrible legacy when they fail, as they do far too often.

We ask the BC government how cutting $440,000 from life-saving community services and transition homes that offer safety, protection and dignity to abused women and their children will benefit children like Christian, or his mom, Sunny? It is counter-intuitive, at a time of significant unemployment, economic uncertainty and upheaval, to be making cuts to intervention services when research and evidence-based practice indicate that when families face additional stressors and fewer supports and resources, the risk and occurrence of family violence increases.

The BCASW makes the following recommendations to improve systems and decrease domestic conflict and violence in families:
  • Introduce Integrated domestic violence services and coordination of information-sharing, communications and collaboration between child protection, law enforcement and legal systems to minimize domestic abuse and potential for violence;
  • Restore funding for multicultural community support services, transition homes, domestic violence counselling and legal aid for family law cases;
  • Ensure that abusive individuals receive assessment, early intervention and specialized counselling services, with strong measures to compel individuals into adhering, and prioritizing the safety and protection of current and future victims, service providers and the public;
  • Provide training, utilize best practices and offer skilled clinical supervision for child protection intervention in situations of high family conflict and domestic violence and to other frontline professionals who work with families;
  • Introduce specialized family and domestic violence specialists into the court system to build the capacity of the family justice and criminal courts, law enforcement and probation systems to effectively intervene in serious cases of family violence, or high-risk situations.
Honouring Christian Lee: No Private Matter: Protecting Children Living with Domestic Violence
Representative for Children & Youth
September 2009. Read the full report here

Risks to Children in Domestic Violence Situations Make Special Initiatives Urgent, says Representative

From the Hansard debates, Question Period in the Legislature:

Carole James, leader of the opposition, asked the government:

"Today, as we all remember this tragic loss, will the government make a commitment today to support families exposed to domestic violence?"

Hon. Minister Polak reported that the government is "absolutely committed to resolving the issues that the representative has raised in the report, and [is] proud to say that work is already underway"

However, members of the opposition pointed out that there have been funding reductions in the community social service sector, effectively reducing programs for victims of violence, when as Mable Elmore noted that "the Solicitor General is cutting $440,000 this year and $1.2 million next year in funding for precisely the programs meant to protect women and children". Elmore spoke of Federation member Teri Nicholas of Family Services of Greater Vancouver, who has experienced cuts to programs for women and children escaping violence.

Hon. Minister Polak stated that "It is important for us to recognize that … the very complex nature of domestic violence, … isn't something that can only be dealt with by social workers or by police or by courts". [Yes it can and should be].

Hon. K. Heed was quoted as saying "We are truly working on integrating and coordinating our services and taking the lead in our ministry to deal with those. We are working with service providers to ensure that we meet that goal of better coordination and better integration so we can truly deliver a meaningful service".

Boy's death was preventable, advocate says
Lindsay Kines, Times Colonist, Sept. 25 2009.

Child unprotected before Oak Bay murder-suicide: report
CBC News. Sept. 24 2009.

BC Slammed for Cuts to Domestic Violence Programs
Justine Hunter, Globe & Mail, Sept. 25 2009.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

BC Families Being Pushed to the Brink and Over the Edge

Children, Families Forgotten in this Budget
Paul Willcocks, Times Colonist, Sept. 9 2009.

Three years ago, then finance minister Carole Taylor said the provincial budget was "for the little ones."

The Liberal government's cost-cutting and mismanagement of support for children and families had just been set out in Ted Hughes' report.

Children would now be the focus, said Taylor.

But this is a short-attention span government. It's no different when it comes to children in B.C.

The new budget freezes the Children and Families Ministry budget for this year -- and the next two years.

Costs, obviously, are increasing, despite a planned wage freeze.

Demand for services and support is rising. That's normal in a recession. Families who have been getting by can be pushed over the edge when jobs vanish.

And the ministry's performance at current funding levels, by its own measurements, has not been satisfactory.

