Monday, December 6, 2010

MCFD: Cult of Secrecy and Disdain for Public Accountability

"There is no trust more sacred than the one the world holds with children. There is no duty more important than ensuring that their rights are respected, that their welfare is protected, that their lives are free from fear and want and that they can grow up in peace." ~ Kofi Annan

You have only to ask those who have worked in the system, children, youth, families, foster parents and service providers about the deafening silence surrounding critical injuries and deaths of children in care, or those who've received services within the last 12 months. This is the biggest unsecret in BC.

What will it take for MCFD to do the right thing? The office of the Representative for Children & Youth was brought into force as a result of the significant and ongoing failures of the child protection system to meet it's mandate - the best interests and safety of BC's children.

From 2001 to the present MCFD's most basic mission has not been accomplished. The cult of secrecy and a profound disdain for public accountability and transparency of decision-making has become so entrenched that MCFD's senior leadership is routinely violating it's own internal policies and practice standards for reporting critical injuries and deaths of minors in receipt, or in the care of the state (MCFD) to the Representative for Children & Youth.

This simply cannot be allowed this to occur anymore. A civil society will not tolerate the intolerable, especially where the most vulnerable parties are the victims and where they have no-one else to render them and their lives and suffering visible, no-one to advocate for them in a broken system filled with self-serving incompetence.

It is time for a radical re-think of what BC's child protection has become and what is can be. It is time for a change in leadership in the child & youth-serving system in BC.


B.C. has serious gaps in reporting critical child injuries, deaths: report

By Lindsay Kines, Times Colonist, December 6, 2010

Victoria, B.C. - B.C.’s child watchdog demanded today that the provincial government plug holes in its system of reporting critical injuries and deaths.

In a special report to the legislature, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond slammed the Ministry of Children and Family Development for failing to alert her that a 15-year-old disabled girl had been left alone with her mother’s corpse for several days earlier this year.

Children's Minister Mary Polak said at the time that it was “premature” to report the matter to the Representative, because the ministry was still assessing the extent to which the child was injured. But Turpel-Lafond said the child's emotional trauma alone warranted a report.

“Even after a discussion with senior ministry officials about the case, no acknowledgment that this case should have been reported occurred; and no commitment to improve the reporting requirements or system was forthcoming,” Turpel-Lafond writes in a summary of her report, which was tabled with the Speaker of the Legislature today.


Summary: Special Report on the Reporting of Critical Injuries and Deaths by MCFD to the Representative for Children and Youth

December 2010. Excerpts;

"...entire categories of critical injuries that ministry staff know about have not been referred to the Representative for review."

Two recent examples of troubling cases in which the ministry would not report to the Representative:

- A child suffering serious sexual assaults and incest at the hands of her abusive father
- A youth in care who ended up severely disturbed and in a suicidal state after having been left with a caregiver who engaged him in sexual activity and shared drugs with him.

The Representative calls on government to immediately undertake the recommended changes to develop and implement a critical injury and death notification policy that complies with the RCY Act.

This new policy, to be fully implemented by March 1, 2011, will ensure the practice of reporting injuries and deaths is consistent, timely and effective.

Full Report: Reporting of Critical Injuries and Deaths to the Representative for Children and Youth

"If we don't stand up for children, then we don't stand for much."
~ Marian Wright Edelman

Monday, November 29, 2010

What Will it Take for Children & Youth to Matter in BC?

How much embarrassment is enough for the BC government? Headlines frequently bring attention to their incompetence in policy, planning and management of the people Ministries, arguably no more important than the Ministry of CHILDREN and Family Development.

We know that an entire generation of children in BC has lived in poverty and deprivation that has surpassed every other province in Canada for seven years in a row. Yet politicians report it's been dropping, like that makes it okay. They disregard and deflect from the realities of their failures and in the process, bring shame to themselves and the government.

How long are taxpayers supposed to sit by as the "leadership" of MCFD continually fails to meet it's most basic mandate and year after year, fails to meet it's own self-created Service plans & goals? There isn't any other BC government organization that has demonstrated such a level of abject failure of it's top most bureaucrats.

Failure in MCFD is failure of BC's most vulnerable and at-risk children & youth. It is the government's failure in the here and now and in the future, when many of this generation of deprived children grow up to be adults who encounter more difficulties being employable, more health, mental health and addiction problems, more individuals involved in the criminal justice system. These are the real world consequences of failure of government's social and public policy and failure to provide vulnerable children and families with the supports they require to rise above their circumstances.

It is time for the BC government to take responsibility for the last decade's failure to the children, youth and families of BC. It is time for new leadership and a time to listen to all of the voices who have been calling for real, evidence-based change, such as the Honourable Ted Hughes and the Representative for Children and Youth.


