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

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