Each ministry releases service plans as part of the budget process. They're one of those great ideas to increase openness, accountability and performance that the Liberals introduced after the 2001 election and have been edging away from ever since.

The plans initially included a large number of performance targets -- measurable goals that would allow the public to monitor progress.

Now, there are just a half dozen measurements per ministry and they tend to be vague and useless.

Even given that weakness, the performance reports point to more problems than successes.

The ministry plans to fund fewer child care spaces this year than it did last year, with no expansion forecast for the next two years. Bad news for parents on long waiting lists for care (although full-day kindergarten might help some).

Its efforts to see more at-risk children placed with extended family, rather than in foster care, faltered last year. The number of children supported in this way fell from 761 to 724. The ministry hopes to increase that to 800 in each of the next two years.

The ministry also failed to meet its targets for the academic performance of children in continuing care. The goal was to have 82.5 per cent of the children performing at the appropriate grade level for their age. It fell short, at 79 per cent.

It's the same for another performance measure that looks at how well the ministry is doing in working with families to prevent future neglect or abuse of children.

That's important. Apprehending children is a necessary last resort; far better to provide skills and support for parents.

The ministry's performance target for last year was to keep recurrences of abuse or neglect within 12 months to 19.4 per cent of cases. It missed that.

The ministry also missed the target for finding adoptive homes for children during the last fiscal year.

Yet despite all that, the ministry budget is based on reducing the number of children in care from 9,100 to 8,800 this year, with no clear indication of how or why that will happen.

It's not surprising some targets would be missed. Circumstances change, priorities shift, problems prove more intractable than expected.

But given evidence that the ministry is not achieving its goals, a budget that provides no more resources and reduced staff levels seems inappropriate.

It's not just a problem within the Children's Ministry.

The education ministry's performance targets include goals for improving the high school graduation rate for aboriginal and non-aboriginal children.

It missed both targets for the year just completed. The aboriginal rate was 48 per cent -- unchanged from two years ago and 10 points below the ministry's performance standard.

The response was to cut the target for this year from 60 per cent to 50 per cent.

Taken together, the performance plans and budget are discouraging. There is little evidence of progress.

And there is less evidence in the budget of real plans to do better. Resources are frozen or cut. Welfare and minimum wage levels are frozen. There are no targets or plans to deal with B.C.'s six-year record as the worst province in Canada for child poverty.

The 2006 budget might have been "for the little ones."

This one sure wasn't.

Footnote: Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, the province's independent Representative for Children and Youth, panned the budget. Looking at education, the children's ministry, housing and frozen income assistance rates, she concluded the province is going backwards in its support for children and families.

© Copyright (c) The Victoria Times Colonist.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Does Falling Caseload Numbers = Increased Safety for BC's Children, or Just Cost Savings?

This is a great example of why it's so important to look behind the numbers. Child protection caseloads have been dropping for various reasons. The most important of those being that more and more children are getting put into alternative care arrangements, sometimes at great expense to themselves. These include Child in Home of Relative (CIHR), where there is no oversight at all. Kith & Kin and Out of Care Placements are also ways MCFD has lowered the numbers of children in care. We know that this has led to tragic circumstances for some children in BC.

With MCFD creating the
Child in Care Cost Driver Analysis report, they became keenly aware that the foster care system is already operating beyond it's capacity and that they would not be seeing any significant funds being put into the child welfare system, in fact, it's the opposite. They must, by inference, find ways to cut costs. We should all ask ourselves, at whose expense is the BC government cutting costs and what short-term and long-term impacts with that have on vulnerable children, youth and families and ultimately, our province.

I would like someone from MCFD/the BC government to explain to our most marginalized citizens, and the rest of us, how failing to adequately fund the child welfare system, slashing more frontline child protection jobs, cutting funding for community social service agencies, dumbing down educational expectations for First Nations children in BC will contribute to enhanced safety and protection for BC's children, youth and families?