The 2010 Progress Report on the Implementation of the Recommendations of the BC Children and Youth Review:

Read the report here.


Representative Media Release:
Nov. 29, 2010

"Much has been promised and little delivered along the path of implementing the Hughes recommendations," she said. "The ministry has significant responsibilities to British Columbians and yet remains in a period of long and drawn-out change – what it calls ‘transformation’ -- that is incredibly ambitious and most certainly experimental."

Failing to provide frustrated front-line ministry staff, youth, their families and the oversight body with an understandable picture about the details of their transformation initiative and evidence that progress is being made on it is also unacceptable, said Turpel-Lafond.

She noted that major themes such as quality assurance, organizational learning, public accountability and decentralization also continue to be inadequately addressed, or are said to be restructured with a lack of clarity about what will eventually be measured or improved. Public reporting must be more consistent and detailed, she said, particularly in the area of critical injuries and deaths.

Read the entire news release here.


The story of a young girl with Down Syndrome

MLA Nicholas Simons. Nov. 29, 2010.

The Honourable Minister ignores the fact that her Child Protection Division is completely frustrated at the Ministry’s constant state of crisis, conflicting purposes, and misplaced priorities. Its workers are over-worked and suffering from low morale.

Bureaucrats are not allowed to say it, but the mess has been caused in part by a Deputy Minister who instead of making sure social workers can conduct proper investigations, and support or monitor borderline parenting, prefers to introduce new flowery initiatives: like “Child at the Centre”, “Safe, Strong and Supported”, and “Best Practice Action Plans” while spending millions of dollars on re-shuffling positions and re-drawing regions. It would be a farce were it not so tragic.

My advice to the Minister is to look at what your Deputy has done; take responsibility, and then consider your own options. Your government has done more harm to the Child Protection system, and to the circumstances of vulnerable children, than any previous one. Ministers before you have suffered from the same tendency; they didn’t address their problems because they didn’t admit they had one.


B.C. government fails to follow report to help children at risk
By Lindsay Kines, November 29, 2010

The Liberals appointed Hughes to review the child welfare system after the death of 19-month-old granddaughter, Sherry Charlie, in Port Alberni in 2002, and the bungled government investigation that followed. The little girl was beaten to death after being placed in the care of her great aunt under a kith-and-kin arrangement. The aunt's spouse, who had a history of violence, pleaded guilty to manslaughter and received a 10-year prison sentence.

Hughes concluded that the B.C. Liberal government had weakened public oversight of the child welfare system at a time when the Children's Ministry faced severe budget cuts and an “unmanageable degree” of change.

“The disappointing reality is that far too many Hughes recommendations have never received the attention they deserve, and at this point likely never will,” she writes.


B.C. children's watchdog slams government
Nov. 29, 2010


Representative for Children and Youth's Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond says the government has only fully implemented less than half the recommendations in the 2006 landmark report on the child welfare system by retired judge Ted Hughes.
Turpel-Lafond says she is deeply disappointed with the government's progress and is particularly critical of what she sees as a lack of accountability and oversight in the child welfare system.

"Difficult economics times can mean harsher realities for many of B.C.'s families. Poverty will deepen for some, unemployment rates will climb, and previously successful families may struggle. Social services may be required more often, and community supports may disappear. Stagnant or decreasing budgets will not be able to address the need of additional children and families," she said.

Learn more about Children's Rights through BC's Child Rights Public Awareness Campaign.

Join the growing network of individuals and groups who are fighting for recognition that BC's children & youth matter.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Time for a BC and Canadian Plan to Eliminate Child & Family Poverty

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."
~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

This post is dedicated to all of the Canadian children, past and present, who have grown up in poverty in one of the wealthiest nations on earth and who deserve so much better from those who came before you.


“Child and family poverty simply won’t disappear on its own,” said Adrienne Montani, provincial coordinator of First Call: BC Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition. “Political leaders in other provinces understand this, but in BC we are still waiting for courageous leadership on this issue.”

On November 24 1989 an All Party commitment was made by the House of Commons to end child poverty by the year 2000. The Canadian government has failed to live up to their commitment to Canada's children for twenty-one years.

The BC government's position, over the last decade, is that it is tolerable for a significant number of children, particularly First Nations children, to live in poverty, deprivation and social exclusion. No other analysis can be applied to this situation in light of the continuing failure of the BC government to create a Poverty Elimination plan as many other provinces have.

Thank you to First Call: BC Child & Youth Advocacy Coalition.
I am proud to have been a member and participant in the coalition over the last decade.

