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.
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.