"Overall costs and cost per case of children in care residential expenditures are increasing at rates beyond inflation and beyond the Ministry's capacity to continue to fund within existing budgets. The reviews findings support the Strong, Safe, Supported's document strong focus on early interventionand needs-based approach to supporting and protecting vulnerable children and youth." (MCFD)

Liberals face growing criticism for treatment of vulnerable
Lindsay Kines, Times Colonist. September 3, 2009.

Three years after a damning review of its child welfare system, the B.C. government again faces mounting criticism for its treatment of vulnerable children and families.

Documents released this week reveal budget reductions in the Ministry of Children and Family Development, lowered expectations for aboriginal students and plans to cut the number of children in care as poverty worsens.

"Where are those children going to be?" Linda Korbin, executive director of the B.C. Association of Social Workers, asked. "Unless they've got some information that the incidences of neglect or abuse have gone down. And I don't think we're going to find that."

Korbin said the opposite occurs during tough economic times when families are under increased financial pressure. "When that happens, I think that you can make a presumption that there is going to be increased incidents of family violence, of mental health issues, of alcohol and drug use."

Ministry documents show the average children-in-care caseload falling by close to 280 kids this year to 8,800. It projects a further drop of 100 next year.

Children's Minister Mary Polak defended the target yesterday, saying it's consistent with ministry statistics. "It's nothing new and it follows the trends that we've seen over the last 10 years or so," she said.

The ministry says the number of children in care has decreased from 10,500 in 2000 to 8,900 today -- a 15 per cent reduction.

Polak also played down budget figures showing the ministry receiving less money than it was promised in February. Most of the drops represent the transfer of human-resource work to the public service agency, she said.

As a result, the ministry's budget increases by about $12 million this year instead of $14 million.

Still, the ministry has been forced to trim staff through attrition and find other administrative savings of about $32 million this year, Polak said. She declined to provide a list of the jobs and services affected.

Last month, the ministry confirmed that it was cutting three positions from a justice program that provides court-ordered psychiatric assessments and treatment for troubled youth.

Children's Representative Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond said the ministry's budget doesn't match its stated commitment to helping vulnerable children.

"The money's simply not there to do that," she said. "What does that mean for us now at a time when there will be more families that are vulnerable?"

She also called it "shameful" that the education ministry has reduced its graduation expectations for aboriginal children. February's budget documents set a goal of a 60 per cent graduation rate for aboriginal students this year. By this week, the ministry had slashed that goal to 50 per cent.

© Copyright (c) The Victoria Times Colonist

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

BC's Social Contract: Tattered & Torn but Not Too Late to Fix

Bad lot of news coming down the pike about the budget and what it will mean for the child welfare and all other systems in BC. Where did things go so very wrong that we are seeing an end to our very social contract, right before our very eyes.

BC Government September Budget Update 2009

Video of the Representative of Children & Youth discussing how it is MCFD will be possibly going about decreasing child protection caseloads by "streaming" more kids into alternatives to foster care (CIHR, with relatives for no money, Kith & Kin & Out of Care) and onto welfare as teens and young adults. As she says, she will be asking the government:

"where is your service commitment? It's not here."

Caseload is a load of ...?

Public Eye. Sept. 1st.

Despite the economic downturn, the ministry of children and family development has forecasted a decrease in its caseload. In February, the ministry stated the average number of children in care would be 9,000 in each of the fiscal years between 2009/10 and 2011/12. But now that number has been lowered to 8,800 in 2009/10 and 8,700 in 2010/11 and 2011/12. The ministry has said that's because of demographic forces which are aging children out of care and preventive measures. But children and youth representative Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond expressed disbelief at those numbers.

By Sean Holman | Posted in | Comments (1)


Social workers: 'People of BC simply cannot sustain more cuts'

By Crawford Kilian, September 1, 2009.

