“Children are entitled to be protected from abuse, neglect and harm or threat of harm.” (1)
This isn’t about privacy but it is about the children. And I want to help raise awareness about how they are being treated by the government.
There has been “a number of very tragic incidents in a relatively short period of time”; (2) – Alex Gervais (3), Nick Lang (4), Carly Fraser (5), Danny Francis (6), Paige Gauchier (7)(8), Alex Malamalatabua (9)(10), and Isabella Weins (11), and others (11) (12). You may have to go directly to the Times Colonist and Vancouver Sun’s websites to access their articles. Also, I encourage you to read Paige’s Story, a report by the Representative’s office about “abuse, indifference and a young life discarded”. (7)(8) “It is a startling example of a collective failure to act by multiple organizations and individuals who should have helped Paige” (7) and Ministry abused authority in case of B.C. father sexually abusing his children: judge, Eric Rankin and Tamara Baluja, 14 Jul 2015, CBC News (JP case – “This is the very first case in Canadian history where a mother has succeeded in holding a child protection agency liable for misfeasance in public office,” Hittrich said)
In the case of Alex Gervais, 23 youth homes, with 33 children, were abruptly closed down when the Representative’s office “brought these concerns to the ministry’s director of child welfare after receiving calls from some of the young people in care”. (3) “Part of the documents also included a review of caregiver concerns from 2008 to 2014 which revealed “several ongoing themes” with caregivers including the following allegations: Using substances, criminal offenses, inappropriate physical discipline, assault of a teen in care, viewing pornography, domestic violence between caregivers;” (3) And concerns about unsafe living conditions that included “improper issuing of medications, a caregiver carrying a weapon, and exposure to abusive language”. (16) (43)
“Turpel-Lafond said senior ministry staff told her directly that none of the 33 displaced youth from several group homes would be moved to hotels”. (2) (Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, was B.C. Representative for Children and Youth) Yet Alex Gervais was placed in a hotel with minimal supervision for 49 days, until his death. (13) The number of days Alex was in the hotel varied in reports from three to five months so it appears, initially, no one knew how long he had even been there. (2) This hotel placement was in contravention of Ministry policy. (14)
It also became apparent that B.C. Minister of Children and Family Development Stephanie Cadieux has little or no idea what goes on in the Ministry. “She said both she and the provincial director were under the impression that no youths were being housed in hotels when Gervais died.” (15) (bolding mine) “B.C.’s children’s minister has ordered an immediate review to determine whether there are more foster kids in hotels that senior officials don’t know about, one day after The Vancouver Sun reported a youth in foster care was living in a hotel and died when he fell out a window”. (16)
“In September, Cadieux told The Sun that 23 foster youth had been placed in hotels in the previous year”. (17)(43) “the ministry was wrong again. In fact, 117 kids — five times its original estimate — stayed in hotels between November 2014 and October 2015”. (18) “In fact, because some children were placed more than once in a hotel during this time frame, the total number of hotel stays was 131”. (18) “She had no explanation Wednesday when asked why the initial number was so inaccurate”. (19) “She later claimed it was because the information had not been properly tracked”. (20) “NDP leader John Horgan issued a statement that accused the provincial Liberals of purposely hiding the true number of vulnerable youth they stuck in hotels, until forced to reveal the truth by Turpel-Lafond”. (18) “According to the new report, the ministry’s ‘expectation’ is that care workers would provide constant supervision for a child during these hotel stays as well as provide opportunities to participate in recreational activities. (18) (bolding mine)
“The minister in particular and the senior ministry staff did not have a strong handle on what was going on with the residential placements of vulnerable youth in care.” (17) (29) “Representative Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond said it took time to have ‘difficult discussions’ with the ministry, but she is glad to be working together now to find solutions”. (17) “It required them to make a pretty frank admission that things were not operating appropriately,” she said in an interview. (17) So Turpel-Lafond and Cadieux prepared a joint special report. (21) Then, “Cadieux disagreed with one of its findings, that the use of hotels reflects ‘significant shortfalls’ in other available placements, including foster homes, emergency beds and group homes” (apparently she didn’t read the report before she signed off on it). (13) She said it was just a communications problem because beds are available. (13) Then she changed her message again and said “Our ultimate goal is to eliminate hotel placements entirely. Government can’t do that alone however and we need more people to step up, get trained and work with us to provide kids in care with the stable homes they so desperately need and deserve”. (22) So, apparently it isn’t a communications problem but a lack of foster parents problem. I suspect she has set-up a scapegoat (blame the people) in case the Ministry gets caught again placing children in hotels. You just can’t trust a politician.