From the 2010 BC Child Poverty Report Card
& Release

Authors: First Call & the Social Planning and Research Council of BC (SPARC BC).
  • About one of every seven BC children, or 121,000 is living in poverty.
  • The poverty rate for children under age six was 19.6%, or one in five young children.
  • The child poverty rate in British Columbia dropped to 14.5 percent in 2008, according to the latest figures published by Statistics Canada.
  • Indicators such as increases in 2009 and 2010 in food bank use and families on income assistance signal this anticipated rise.
  • The risk of poverty for female lone-parent families is 31% , two and a half times greater than for children in 2-parent families, but the majority of poor children (67%) live in two-parent families.
  • The vast majority of BC’s poor children live in families with some income from paid work, with over one third having at least one adult working full-time, fullyear.
  • Inequity is growing. The gap between the incomes of the richest 10% and poorest 10% of families with children grew from a ratio of 11 to 1 in 2007 to 14 to 1 in 2008. Families in the three lowest income groups (deciles) saw an actual decline in their incomes between 1989 and 2008.
  • Seven provinces and territories have either enacted or committed themselves to
    enacting anti-poverty strategies, with one more ready to act.
  • Both the House of Commons and the Senate have recently issued reports urging Ottawa to commit to an anti-poverty strategy of its own.
  • In November 2009, the House of Commons passed a unanimous
    resolution to develop an immediate plan to eliminate poverty in Canada for all.
First Call Press Release

2010 Child Poverty Report Card

Campaign 2000 and Partners Released 2010 Report Cards on Child/Family Poverty

Join Dignity for All - The Campaign for a Poverty Free Canada

I believe that freedom from poverty is a human right.
I believe in equality among all people.
I believe we are all entitled to social and economic security.
I believe in dignity for all.
NOW is the time to end poverty in Canada.

Media & Additional Reports

Growing Up in BC - Representative for Children & Youth & Provincial Health Officer

The true measure of a nation’s standing is how well it attends to its children – their health and safety, their material security, their education and socialization, and their sense of being loved, valued, and included in the families and societies into which they are born.

UNICEF, Innocenti Report Card 7, 2007

A close look at poverty

Charmaine de Silva | Email news tips to

One out of every seven BC children lives in poverty. That is one of the alarming statistics revealed in the latest child poverty report card, issued by First Call BC Tuesday. But it's not all bad news:

The child poverty rate in this Province dropped in 2008 to 14-and-a-half percent. But First Call's Provincial Coordinator Adrienne Montani says its too early to celebrate. Montani says the recession didn't begin until late 2008 which means the poverty rate is almost certain to increase for 2009 and 2010.

While critics of the Provincial Government's record battling child poverty point to an absence of an official Poverty Reduction Plan, BC's Children and Families Minister says they do have a plan.

Mary Polak says the plan has been in place since 2001 and that's to improve the economy. "We now have the third highest average hourly wage in Canada at 23-dollars an hour, we have the lowest youth unemployment in British Columbia history, and we have some of the lowest unemployment rates, across all populations, in all of North America."

Polak says she's glad her Government's policies have resulted in reduced child poverty.

1 in 10 Canadian Children Living in Poverty: Report

Amy Minsky, Postmedia News, Vancouver Sun, November 24, 2010. Excerpts:

While the short-term benefits of ending poverty among the 610,000 children seem obvious — fewer children with problems affecting their physical, emotional and psychological health — government must also consider the long-term effects of childhood poverty, the report said.

"The impact of dire living conditions during childhood, such as inadequate nutrition and crowded or unsafe housing, carries far into adulthood," Monique Begin, a former minister of health under prime minister Pierre Trudeau, said in a statement. "Research has clearly demonstrated that there will be significant economic savings and better health outcomes for us all if we improve the incomes of people in poverty."

Aboriginal kids and children of recent immigrants and racial minorities are at an increased risk of living in poverty, the report said, noting those children also have a greater risk of living in persistent social and economic inequality.