Sept 2009 - Media Release Re: What Has Happened to Our Social Contract?
BC Association of Social Workers

What Has Happened to Our Social Contract?
An Open Letter to the Government of BC

We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty.
~ Mother Teresa

Over the last decade in BC we have seen the unraveling and frayed state of the social contract as it used to be, never perfect, always underfunded, but still providing a foundation for and commitment to at least trying to meet the needs of our most vulnerable people.

Social work professionals work and live in communities all around the province, and are witness to the harm the cutbacks to services have caused to individuals, families and communities. We ask the BC government, what has happened to our social contract? Why are we eroding the very policies and services that meet the vital needs of our citizens, invest in social capital and support the most valuable resources we have – our people?

The people of BC simply cannot sustain any more cuts, nor can frontline workers and others who struggle to meet the overwhelming demands placed on them to fix problems created by unsound and bad public policy.
  • How many children need to go to bed each night hungry, before we say that we are unwilling to tolerate the poverty and social exclusion of our children in BC?
  • How many seniors have to suffer the indignity of systems that leave them and their families on their own to cope, before we say we want more for our elders?
  • How many children and youth in BC must die senselessly, feeling as though no-one cares whether they live or die, before we say enough?
We urge the BC government to reconsider their ill-advised fiscal decisions and invest in the people of BC. The time has never been more important for the government to uphold their commitment and obligation to the public good and to repairing the social contract.

Monday, August 31, 2009

I am a Witness, Will You Be One Too: Human Rights for Canada's First Nations Children & Youth

The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal on First Nations child welfare begins on September 14, 2009 in Ottawa, and the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada has launched a new campaign which needs your help.

Please spend two minutes supporting the "I am a witness" campaign. This campaign calls on caring Canadians and people from around the world to sign up to say they will witness the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, which is reviewing a complaint that the federal government discriminates against First Nations children by providing them with less child welfare funding and benefits than other children receive. Being a witness means you agree to follow the case by either attending at the tribunal in person or following it through the media. After you have heard all the facts presented at the tribunal, you will be in a good position to make up your own mind about whether or not you feel the federal government is treating First Nations children fairly.

A year after the apology for residential schools, we want the Canadian government to know that caring Canadians and people from around the world are keeping watch over this generation of First Nations children.

Sign up to be a witness at

Background to the Human Rights complaint:

On February 27, 2007, the Assembly of First Nations [AFN], a political organization representing all First Nations in Canada, and the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada [FNCFCS], a national non-profit organization providing services to First Nations child welfare organizations, took the historic step of holding Canada accountable before the Canadian Human Rights Commission for its current treatment of First Nations children. The complaint alleges that the Government of Canada had a longstanding pattern of providing less government funding for child welfare services to First Nations children on reserves than is provided to non-Aboriginal children.

The inequalities in First Nations child welfare funding are longstanding and well documented (Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples [RCAP], 1996; McDonald & Ladd, 2000; Loxley et. al., 2005; Amnesty International, 2006; Assembly of First Nations, 2007; Auditor General of Canada, 2008; Standing Committee on Public Accounts, 2009) as are the tragic consequences of First Nations children going into child welfare care due, in part, to the unavailability of equitable family support services (McDonald & Ladd, 2000; Blackstock and Trocme, 2005; Amnesty International, 2006; Clarke, 2007; Auditor General of Canada, 2008; National Council on Welfare, 2008). This inequity is further amplified for First Nations children by shortfalls in education funding, housing and publically funded voluntary sector supports (Blackstock, 2008).

In October of 2008, the Canadian Human Rights Commission ordered a tribunal to determine whether or not discrimination had occurred pursuant to the Canadian Human Rights Act. The tribunal is similar to a court process with all evidence taken under oath. The AFN and the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society will present the case supporting our allegation that the Canadian Government is discriminating against First Nations children and then the federal government will respond. The Tribunal will then decide if discrimination happened or not. If it did happen, then the Tribunal can order a remedy to the discrimination. The tribunal is open to the public.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Are We Creating Healthy Villages for Aboriginal Children & Families?

