On September 23, 2013 Mary Ellen Turpel-Lalond presented two reports to the Select Standing Committee for Children and Youth:
1. Trauma, Turmoil and Tragedy: Understanding the Needs of Children and Youth at Risk of Suicide and Self- Harm, An Aggregate Review (November 2012);
2. Who Protected Him? How B.C.’s Child Welfare System Failed One of Its Most Vulnerable Children (February 2013).
Her reports highlighted the shameful status of children in care in British Columbia. Her update on the state of the system was shocking. The full transcript is available on Hansard.
The condition of Aboriginal children in Canada is a re-occurring theme in the reports. Aboriginal people make up only 8% of the population, yet 52% of the children and youth in care are Aboriginal. Turpel-Lafond reports that while the graduation rate of Aboriginal students has increased from 20%-40% in the past 15 years, it still pales in comparison to an 83% graduation rate in the non-Aboriginal population. She stated,
“We’re closing gaps, but not very rapidly. We’ve been stalled for many years. Absolutely, we’re very interested in root causes and outcomes. We’re also very interested in understanding what the policy framework is. Does government have a sound policy framework? Is it effective? Is it responsive?”
Turpel-Lafond calls on the system to fill the significant gaps and correct the failures, in the Ministry of Child and Family Development’s (MCFD) information and data management. She reported,
“I continue to have some concerns about the impact of the new ICM or case management system on child safety. In July 2012, I issued a rare public statement citing some concerns about public safety and safety to children as that system was being implemented. It commenced implementation in April 2012. Today, 14 months later, I’m still concerned that ICM continues to be plagued by a plethora of technical issues and that it’s an ineffective tool to provide safety to vulnerable children, youth and families in B.C.”
Despite the new $200 million ICM (case management system), the Ministry still cannot effectively track children in care. Turpel-Lafond told the committee,
“We made a recommendation a few years ago about tracking moves of kids in care. It was resoundingly rejected, saying: It can’t be done.” But we did, under the leadership of Deputy Minister Brown, revisit that, and I strongly encouraged, because of the themes in other reports, that they track moves.”
Turpel-Lafond calls on the MCFD to find a way to limit the number of moves of a child in care. She wants, “more stability, better planning, more effective response from the ministry.”
We need better quality care, of that there is no doubt. We are a long way from where we need to be, in fact, Turpel-Lafond says we are just beginning.
“Some provinces build the system, like Alberta; we dismantled ours, and we have left it dismantled. As a result, these children are in inappropriate placements — group homes, sole-source residences, motels — and, as I say, low-skilled workers, nice people — lumberjacks and Starbucks workers — engaging with the child. That doesn’t always work out well.”
The reports make it difficult to be optimistic about the system that protects our province’s most vulnerable citizens. But reports like these provide the opportunities for government to make the necessary changes.