Apparently, Manitoba worked over a two-year period to abolish the use of hotels for children in care by adding 55 emergency shelter beds and 114 emergency foster beds, or so they say. (19) I’m not aware this has been proven.
Cadieux said her responsibility is to set “’high level direction’ for the ministry” (as given to her by Premier Christy and her handful of people running the government – see Why I Don’t Vote – Part II), and to speak about anything that goes wrong (15), which I guess would be saying the scripted talking points she’s given. And, of course, going for photo-ops. “But as a minister of the Crown, she is responsible for everything her ministry does within its charter. By attempting to evade this longstanding principle, she makes a mockery of ministerial accountability”. (23) Can you imagine the CEO of a company saying “I had the directions written for the company to follow and I have no other responsibility as to the operation of the company. How long do you think she/he would be employed? Do you think parents can say they did their job by directing the writing of policies for their children to follow, but they are not responsible for whether their children follow those policies. The Premier/Minister can delegate but it is still the Premier/Minister’s responsibility to ensure that the delegates are doing their work appropriately.
Plecas report (24)
Cadieux hired Plecas, and his team, to do a review of the J.P. Case and offer recommendations. His review is a review of the system. Plecas refers to it as an “independent” review but it is not. When reading the report one has to keep in mind that Plecas’s career was in the government (see Plecas Review, Appendix 2), and he is an “insider” (25). Also, coincidentally (I think not), his daughter Bobbi Plecas was moved to the Office of the Premier on July 30, 2015 just before her father was hired in August 2015. (25)(26)
He provides, what appears to be, a good summary of the Ministry’s roller-coast ride due to continual changes in direction by Deputy Minister’s. The Representative said “I was pleased to see that Mr. Plecas’s document endorses recommendations that my Office has made continually in recent years – including those calling for more funding and adequate staffing for MCFD”. (27)
However, his toadiness or bias can be seen in some of his recommendations. For example:
“The Ministry for Children and Families said Tuesday that the review of Gervais’ death, conducted by the provincial director of child welfare, would be case-specific and not a look at systemic issues in the child welfare system”. (28) Plecas also recommended “that these cases be looked at as case-specific and not be applied universally”. (24) If they did a very narrow review would they have noticed (much less reported):
– that the problems at these group homes had been going on for 6 years (2008 to 2014) and no one in the ministry did anything (presumably children and case workers passed this information up the chain of command) until the children went to the Representative. (3)
– what effect did this have on the other children living in these unhealthy (physically and emotionally) group homes; this was not addressed in any of the articles.
– that 117 (133 with repeat stays) children were being warehoused in hotels, with minimal supervision, contrary to policy.
– would they have noticed the Minister and senior staff had so little awareness of what was happening in the Ministry
– and would they have noticed all the larger issues, including other “gaps” in the system that even BC premier Clark had to admit existed. (28)
Looking at the specifics of the case, and not seeing if it extends to the rest of the system, is just a way of covering up management failures. It also prevents any improvements.
Plecas says that no one should be laying blame until all the facts have come out. To a point I believe this is true. Cadieux “pointed the finger at ministry staff “(15) and Clark blamed the agency (30). But ultimately Clark and Cadieux are responsible for whatever happens in the Ministry.
Yet, Plecas wants to share victim’s (children’s) sensitive personal information with politicians so they can have a debate based on “facts”. This sounds like victim blaming. And, let’s face it, the politicians do not have constructive debates in the Legislature. They may have been given a briefing and questions to ask/answer. They are not allowed to stray from their talking points. In fact, the Legislature debate has become such a farce that even the politicians are reducing the number of days they “sit”. And, how would sharing Alex Gervais’ personal information have made a difference; it was not about his vulnerabilities but about multiple system failures. The Ministry takes in children because they are vulnerable. It is the Ministry’s job, not just to provide housing, but to provide the resources to heal these children’s vulnerabilities so they will leave the government care physically and mentally strong. If a child leaves the system vulnerable or dies due to vulnerabilities this is not the child’s fault; the Ministry failed because the child is still vulnerable.