The timing of this story, as quick as it came and went, is very important, as Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal social service agencies and MCFD child protection teams are bracing for cuts. The rumour mill is in overdrive and fear is rampant about funding cuts to already maxed out agencies, trying to meet the needs of a growing mass of marginalized people in BC.

By Marc Storms and David Hill,

Special to Times Colonist

August 20, 2009

The axiom that "it takes a village to raise a child" is true in any culture, and particularly within Canada's aboriginal communities. Unfortunately the mandates of our appointed government ministries and their delegated aboriginal agencies to protect children too often work in opposition to this concept.

Rather than supporting the "village," under-resourced agencies typically resort to apprehending children and placing them in government care -- care that too often is not culturally appropriate and may not even be safe.

Paul Willcocks' recent series of columns highlighted a case that shows how clearly devastating this practice can be. New parents -- the mother just 20, barely out of the system herself -- were unable to find adequate housing and were forced to stay with relatives whose home was considered unfit by the Ministry of Children and Family Development. Subsequently, the child was removed and placed in foster care, where he was injured and left with severe and permanent disabilities.

Although the child was eventually returned to his parents -- along with government financial support to help deal with his disabilities -- how unbearable must it be to know that you have had your family life turned upside down because you are poor and your family and community are not healthy enough to provide the support you needed.

Aboriginal communities struggle daily with the sad legacy of more than a century of non-aboriginal government "interference" -- including but not limited to the imposition of residential schools and the resulting loss of language and connection to family that has left a massive gap in the knowledge and confidence of aboriginal parents to raise their children effectively.

While today's aboriginal children and younger adults may have no direct memory of residential schools or the abuses suffered by their parents and grandparents, they continue to be impacted, and the result is the continuous cycle of greater government involvement and a further deterioration of parenting and family development capacity, exponential increases in child apprehension and a greater reliance on state-sponsored supports.

Government agencies have a responsibility to intervene to provide protection and support, but bureaucracies make poor parents in any culture. The solution is not found in merely placing aboriginal children in foster homes; rather, we should be investing in building capacity to create healthy communities that provide safe and effective parenting, using the traditional cultural knowledge and practices that are specific to each community.

Training, skill development and ongoing support for community-focused and culture-based programs delivered by and for aboriginal peoples represent an opportunity to make a critical investment in the future of aboriginal communities, their children and the province as a whole. As a Tlingit elder told us, aboriginal people "don't need to be told how to raise our children; we just need to be reminded."

Government has made sporadic investments toward building capacity, typically through short-term, proposal-driven funding opportunities that few communities are able to access. While we have seen positive results from these efforts, what is required is a shift in policy and a sustained financial commitment to ensure that communities are able to continue to build their strengths over the long term. This investment will in turn reduce the need for government intervention, lessen strains on the child protection system and help aboriginal communities to have greater control and responsibility for their families. Ultimately this will benefit us all.

It does take a village to raise a child, but it must be a healthy village. By making a focused and sustained investment in the inherent skills, knowledge and culture of aboriginal people, our government agencies will contribute to the health of the village, and help to end the unnecessary cycles of intervention that perpetuate the crises facing aboriginal families.

Marc Storms and David Hill are two of three co-founders of GMG Consulting (Good Medicine Group), a firm that has provided building services for aboriginal communities and agencies across Western Canada since 2001.

© Copyright (c) The Victoria Times Colonist

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

What's the Real Story?

Colour me cynical, I have to wonder why the RCMP waited 4 days until this all came out to release this story and have it go big? Hmmmm. It would be extremely distasteful and potentially harmful to try to create a media event out of a child and family's life... to deflect attention away from other VERY pertinent matters.

Langley, Surrey - Baby Boy Apprehended during Search
RCMP 'E' Division Media Release. 2009-08-11.

