B.C. children's representative should focus on advocacy, not oversight: report

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VICTORIA - A new report that puts British Columbia's children's watchdog in the crosshairs of a malfunctioning ministry is riddled with faulty conclusions, including that the deaths of some children in care is inevitable, said Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond.

Long-time bureaucrat Bob Plecas released a report Monday into the Ministry of Children and Family Development which criticized Turpel-Lafond, the representative of children and youth, while praising the ministry for its work despite being starved of resources.

Deaths and serious injuries to children in care are rare, but there is a great appetite for blaming workers and the ministry for "perceived and real failings," he wrote.

Plecas said staff will never been able to police every family to prevent abuse and even murder.

"We can make our kids safe, safer than they are now, but we will never be 100 per cent successful," the report stated.

Turpel-Lafond said she couldn't support that assumption which colours the former deputy minister's entire report.

"I have a number of concerns about Mr. Plecas's report, probably the most significant one is the idea that Mr. Plecas has a conclusion which I can only describe as a dystopian and cynical conclusion," she told a news conference.

She has repeatedly criticized the ministry's performance, and Plecas said in his report the relationship has become strained.

The watchdog's numerous recommendations over the years have overwhelmed the ministry and become "part of the bigger management problem," he wrote.

Her oversight role should be taken over by the ministry, the report said.

Turpel-Lafond noted that her office has been reviewed twice by the Standing Committee on Children and Youth, and said she would be open to another review.

Opposition NDP Leader John Horgan disagreed with the report's recommendation.

"I don't think, under any circumstances, we should reduce the amount of scrutiny government officials are under, when it comes to our most vulnerable citizens. Quite the contrary," he said.

Horgan instead called for Stephanie Cadieux to be replaced as children's minister.

"Miss Cadieux has been three years on the job and it's been three disastrous years for children in care," he said.

Ernie Crey, chief councillor of the Fraser Valley's Cheam First Nation and a former social worker, had scathing comments on Plecas's report and defended Turpel-Lafond, calling her an "outstanding champion."

"(The government has) done nothing to remedy the situation and now they've turned their guns on the representative for children and youth, you know, holding her accountable for all of their failures, a stupid move on their part, in my opinion," he said.

The First Nations Leadership Council, made up of the B.C. Assembly of First Nations, the First Nations Summit and the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, issued an open letter to Premier Christy Clark about the report's "inappropriate" recommendations.

"Let us be clear in stating that we fully support the important work of the Representative for Children and Youth."

The letter urged the premier to make immediate financial investments in the ministry.

"More importantly though, we urge you to work with us to ensure those investments actually help First Nations children and youth who are the mainstay of the children in need in B.C."

Plecas also called for the ministry to immediately receive $50 million in funding, hire 120 new social workers and develop a four-year strategic plan, a move Cadieux said she supported.

"Certainly, I have accepted the spirit of the recommendations of the report. And I do believe strongly that I have the support of the cabinet table and with the premier for the necessary injection of resources," she said.

Cadieux noted that the report's first recommendation is for the ministry to improve oversight internally, and said that Turpel-Lafond's office plays an important role in the province's child welfare system.

"What I take from this report first and foremost that there's a lot of work that needs to be done in the ministry," she said.

The Children's Ministry has faced mounting criticism after the tragic life and death of a young aboriginal woman, the death a teen who fell from a hotel window, and the case of a woman known only as JP, whose estranged husband was allowed unsupervised visits, enabling him to molest their daughter in care.

Plecas was tasked in July to review the JP case, but legal proceedings, including a complaint to the information and privacy commissioner and an appeal of the original court case have delayed that portion of the report until next spring.

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