I do agree that calling for the resignation of the minister (Cadieux) isn’t constructive. After all, one useless, putrid politician will simply be replaced with another useless, putrid politician and nothing will have changed for the better.
- Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond
Plecas wants to get rid of the Representative’s oversight function and he would like to do it next year (2017) when her current contract expires. I totally disagree with this. But I am not surprised that the government would want to get rid of her. I’m only surprised she has lasted as long as she has. As Plecas admits “she’s a thorn in their side and she’s suppose to be”. (24)(31) The politicians don’t like their “mistakes” brought to light regardless of the effect on the children. So, the problems with eliminating the Representative’s oversight function are:
- The politicians cannot be trusted
The politicians would much prefer to cover-up all critical injuries and deaths which show government mismanagement. For example, all the contradictory statements by Cadieux, plus her refusal to accept responsibility. Another example, “Agreements with Young Adults (AYA) a smokescreen that is not helping these vulnerable teens”.(32) Cadieux said the Ministry has “the fewest children in care in the past 19 years” (31) but the question is why. Is this because the children are not in danger or because the government is leaving children in family, or other, situations that are not safe? Are they “delegating” the children to other organizations so the politicians can claim the children are no longer in “government” care?
With regard to the group homes in the Alex Gervais case, the appalling situation went on for 6 years with nothing being done until the Representative stepped in.
Cadieux also said there were 110 more social workers this year (31) but the Representative stated “that over the same time period 91 social workers quit for various reasons, including burnout, leaving just 19 new workers”. (31) So, Cadieux was trying to mislead people.
The hospital reviewed the Malamalatabua case but won’t share the report with Turpel-Lafond, citing privacy laws, saying doctors won’t speak openly in the future if they think internal reviews are shared with her office. (10) Why? What are they hiding? Would they give this information to the police if the police were conducting an investigation? I think there needs to be discussion as to what can be shared and under what circumstances regarding the children’s injuries and deaths.
- Plecas assumes the quality assurance program and public information system will be implemented and successful.
I find it “odd” the Plecas would suggest that everything will be fixed, and the Representative’s oversight function redundant, possibly as soon as 2017 when he stated “but twenty years after its formation the Ministry continues to struggle, not equipped for this century, and in need of repair. There clearly remains a fair distance to go”.
- Plecas assumes the politicians won’t decide to change things shortly after the Representative loses the oversight function.
Yet, as Mr. Plecas pointed out in his report, the politicians have a penchant for changing direction on a dime.
- Does anyone really think the politicians won’t try to cover-up any wrong-doings or prevent any bad publicity?
Which means the children will suffer in silence.
- Lack of Enforcement of the Child, Family and Community Service Act (CFCS Act)
“In her report Lost in the Shadows, the Representative called for the Attorney General to review the reasons for a lack of enforcement of the CFCS Act in B.C., and take steps to promote compliance, if necessary. The Representative fails to understand what action was taken at the level of the Attorney General as there has been no direct follow up on this issue since that report was issued on Feb. 6, 2014”. (8) It again sounds like the Act is just words on paper to the politicians.
By having Turpel-Lafond, or someone of her calibre, with the current responsibilities, what could happen:
- If the Ministry is doing its job effectively, protecting the children, then the Representative won’t have any investigations and few recommendations.
- With less work, the Representative’s office could focus on other duties like advocacy.
- If the government starts screwing up again, the Representative would still have the mandate to do the appropriate investigation(s).
- The people can have some trust in the protection of the children in government care because of the oversight role of a Representative of the calibre of Turpel-Lafond.
- Turpel-Lafond not only exposes the mismanagement of the Ministry but provides recommendations to improve the system (help the children)
If you read any reports by the Representative’s office you will see the incredible, beneficial impact she has had on improving the care of the children but there is still lots to do. You may also want to read “Meet the Representative” on the Office Representative for Children and Youth website which explains why she is so good at her job.