Baby Seized from 'Disgusting' Home full of Transients, Drug Paraphrenalia
The Province. August 11 2009.

Seized baby has good parents: family
CBC News. August 11 2009.

2010 Games ahead of domestic violence help?
CKNW. 8/11/2009.

Days after learning at least three services offered by Family Services of Greater Vancouver will lose funding from the provincial government, the executive director of the non-profit organization is wondering if social services are taking a back seat to the upcoming 2010 Olympics.

Teri Nicholas says programs like New Westminister's Domestic Violence Response Team are being cancelled at a time the government offers civil servants paid time off to volunteer at the games, "Is a woman's life worth $44,000? Because the women we are working with and helping are, many of them, in life-threatening situations.

On Monday, Dix released a Vancouver Coastal Health document outlining plans to cancel more than 6,000 surgeries and close at least 13 operating rooms before March.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Housing First for BC’s Impoverished Children and Families

Housing First for BC’s Impoverished Children and Families
BC Association of Social Workers

“A ‘place of your own’ is crucial to every family feeling protected and secure, and provides shelter, safety, privacy, an identity and a place to care for each other.”

Mary-Ellen Turpel-Lafond, Representative for Children & Youth
The Representative’s latest report highlights the pressures that marginalized and vulnerable families face in their struggle to find affordable housing to care for their children. She states, “whenever the government or its agents step into the lives of families, they must do so for the right reasons and with the right tools.”

This report details
the traumatic removal of an infant from his young parents, his placement into multiple foster homes within a short span of time and reports on the tragic consequences of a multi-directional systemic meltdown and a lack of supports, resources and anti-poverty measures that would have supported the child to remain where he belonged - with his family as a healthy, nurtured and valued member of his community.

The BCASW supports the Representative’s key findings and recommendations and urges MCFD to move quickly towards action and implementation.

A reactive, crisis-driven child welfare and social service system that defaults to removing children from vulnerable families rather than working together to find creative solutions to poverty, social exclusion and marginalization creates more problems, tragedy and poorer outcomes.

Investment in human and social infrastructure and capital is the most enlightened way forward at this precarious time in BC’s child welfare and social service systems. Children in the care of MCFD have a right to be treated with the highest duty of care that a society can offer its most vulnerable and fragile citizens. The government of British Columbia must improve its commitment to the safety, protection and enhancement of the lives of all of BC’s children. Their lives and well-being depend on it.


Tracey Young, MSW, RSW
Chair ~ Child Welfare & Family Committee
BC Association of Social Workers



Housing, Help and Hope: A Better Path for Struggling Families.

Representative for Children and Youth

A struggling young family needed short-term housing assistance so their baby could be safe, but instead the child was taken into government care. A Representative for Children and Youth investigation into a First Nations baby’s critical injury finds that many of the systemic factors that played a major role in the infant’s removal from his parents still exist today.

Three Part Series by Paul Willcocks
Victoria Times Colonist & Paying Attention:

A little boy, failed by the system and forgotten by the rest of us

August 3rd 2009

The representative for Children and Youth set out his story — how he went from a healthy baby boy to a three-year-old who had suffered devastating injuries that left him with cerebral palsy. He’s blind in one eye, can’t walk yet and faces a life of struggle.

It’s worth pausing to think about this. The baby was barely five months old and had been with his parents and in three different foster homes. All good intentions aside, as a parent or grandparent, how do you think a child you loved would handle those changes? How long would he cry for a missing blanket or a person he had come to associate with comfort?

A child taken away because his parents were poor

August 4th, 2009

The result, the representative found, is that children are taken from their parents because they are poor. "This places the basic human rights of children in jeopardy and tears families apart in tragic way, especially aboriginal families trying to recover and rebuild," the report found.

System just wasn't set up to help this baby

This is not an isolated case, the report suggests. It notes two ministry internal audits found 50 to 84 per cent compliance with its standards in the region where the boy lived while in care. The B.C. Association of Social Workers - representing frontline workers - said the report documents "the tragic consequences of a multi-directional systemic meltdown and a lack of supports, resources and anti-poverty measures."

