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.

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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.
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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

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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".

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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.

pwillcocks@tc.canwest.com

© 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)

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

By Crawford Kilian, September 1, 2009. TheTyee.ca

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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.