The BC Poverty Elimination plan would include the following strategic actions:
  • Commit to a living wage for all citizens and ensure that all Canadians receive adequate food, nutrition and potable water;
  • Raise the minimum wage in BC and increase the rates for income and disability assistance, with supports that encourage and facilitate individuals in transitioning into the workforce;
  • Increase funding and access to affordable housing for low-income families;
  • Ensure that low income families can access special diet allowances, food vouchers and crisis grants for necessities such as food, as well as food programs for children in inner city schools;
  • Every child and family in Canada will have access to timely health and mental health care and support and to interventions that will assist in supporting their development and maximizing their health;
  • Ensure that mothers fleeing abusive relationships with their children have immediate access to safe shelter, food and necessities, including income assistance to help them stabilize and exempted from work searches;
  • Provide refugee and immigrant families with support and financial assistance to assist them in settling in Canada;
  • Increase access and subsidies for affordable early learning and child care;
  • Provide parents with access to college and university education and vocational training, apprenticeship programs and supports for transitioning into the workforce into employment that sustains families;
  • Assist low-income families with transportation costs and increase subsidies for access to activities such as sports and the arts so that children and parents can maximize their social inclusion and develop skills and talents;
  • Adjust and shift the income tax burden and re-distribute resources so that the most wealthy in Canadian society and corporations are paying their fair share to contribute to the holistic well-being of our nation;
  • All levels of government must work together to create a federal housing strategy wherein the Canadian government begins to fund provincial affordable housing infrastructure;
  • Maintain current levels of federal transfer payments to provincial, territorial, and First Nations governments for health and education;
  • Stop cutting and increase funding of the provincial and federal social safety net and the social infrastructure which supports individuals and families in their communities in times of need.
  • Create a National Poverty Elimination Commission with the goal to eliminate poverty in Canada with poverty reduction targets each year. The Commission will work with First Nations communities and leaders on specific initiatives to significantly improve conditions on reserves across Canada.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

When the Cupboard is Bare, Who Will Feed the Hungry?

When the Cupboard is Bare, Who Will Feed the Hungry?

Advocacy BC, November 17, 2010.

With the release of the release of the HungerCount 2010 survey, the only annual national survey of food bank use in Canada, the evidence of a growing population of Canadian citizens who are falling behind is clear.

Highlights from this report include the following:

· Food bank use has grown in every province in 2010;

· 867,948 people across Canada used food banks in March 2010. This represents a 9.2 % increase, or more than 73,000 people compared with numbers from 2009;

· 80,150 people, or 9.2 %, used a food bank for the first time;

· 38% of those assisted by food banks were children under 18;

· Half of assisted households are families with children;

· 17 per cent of households that used food banks have employment income;

· 7 % of assisted households have a pension as their primary source of income.

The face of poverty in BC and Canada is changing. Many more citizens who have lost their jobs as resource and manufacturing sectors have contracted due to domestic and global economic conditions are seeing declines in individual and family income. Additional impacts can be seen, these include:

· BC has led Canada in child poverty for seven consecutive years, with the majority of poor children living with their families, often in single parent families;

· Individuals are exhausting their unemployment benefits with no employment available to the thousands who have lost their jobs;

· Individuals who have never before applied for income assistance are being forced to do so, with rising costs to provincial governments;

· More and more individuals are being forced to take temporary, part-time and insecure employment to survive;

· Increasing rates of poverty for many seniors is impacting their ability to afford the necessities of life on fixed incomes;

· High costs for housing and a lack of rent controls often place renters into unstable housing situations with fewer and fewer shelter options;

· Increases in utilities, such as heating costs, carbon taxes and the introduction of the Harmonized Sales tax (HST) are impacting the cost of living of many middle and lower socio-economic class citizens, leaving them with less to spend on things such as food;

In spite of these worsening economic conditions, both the Canadian and provincial governments are paying little attention to the warning signs of Canada’s crisis and ignoring the calls for poverty reduction plans. As conditions worsen, the demand for community and social services will increase, but by stealth, millions in government and gaming funds have been cut from the budgets of these support services around the province.

Advocacy BC joins the calls of those who say all levels of government must commit to a poverty reduction plan which includes the following strategies:

· Increased funding of affordable housing for those at high-risk, including families, seniors, people with mental, physical and developmental disabilities;

· Raising the minimum wage in BC and increasing the rates for income and disability assistance, with supports that encourage and facilitate individuals in transitioning into the workforce;

· Increased access and subsidies for affordable early learning and child care;

· Address the low rates of income for seniors;

· Work together to create a federal housing strategy wherein the Canadian government begins to fund provincial affordable housing infrastructure;

· Maintain current levels of federal transfer payments to provincial, territorial, and First Nations governments for health and education;

· Stop cutting and increase funding of the social safety net and the social infrastructure which supports individuals and families in their communities in times of need.

The cupboard is bare for a growing number of Canadians who are looking to their governments for leadership. A civil and just society ensures that it’s most vulnerable citizens are cared for in a compassionate and humane manner. Advocacy BC asks our leaders how will BC and Canada feed our hungry citizens? What are you doing to ensure that our social contract remains intact and that our province and country retains its standing as a civil society?


Tracey Young, MSW, RSW

Editor of Advocacy BC

Catalyst Enterprises BC

BC Statistics

(see page 20-21 for details)

94,359 individuals were assisted, March 2010

+5% change since March 2009

30% are children

11% report employment income

6% receive Employment Insurance

44% receive social assistance

21% receive disability-related income supports

60% of food banks saw an increase

The number of two-parent families requiring help has increased from 18.7% in 2009 to 19.9% in 2010.