And considering that this baby was taken from his parents and sent through a series of foster homes because his family was poor, it's notable that B.C. has had the highest rate of child poverty in Canada for the past six years. This baby boy's rough life, sadly, wasn't an aberration.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

More Setbacks for BC's Abused Children

As a former child protection social worker, I've had the privilege of working with the specialized Child Protection unit (similar to the SCAN unit in the story) at BC Children's Hospital. The loss of the SCAN unit in Victoria is a devastating blow to abused, neglected and victimized children on the Island. The specialized training and unbelievable professionalism, sensitivity and compassion of the people working with children, parents, caregivers and professionals seen in these kind of programs is unparalleled.

How low have we sunk in BC that we would allow our government and health authorities to do away with a program that provides specialized health care to children who have been beaten, broken, raped, physically and sexually abused?
How could a responsible health care administration fail to have contingencies in place to replace key staff who leave these important kinds of programs? It is incomprehensible.

The time has come for all of us to step up and tell the government - our children matter, they count and we cannot allow them to be mistreated any longer.

Find your MLA here and tell them these cuts are unacceptable and this program must be restored ASAP.


Island's only child abuse unit closes

Shutdown forces some victims to travel to Vancouver for help

Lindsay Kines, Times Colonist. August 1, 2009.


The only specialized medical team for assessing child abuse and neglect cases on Vancouver Island has shut down, forcing some young victims to travel to Vancouver for help.

The Suspected Child Abuse and Neglect (SCAN) unit, which operated out of the Queen Alexandra Centre for Children's Health, included a part-time psychologist, registered nurse, social worker and receptionist, Damstetter said. The unit received about 200 referrals a year.

Child Representative Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond urged officials to get the program up and running again as soon as possible. It's not good enough, she said, to rely on emergency-room physicians who may lack the training, expertise and backup team needed to handle complex child-abuse cases.

Turpel-Lafond also questioned why VIHA allowed the Island's only SCAN team to disband because one or two people departed. "You can't place the whole team on an individual," she said. "It's a team. Individuals will come and go ... You need to be prepared for transitions."

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Broken Child Welfare System Will Sustain even More Job Cuts

The cuts to frontline social workers has also begun. The BCGEU announced 6 Child Protection Social Work jobs will be slashed in the NorthWest (Kitimat, Terrace and Prince Rupert).

I understand there may be cuts to positions in other regions as well and MCFD is transferring positions (FTE's) to Aboriginal agencies.


Child welfare report points to broken system, say social workers

Garrett Zehr. The Hook/ July 17, 2009.

VANCOUVER - A recent report revealing high levels of critical injury and death of children and youth under the watch of the B.C. government highlights a system that is understaffed and inadequately funded, says the province's social work association.

“The system is in absolute crisis and this has been coming for some time,” said Tracey Young, chair of the Child Welfare and Family Committee for the B.C. Association of Social Workers.

The report from the province’s Representative for Children and Youth found 49 critical injuries and 30 deaths of children in provincial care or receiving reviewable services over a four-month period ending May 31.

Twenty-six of the injury cases and 12 of the deaths are being investigated by the representative’s office to determine any role played by the welfare system.

“Unfortunately I’m not terribly surprised that children are not faring well at this point in time in B.C.,” said Young.

Child advocates and social workers have been telling the government for years that the child welfare system is understaffed, she said.

“There are mistakes that are made, there are tragedies that occur, because people are absolutely just taxed to their limit.”

The problems include offices that are often extremely short-staffed and a lack of backfill for people on vacation or medical leave, she said, which all create huge gaps in service provision. “These are not expendable roles in our society or province.”

Young acknowledged that the rate of injury and death of children in government care is higher because of the increased fragile health of these children when entering the system.

