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B.C. children's watchdog offers damning review of report findings

B.C. Representative for Children and Youth Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond pauses while speaking as B.C. Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham, back, listens after releasing a joint report about cyberbullying in Vancouver, B.C., on Friday, November 13, 2015.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
April 29, 2016 - 9:00 PM

VANCOUVER - British Columbia's representative for children and youth has released a scathing report in response to an independent review calling for major changes within the Children's Ministry.

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond criticized most of the methodology and conclusions by former B.C. bureaucrat Bob Plecas, saying he was supposed to examine a specific case involving abuse of children who'd been ordered removed from their mother's care.

Instead, Turpel-Lafond said in her review released Friday that Plecas's report calls for sweeping policy, program and legal reforms within the ministry without consultation with her office, aboriginal leaders, communities or any children in care.

She urged the ministry and the legislature to pause any implementation of the report until consultation can occur and to revise its terms of reference because the findings come before completion of the case he was originally hired to review.

The government has referred to the report as a "road map for a four-year, multi-faceted strategic plan."

The former bureaucrat was appointed last July to review ministry practices after a B.C. Supreme Court judge found social workers showed "reckless disregard'' by ignoring a court order and allowing a father unsupervised visits with his children.

That allegedly led to the abuse of one child, although the father is appealing that court decision.

Turpel-Lafond, who has been the independent children's watchdog for nine years, said she's also concerned about Plecas's assertion that independent oversight of B.C.'s child welfare system may, in a very short time, no longer be needed.

She took issue with Plecas's conclusion that deaths and serious injuries to children in government care "occur rarely." More than 2,000 children were critically injured between July 2007 and September 2015 and 814 kids have died, Turpel-Lafond said.

"It would be useful for the reader of your report to have that data, as a reasonable person may differ with your client's descriptor of rare," her report said.

She said the terms and references of Plecas's report, issued last December, did not include examining her role as the children's representative and that the Children's Ministry denied her access to material that he used.

"There are significant factual errors and omissions that the representative would like to see corrected as they pertain to the report's description of her office, before the report is disclosed any further," her lawyer wrote in a Dec. 11 letter the ministry about Plecas's interim report.

It said errors included Plecas's assertion that communication between Turpel-Lafond's office and the Children's Ministry had "broken down completely at times" and that "tension permeates everything that involves the two organizations."

Claudia Wilimovsky, who was a media spokeswoman for Plecas last December, said he was out of the country for up to 10 days and would not be available to comment.

In a Jan. 27 letter to Children's Minister Stephanie Cadieux, Turpel-Lafond said the relationship between the two offices has been "marked by a high degree of professionalism and collaboration."

She also asked Cadieux to issue a public statement saying she would decline to accept portions of Plecas's report concerning external oversight.

"I hope you can appreciate that targeting my leadership as representative and my office in such a high profile public report is unfair and extends beyond me personally to the staff of the Representative for Children and Youth."

Cadieux said she could not comment on Turpel-Lafond's report before reviewing it and providing "the consideration it deserves."

News from © The Canadian Press, 2016
The Canadian Press

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