VICTORIA - The British Columbia government needs to stop wasting millions of dollars on ill-conceived initiatives and start taking direct action to help aboriginal children and youth, the province's children's watchdog said Wednesday.
In a scathing 92-page report that includes detailed tables of expenditures, B.C.'s Representative for Children and Youth Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond said the Ministry of Children and Family Development has spent roughly $66 million in the last dozen years on "big, blue sky initiatives." However, there is no evidence that a single aboriginal child or family has received better service as a result.
"So what was that money spent on? A lot of talk, planning, meetings, consultants, a lot of deliberation mostly without MCFD or service providers in the room, all of which combined to result in not much of anything concrete in terms of services," Turpel-Lafond told reporters Wednesday.
The report, "When Talk Trumped Service," says between 2002 and 2009, nearly $35 million was spent on the Regional Aboriginal Authorities, an initiative to transfer the responsibility of child welfare services to the community level. However, Turpel-Lafond said the money was spent on hiring consultants, planning and facilitating meetings, and producing "materials of questionable practical value."
The ministry then spent another $31 million on what is now known as Indigenous Approaches, said Turpel-Lafond, which was meant to transfer authority over child welfare services to individual First Nations communities by providing funding for various projects.
"This initiative could in fact more accurately be described as a series of ad-hoc contracts, marked by a lack of overarching policy and direction, initially limited financial controls and poor overall accountability," she said.
The ministry also provides another $90 million annually to 23 delegated aboriginal agencies, authorities that are delegated by the ministry to deliver child welfare services to First Nations families, said the report.
But Turpel-Lafond said there has been no accurate accounting of where the money is going, there is confusion among the agencies on what their roles are, and there is inconsistency in the delivery of services.
"Some of (the agencies) have become involved in governance discussions, and others have had years of operation and have never opened a file and are not likely to open a file, yet have received significant, significant money from the public purse," she said.
For example, according to the report, some agencies such as the Denisiqi Services Society and the Haida Child and Family Services Society have received millions of dollars in funding over the last three years, but neither of them have a file opened as of March.
A spokesman for each of the agencies could not be reached for comment.
In general, Turpel-Lafond alleges ministry staff were well aware that millions of dollars were being wasted on endless discussions, and that staff had opportunities to fix the situation, yet they did nothing. They also failed to engage the federal government on the needs of First Nations children.
The results of the ministry's incompetence meant all children and youth who receive actual service have had to pay the price, Turpel-Lafond said.
Children and Family Development Minister Stephanie Cadieux said on Wednesday that staff had worked to give First Nations communities a bigger say on child welfare services, but she understands resources need to be used more effectively. The ministry has already told all Indigenous Approach contractors that all future work must focus on service delivery, she said.
"That work over the last 10 years has been well-intentioned and much of it good work," she said. "But I agree with the representative that in doing so, my ministry strayed from our mandate of providing direct services to children and youth, and we want to realign and make sure we're doing direct services."
Carole James, the NDP's family development critic, said it is time the government be accountable for taxpayers' dollars and show that the money spent has led to tangible outcomes.
"Anyone who has worked in the field...who knows the appalling results of aboriginal children — whether it's graduation, whether it's mental health, whether it's lack of supports on reserve and off reserve — knows that the dollars are scarce and needed, and they weren't, and I think that's appalling," she said.
Turpel-Lafond said aboriginal youth are the fastest growing population of young people in B.C., and they are six times more likely to be involved in the child welfare system than other youths.
Her report makes five recommendations, including making the Attorney General responsible for transferring service delivery from the provincial government to aboriginal contracted agencies so the Ministry of Children and Family Development can focus on delivering basic services and "end the dream of having someone else to do the job for them."
"We have no effective residential services in British Columbia for children and youth, there is no therapeutic foster care, we do not have a system of child and youth mental health for aboriginal children, we do not have a system of supports for children with special needs," said Turpel-Lafond.
"The resources went into talking, they did not go into service."
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