But she said this only emphasizes the need for a comprehensive plan from the provincial government to combat poverty, since the vast majority of child protection cases are related to family-poverty issues.

These systemic problems are often forgotten and ignored, Young said, with social workers then being unfairly scapegoated by the public.

“It’s really, really easy -- and I find particularly in this area of child protection and child welfare -- to want to blame somebody,” she said.

“But [social workers] work within this vast underfunded system and they are trying their best each day.”

She said the association lauds the work of the Representative for Children and Youth and is calling on the provincial government to provide even greater accountability and transparency on child welfare issues.

“When tragedies occur, a healthy, responsible system will use that to look at what went wrong and what went right, instead of 'how do we fix the optics of this,'” she said.

Garrett Zehr reports for The Tyee.


Systemic Improvements Are Required to Decrease Critical Injuries and Death’s of BC’s Young People - the BC Government Must Act Now


The latest report from the Representative for Children and Youth reveals that there were 49 critical injuries and 30 deaths of BC children and youth who were in care or receiving MCFD services between February 1, 2009 and May 31, 2009.

We commend the Representative and her staff for their commitment to bringing transparency, visibility and recognition to the lives, injuries and deaths of our most vulnerable young people. Their injury or loss is a tragedy for them, their families, communities and to all of us. We will never know what kind of contributions these citizens could have made had they been better supported, protected and enabled to reach their potential.

As the Representative notes, in spite of a focus in recent years on children in care who died, her office has not detected any significant reduction in deaths.

The Ministry of Children and Family Development continues to suffer from gross underfunding and is failing to adequately and safely staff its frontlines with social workers who can make a real difference in the lives of at risk young people and their families. It is also very discouraging to learn that the BC government may be looking for cost cutting measures by slashing budgets of community social service agencies. These structural deficiencies impede the child welfare system from meeting its core mandate – protecting and increasing the safety and well being of at risk children and youth in British Columbia.

With more and more families being plunged into poverty and struggling to meet the basic necessities of life, it is time for the BC government to offer strategic, solution-focused, timely intervention and to adequately fund child and family serving systems. Other jurisdictions, most notably Quebec, Newfoundland & Labrador, Ontario and Manitoba have shown strong leadership in introducing strategies to reduce child and family poverty and improve circumstances that arise out of systemic conditions of vulnerability and risk. This kind of progressive vision and leadership and commitment to BC’s children and families is what is required in BC right now.

As the BC government continues to prepare for its September 2009 budget we strongly encourage them to demonstrate compassionate, progressive and caring leadership and commit to improvements to the social infrastructure in BC. Social workers, along with all our fellow citizens, must continue to press our elected representatives to make the investment in BC’s children, youth and families a priority.


Tracey Young, MSW, RSW

Chair ~ Child Welfare & Family Committee

BC Association of Social Workers


Linda Korbin, MSW, RSW
Executive Director

402 - 1755 West Broadway
Vancouver BC V6J 4S5
T 604 730 9111/ F 604 730 9112
Toll free in BC 1 800 665 4747

30 Deaths of Children Under Watch of Province in Four Months
Ann Hui, Times Colonist.
July 11, 2009.

B.C.'s Office of Representatives for Children and Youth released a report this week revealing that in the past four months, 30 children or youth died and 49 suffered critical injuries while they were either in the care of, or receiving services from, B.C.'s child welfare system.

Job Cuts on the Way: Unions
John Bermingham, The Province. July 16, 2009.

Darryl Walker, president of the 60,000-member B.C. Government and Service Employees Union, said he’s already heard of hundreds of eliminated positions in a range of government ministries.

Budget-linked layoffs hit child protection workers in North West B.C.
B.C. Government and Service Employees Union. Jul 16 '09.
Representative for Children and Youth

Representative's Report #6 - Critical Injuries and Deaths: Reviews and Investigations

RCY reviews and investigations of critical injuries or child deaths from February 1, 2009 to May 31, 2009.