Plecas wants, instead, a ministry spokesperson “to ensure the public is informed not only of the Ministry failures but also of its successes”. Do you really think the government is going to allow one of its toady’s to advertise its failures? If we had transparency all the time a spokesperson wouldn’t be necessary because the people would know what the ministry has been doing and the pros/cons. This sounds like it would just be a propaganda exercise by the government. And this would presumably “shield” the Minister and provide her/him with one less thing to do.
Al Hoolaeff, Alex Gervais’s former primary caregiver at an Abbotsford group home, “said he’d prefer for Turpel-Lafond’s office to operate at further remove from the government — more like the Independent Investigations Office of B.C., which probes incidents involving police that lead to death or injury”. (34) “It’s important that these things are investigated immediately and that any of the ministry files need to be seized immediately — just like if it was a police investigation — where they can’t be tampered with, can’t be edited,” Hoolaeff said. (34)
Plecas wants new appointees to the Representative’s position to serve only one term of six years. If they are doing a good job, or an incredible job like Turpel-Lafond, why would you replace them? A new person would have to learn the job, learn the issues, and probably won’t see if their recommendations are implemented. This constant turnover of personnel is part of the problem as Plecas himself pointed out in the history of the Ministry. But perhaps if the Representative’s are good little toadies they can get another job in government after six years.
Turpel-Lafond is asking for an increase of $20 million per year. “Earlier in the day, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, the representative for children and youth, urged the minister to spend $20 million more annually to hire 250 more staff, 200 of them social workers. She made the comments after releasing a report that said some B.C. child welfare offices are perilously understaffed, leading to a consistent failure to meet the provincial government’s own timelines and rules for child protection”. (35)(33) Two editorials by the Times Colonist explain why this is needed (13, 31), plus a CBC News article (35), and Paige’s story (8); for example, front-line workers are grossly over-burdened (33) and children are being left at risk. (33) (7) “I find it particularly concerning that, over the past four years, the proportion of MCFD’s budget that is dedicated to child protection has actually decreased in real terms, leaving alone the impacts of inflation”. (24) “When government steps in to act as a child’s guardian and protector, it also takes on a financial burden associated with its decision”. (24) Plus “NDP critic Doug Donaldson said the report shows, though, that the ministry under-spends its child protection budget by millions every year”. (33) Presumably, this “savings” goes back to the politicians for other uses.
The politicians can “afford” large subsidies to the LNG companies (36), Christy’s $500,000 private jets (not including other forms of transportation such as commercial flights)(37), and hiring Christy’s “inconvenience”, Ben Stewart, to go for a prolonged stay to Asia (see Why I Don’t Vote – 4c), all on the backs of the children. The politicians could take some of that money for the children, AND/OR, they could take the $100 million Christy transferred into the prosperity fund (which is not linked to LNG revenues) and use it for the next five+ years for the children. After all, finance minister Mike De Jong said, about transferring money into the prosperity fund, “The fact that we would take a small amount of the chequing account and transfer it into a small savings account to look ahead is a natural thing for us to do”. (38) Well, lets look ahead and transfer it to the children. After all, it’s just a small amount. But, conning the people into believing LNG money has gone into the prosperity fund, for the benefit of Christy’s next election campaign, is more important than the children.
The issue is not about having the money but how it is allocated. But then, the children don’t vote, they don’t contribute to the political party fund, they don’t give out brown bags of money and they can’t hire out-of-work politicians. The children have no value – to the politicians.
And just giving money isn’t enough. Hiring more front-line social workers isn’t enough. You have to have systems in place to show that the money is being used effectively and efficiently. For example, in a 2013 report, the Representative “said the province provides about $90-million a year to 23 delegated aboriginal agencies but that there has been no comprehensive assessment of how they are performing and whether they are improving outcomes”. (9) I am also curious as to why 23 group homes were closed which affected 33 children. Was there on average of 1.5 children per group home?
Unlike LNG, money spent on the children has a known, direct return. Studies, reports and just common sense tells us that children, most or all, that are returned to health, physically and mentally, go on to lead healthy, productive and, I suggest, mostly happy lives. They contribute to society in a variety of ways and reduce costs in hospital, welfare, shelters, police, courts and other services. (32) And, in many cases, these healthy children, as reported by the Representative, will raise healthy children breaking an intergenerational cycle of trauma. (8) The returns on healthy children just keep happening, year after year, generation after generation.
