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
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
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.
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