Saturday, June 20, 2009

Tragedy & MCFD Statistics: What Will it Take For BC's Kids to Really Matter?

Rural child placement a dilemma
Robert Matas. Globe & Mail, Jun. 19, 2009.

Removal and placement of children in rural communities is always a major problem, says Tracey Young, a spokesperson for the B.C. Association of Social Workers.

“They just do not have the foster-care resources,” Ms. Young, chair of the association's child welfare and family committee, said in an e-mail response to questions.

The death of 21-month-old Jor-el while in government care has turned a spotlight on child protection services provided by the B.C. government. A few weeks before the toddler's death, Pivot Legal Society had released a report called Hands Tied, Child protection workers talk about working in, and leaving, B.C.'s child welfare system. The study reflected the responses of 109 social workers who no longer worked for the Ministry of Children and Family Development.

About two-thirds reported they could “rarely” or “never” give adequate attention to each child or family on their caseload while fulfilling their reporting requirements. Nearly half indicated there are “rarely” or “never” adequate preventative or supportive services for families.

“The concern over the lack of services was most pronounced among respondents from aboriginal service teams, 63 per cent of whom indicated that there were ‘rarely' or ‘never' adequate services,” the study says. By comparison, 41 per cent of the social workers on non-aboriginal teams indicated that adequate services were available “rarely” or “never.”

Severe shortages in staffing accelerated after an 11-per-cent budget cut in 2002, the report states. The ministry added 180 new positions in child protection and mental health services in 2006 after recommendations from a judicial review sparked by the death of toddler Sherry Charlie. But reports earlier this year indicated that the ministry is once again planning cutbacks. Reversing the progress that was made, 185 positions could be eliminated.

Tragic consequences
Robert Matas. Globe & Mail, Jun. 20, 2009.

Felicia Wale, whose son died earlier this month in government care, can't understand why the state has taken away her children.


The death of a baby in care has also turned the spotlight on B.C. child-protection policies. The government overhauled its legislation and refashioned its bureaucracy after toddler Sherry Charlie was killed in 2002 by an uncle after being taken away from her mother and placed in his home. But the reforms did not help Ms. Wale or her son.

Ms. Maitland, the mayor for the past 33 years, does not blame the ministry staff. She is critical of the B.C. government for failing to provide adequate resources. The child and family services are understaffed, leaving social workers with caseloads that are too big. With a far-flung population, the social workers spend a lot of time on the road, going to young moms. “They cannot be there consistently to help these moms,” she said.


The numbers say
Robert Matas. Globe & Mail, Jun. 19, 2009.

Aboriginal children are over-represented at all stages of government involvement in child protection.

Eight per cent of British Columbia's children are aboriginals. However, they account for 27 per cent of calls about protection issues to the Ministry of Children and Family Development, 31 per cent of investigations, 36 per cent of admissions and 52 per cent of children in government care.

Last year, an aboriginal child was 5.1 times more likely to be investigated by child-protection services than a non-aboriginal, 6.3 times more likely to be admitted into care and, once accepted into care, 12.4 times more likely to remain in care.

A study conducted for the ministry also found that aboriginal children are more likely to stay in government care until they reach the age of 18. Non-aboriginal children are more likely to move out of care as a result of adoption or temporary custody orders. Since 2005, more than twice as many non-aboriginal children have been adopted as aboriginal children.

The government introduced a “kith-and-kin” program to enable social workers to place children with a child's extended family. In January, 103 aboriginal children were staying with extended family under kith-and-kin arrangements, compared to 98 non-aboriginal children under similar arrangements. In the previous January, 99 aboriginal children were staying with extended family but only 85 non-aboriginal children were in the kith-and-kin program.

The B.C. government had 8,960 children in care as of January – 4,247 non-aboriginal children and 4,713 aboriginal children (53 per cent). Native agencies had responsibility for 1,821 of the aboriginal children (36.5 per cent) and the government retained control over 2,892 children.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Strengthening the Child Welfare System: An Open Letter to the New Minister of Children & Family Development

BC Association of Social Workers

For Immediate Release

June 12, 2009

The BC Association of Social Workers welcomes and congratulates the Honourable Mary Polak, who has been named the Minister of Children & Family Development and Minister of State for Child Care.

As the professional association for social workers, BCASW represents the voices of BCASW members and allies working in the health and social service sector around the province of BC. We are child protection social workers, child & youth mental health clinicians, health care social workers, community and family support workers, social policy experts and academics teaching and mentoring the next generations of social workers in BC.

We also speak to and advocate for improvements to services for our most vulnerable citizens, many of whom often have no voice in the social and public policies that dramatically impact their health, well being and lives – children and youth, families, seniors, people with mental illness, developmental disabilities, addictions and others.

At the beginning of this new administration, we would like to take this opportunity to provide recommendations to strategically strengthen the child welfare and social service system. These strategic actions include the following:

* Build a foundation based on timely, strength-based and effective intervention based on best practices and collaborating with families, communities and a broad range of stakeholders to improve safety and ensure children have their needs met. Implementation of the human rights principles enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in the mandate, vision and scope of MCFD’s mission would go a very long way toward improving and strengthening BC’s child welfare system and improving outcomes for our children;

* Increase and improve accessibility to child care for promoting women’s participation in the labour market and to enhance developmental and early learning opportunities for all BC children;

* Set strategic goals and targets to reduce child and family poverty year-by-year and implement financial strategies to increase family income;

* Increase the capacity of the child protection system by ensuring adequate staffing, reducing caseloads, workload and administrative burden and prioritizing training, professional development, mentoring and improved supervision;

* Adequately fund community and professional prevention, intervention and support services to at-risk families and child & youth mental health and addictions services across BC;

* Ensure that there is inclusive and broad consultation regarding Recognition and Reconciliation and changes to the Aboriginal child welfare system and provide adequate funding to Aboriginal agencies engaging in support and child protection services, and building their infrastructures;

* Increase transparency, accountability and oversight of the provision of services and supports to children, youth and adults with developmental disabilities and special needs and ensure that families and caregivers receive the support they require to care for their loved ones;

* Strategically break down barriers to collaboration between child welfare, health, education and youth criminal justice systems and enhance supports to vulnerable young people;

* Increase oversight and responsibility for the care and support of children and youth in foster care, in Kith and Kin and Out of Care Placements with Others, in Child in Home of Relative arrangements and youth in custody and aging out of foster care;

* Invest in strategic affordable housing initiatives that offer a continuum of housing and support services for vulnerable individuals, young people and families.

Through strategic investment in our social infrastructure, the BC government will improve outcomes for many at-risk children, youth and families and other vulnerable people. In these times of economic uncertainty progressive leaders will look to strengthen our support services and communities, create and maintain employment opportunities and recognize the important contributions of social service and community work to local economies.

The BCASW looks forward to continuing our working relationship with the BC government toward our common goals and a bright future where all of our citizens receive the support they require and where we can all benefit from optimizing the potential of all BC’s most important resources – our people.


Contact Information:

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