Plus, the Representative says her office “needs an extra $656,000 to handle the increasing number of investigations into child injuries and deaths”. (31) “The need to do more detailed probes, she said, is the result of an ‘astronomical’ rise in the numbers of deaths and critical injuries reported to her office. She received 82 such reports this September, compared to just 28 during the same month in 2014”. (10) “The main reason for this increase was that her office re-defined what constitutes the critical injury of a child, prompting government social workers to report more cases”. (10) I’m sure this was necessary or the politicians would not have allowed the change in definition. “In addition, she’s asking for $958,000 a year to boost advocacy on behalf of children and youth seeking a permanent home”. (31) However, her budget has been frozen at $8.18 million for four years”. (34)(10) The safety and well-being of children are the paramount considerations and these are not, relatively speaking, large sums of money. After all, if $100 million is a small amount, then $1.6 million is miniscule. (38)
Some people are suggesting that foster care may be the new residential schools. (39) This refers to the seizure and treatment of aboriginal children. However, what should not be ignored is this also includes the treatment of all children (aboriginal and non-aboriginal children). Some children have, relatively speaking, positive experiences in foster care (as I have read, some did in residential schools); by that I mean they were not beaten/starved/ molested/emotionally abused, etc. while in residential school/foster care. But many others cannot say the same. And, can you imagine saying to your child (and the government is the parent of the children in foster care), happy 19th birthday, as you hand them garbage bags containing their belongings, and show them the door (the permanently closed door). (8)
If foster care is the modern day version of residential schools then, at least, we know where to start laying the blame, the self-serving politicians – BC Premier Christy Clark, BC Minister Stephanie Cadieux, Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger (40), Minister Kerri Irvin-Ross (see Why I Don’t Vote – Part II) and those who came before them. I think of these people as the monsters because they abuse and kill children through their indifference, their greed, and their narcissism.
The Union of BC Indian Chiefs (41) and The BC Federation of Teachers (42) are speaking up and demanding better care of the children. I can only hope the rest of the people of B.C. stand up for the children (and other provinces/territories), and, at the very least, demand more money for necessary resources, demand a better system that cares for them, demand that the Representative’s office retain its current mandate and the position of Representative be held by Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond or someone of her calibre (not some government toady). “Health’s budget is protected because both of BC’s political parties know this is essential for electoral success”.(24); people need to make sure that the children’s budget is protected and not decreased in real terms, unless it can be honestly justified. These are CHILDREN.
- When Foster Care Hurts – Pieta Wooley, 5 Jul 2013, TheTyee.ca
- Teen in B.C. provincial care dies in fall from hotel window – 23 Sep 2015, CBC News
- B.C. youth care home investigation finds unsafe conditions – Enza Uda, 08 Dec 2015, CBC News
- Nick Lang’s grieving parents say B.C. ministry worker ‘didn’t care’ about meth-addicted teenager – Natalie Clancy, 13 Oct 2015, CBC News
- Mother denied details about daughter’s case – Les Leyne, 11 Nov 2015, Times Colonist
- Danny Francis takes own life while in ministry care, friend says – Natalie Clancy, 03 Dec 2015, CBC News
- Rcy news release pg final.pdf – Paige’s Story Prompts Representative To Call For New Approach To Helping Vulnerable Aboriginal Girls – 14 May 2014, B.C. Representative For Children And Youth (News Release), BC Representative For Children and Youth website.
