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B.C. children's ministry not learning from its mistakes says former child advocate

07/29/2015 04:59 EDT | Updated 07/29/2016 05:59 EDT
B.C.'s first child advocate says systemic problems within the Ministry of Children and Families identified 20 years ago have still not been fixed.

The  ministry is under scrutiny once again after a B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled the province's child protection service abused its authority in a case involving a father molesting his child while the toddler was in the ministry's care.

Joyce Preston was the province's child, family and youth advocate from 1995 to 2001 and recalls the provincial government's reluctance to heed the advice from several reports, dating back to the 1995 Gove Report, which led to the creation of the Ministry of Children and Family Development.

"Tom Gove had just released his report, and then I did six annual reports, and we all identified significant systemic issues and they haven't been sufficiently acted on 20 years later, and that makes me sad," she said. 

Preston notes three key issues within the ministry.  

- A lack of adequate mental health services

- A lack of consistent foster home care for kids

- The demand on social workers, the system they work in, and a high staff turnover rate

Lack of training

Social workers within the ministry are not required to register with the B.C. College of Social Workers. The ministry says there are enough checks and balances within the government to ensure quality work.

But Preston says she has encountered a lack of adequate supervision in the ministry before. 

"I walked into the office and there was a new supervisor team leader and five of the six social workers were new."

Preston says social workers in the ministry have a lot of compassion and skills, but they need guidance because the work is so complex.

"You can't walk that road alone," she said.

Preston says training has been somewhat lacking in the ministry, despite it being one of the most critical aspects of the work. 

"There were so many systemic administrative and bureaucratic demands on the supervisors that it took away from their time to work with line social workers," she said.

Lack of data

Adrienne Montani, the provincial coordinator for First Call, a child and youth advocacy group says the ministry is inconsistent in how it measures performance.

She says this makes it virtually impossible to determine whether there have been improvements in how children are treated in government care.

"They'll track how many aboriginal children are served by aboriginal agencies and then it'll disappear as a measure. And I don't know why they don't have data around these things, because they should," she said. 

The lack of data also means it's unclear how much funding the ministry really needs.

Montani argues the government should allocate funding to the ministry on the basis of need. In other words, if the ministry takes in more children, it should be given the money it needs to deliver the appropriate level of care. 

To hear more, click on the audio labelled: B.C.'s first child advocate weighs in on systemic problems inside Ministry of Children

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