VANCOUVER - A British Columbia aboriginal agency charged with delivering child welfare services to First Nations youth is defending its work despite a damning report by the children's watchdog that it has received millions in funding, but has nothing to show for it.
The province hands out about $90 million each year to 23 delegated aboriginal agencies responsible for child welfare programs. But B.C.'s Children and Youth Representative Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond slammed the government this week for having a dismal record of accounting for how that money is spent.
According to the report, some agencies such as the Nanaimo-based Kw'umut Lelum Child and Family Services has received almost $8 million from the Ministry of Children and Family Development over the past five years. It has 71 cases opened as of March, mostly involving youth in foster care.
In contrast, the Denisiqi Services Society, based in the province's Central Interior, has received nearly $5 million in the same time period, but has yet to open a file to account for a child being served, the report said.
Leslie Stump, with the society's board of directors, said he "totally disagrees" with the report's findings that his organization has not provided services to children and youth.
"We get totally hands-on involved when it comes to people in our communities," he said in a phone interview on Thursday. "We're meeting with the families and children all at once instead of keeping them all separate."
Stump, however, did not provide further details about the type of direct services that the Denisiqi Services Society provides. Instead, he referred to the organization's website.
According to the website, the society was given authority by the provincial government last November to provide services such as early childhood education programs, family support and children and youth mental health services.
It also says the agency facilitates meetings between a child's family and community members so they can make plans on how to keep the child safe.
However, Turpel-Lafond's report points out that the Denisiqi Services Society has been receiving close to $1 million a year in funding from the Ministry of Children and Family Development years before the government made it a delegated agency.
Turpel-Lafond said she believes the ministry may have given some organizations money to "go away and think about what they might want to do about something that may or may not actually have anything to do with" the ministry's core business.
"So they've entered into some agreements with agencies that are not delegated yet, or some entities that may at some point do something. But I think the issue is: 'What is this process like?'" she said in an interview Thursday.
"In some of these instances, these delegation agreements have been under negotiation for five or six years, and no service is being provided, but there's a significant investment."
Turpel-Lafond said the seven communities covered by the Denisiqi Services Society, based in Williams Lake, have serious need for support due to youth suicides and mental health issues.
Her report also pointed out that neither the Denisiqi Services Society nor the Haida Child and Family Services Society, which has also received significant amounts of funding over the last few years, have any files opened in areas such as having children or youth in care or youth agreements.
No one at the Haida Child and Family Services Society was available for comment Thursday.
The Ministry of Children and Family Development declined to comment on whether an audit of the two organizations will take place. A ministry spokesman noted in an email that funding for the agencies is not always associated directly with how many files an agency has open.
The email said both agencies continue to receive funding, and that the Haida Child and Family Services Society provides programs such as family group conferencing, family case planning, family support work, and youth transition conferencing.
The Denisiqi Services Society provides similar services, as well as programs that engage children in care with "cultural activities and community introductions," the email said.
Turpel-Lafond's report released Wednesday also criticized the government for spending $66 million in the last dozen years on initiatives that have not resulted in better services for aboriginal children or their families.
Children and Family Development Minister Stephanie Cadieux has said she believes a lot of the planning and deliberations that took place over the past 12 years between the government and aboriginal authorities were well-intentioned, but the ministry has directed all contractors that future work will focus on delivering direct services.
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