- Rcy-pg-report-final.pdf – Paige’s Story – Abuse, Indifference And A Young Life Discarded, May 2015, B.C. Representative For Children and Youth (see website)
- Young man dies while in care of B.C. aboriginal agency – Wendy Stueck, 03 Dec 2013, The Globe and Mail
- Children’s advocate wants more money to investigate youth deaths, Lori Culbert and Rob Shaw, 20 Nov 2015, Vancouver Sun (a paper I wouldn’t buy)
- Mother sues B.C. Ministry of Children after baby dies in foster care – Chantelle Bellerichard, 24 Mar 2015, CBC News
- Near Daily, a Child Dies or Is Hurt in Care of Province – Pieta Wooley, 11 Mar 2013, TheTyee.ca
- Editorial: Child ministry needs overhaul – 22 Jan 2016, Times Colonist
- Stephanie Cadieux says answers coming in death of Danny Francis, other teens – 04 Dec 2015, CBC News
- Teen’s death leaves Minister Stephanie Cadieux ‘angry’ policy ignored – 24 Sep 2015, CBC News
- B.C. children’s minister orders urgent review to see if other kids in care are stuck in hotels – Rob Shaw and Lori Culbert, 23 Sep 2015, Vancouver Sun
- B.C. government agencies to review foster children in hotels – Lori Culbert, 10 Nov 2015, Vancouver Sun
- New report shows 117 B.C. foster children were placed in hotels – Lori Culbert, 13 Jan 2016, Vancouver Sun (a paper I wouldn’t buy)
- 117 vulnerable youth placed in hotels, ministry says – Lindsay Kines, 13 Jan 2016, Times Colonist
- B.C. commits to public reports on teens placed in hotels after joint review – The Canadian Press, 13 Jan 2016, Times Colonist
- The Placement of Children and Youth in Care in Hotels in British Columbia – A Joint Special Report, Representative For Children And Youth, Ministry of Children and Family Development, January 2016
- News Release – Joint report results in action plan to reduce hotel stays as placements – 13 Jan 2016, Ministry of Children and Family Development, Representative for Children and Youth
- Editorial: Minister must be responsible – 05 Oct 2015, Times Colonist [please note, paragraph 5, I believe there was an entry error and “Cadieux’ death” should be “Gervais’ death”]
- Plecas Review, Part One: Decision Time – A review of policy, practice and legislation of child welfare in BC in relation to a judicial decision in the J.P. Case – Bob Plecas, 04 Dec 2015 (you can do an internet search or go to the Ministry of Children and Development/Ministry Reporting/Plecas Review which was on the right hand side, or go to the website and do a search)
- Bob Plecas is a Friend of Mine – Vaughn Palmer (updated) Bcveritas.com/index.php/2015/07 (a blog by Vaughn Palmer)
- B.C. cabinet shuffle puts Fassbender in Victoria amalgamation talks – 30 Jul 2015, Times Colonist
- representative statement-dec 14.pdf – 14 Dec 2015, B.C. Representative For Children and Youth (see website)
- Aboriginal agency wants broader scope for review of B.C. teen’s death – Lori Culbert and Rob Shaw, 01 Oct 2015, Vancouver Sun
- Dozens of foster children lodged in hotels over year – Vancouver Sun, 26 Sep 2015, Times Colonist
- Death of Alex Gervais sign ministry needs to reorganize, says critic – 29 Sep 2015, CBC News
- Editorial: Work together for the children – 21 Nov 2015, Times Colonist
- B.C. minister, representative disagree on ‘aging out’ fixes – Tracy Sherlock and Lori Culbert, 01 Jan 2016, Vancouver Sun
- Two few social workers, too many at-risk kids – Lori Culbert and Rob Shaw, 09 Oct 2015, Vancouver Sun (a paper I wouldn’t buy)
- Child welfare report leaves former caregiver with little hope – Bethany Lindsay, 15 Dec 2015, Vancouver Sun
- B.C. child protection service unsafe and in crisis: report – 08 Oct 2015, CBC News
- Three Wacky Accounting Numbers for LNG and Shale Gas – Andrew Nikiforuk, 29 Feb 2016, TheTyee.ca
- Air Christy Climbs to Half Million Dollar Mark – Bob Mackin, 25 Feb 2016, TheTyee.ca
- B.C. LNG prosperity fund to get $100 million, but not from LNG – 15 Feb 2016, CBC News
- Aboriginal Children and Child Welfare Policies – Stephanie Laskowski, 07 Jul 2014, LawNow Magazine
- Lack of foster spots keep Manitoba kids in jail, watchdog says – Chinta Puxley, 14 Apr 2015, The Globe and Mail
- Open Letter: Plecas Review Must be Withdrawn and RCY Recommendations Fully Implemented – Union of BC Indian Chiefs, 17 Dec 2015, First Nations Drum
- BCTF calls for children’s minister to resign after latest teen death – Tracy Sherlock, 16 Mar 2016, Vancouver Sun
- Drug use, caregivers with criminal histories in B.C. youth group homes, report alleges – Bethany Lindsay, 08 Dec 2015, Vancouver Sun (a paper I wouldn’t buy)