Former judge Ted Hughes released his independent review of BC’s child protection system last week, condemning the Campbell government for taking budget cuts too far, affecting the province’s most vulnerable citizens.
The review was sparked after the 2002 death of a Nuu-chah-nulth infant in Port Alberni, and by the discovery of 539 unfinished child death reviews lost in a warehouse after the government scrapped the BC Children’s Commission.
BC Premier Gordon Campbell denied the problems within the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) were the result of budget cuts. “He was wrong,” said the 78-year old Hughes, noting MCFD faced a 12% budget cut in 2002/03, and areas such as support services and quality assurance were slashed by 55%. “Any organization has a finite capacity for managing change, particularly in a climate of budget restraint, and this ministry has been stretched far beyond its limits,” he said.
In his 172-page report, Hughes made 62 recommendations for improving child protection in British Columbia, many of which focusing on service delivery within First Nations’ communities.
“Mr. Hughes clearly recognizes that child welfare issues in First Nations communities stem from a history that includes residential schools, and federal-provincial jurisdictional conflict,” said NTC President Francis Frank. “His emphasis on meeting the commitments of the Kelowna Accord including health, economic and social needs is consistent with NTC priorities. Mr. Hughes noted that aboriginal children need protection at the same rate as other children in similar social and economic circumstances, and we agree that governance of First Nations Child Welfare must be worked out in close consultation with our First Nations communities, including those involved in the Treaty process,” he said.
The NTC welcomed the recommendation to create a new Representative for Children and Youth, and that senior staff in that office should include aboriginal people who are familiar with reserve communities. The NTC also welcomes support to change the federal funding formula for on-reserve services to be more flexible and supportive of measures that protect integrity of the family.
Although First Nations represent only 10% of the overall BC population, almost half of BC children in care are Aboriginal.
“We agree with the recommendations to provide more stability and adequate funding to BC services for children and families, and we expect that a fair share of the new resources will be directed to support First Nations agencies in the work they have to do,” said Frank. “We would like to see an active program to support recruitment and training of more aboriginal social workers, for aboriginal agencies as well as MCFD. We agree with the recommendation of providing resources to maintain a strong quality assurance function in aboriginal agencies. We welcome the recommendations for funding to support recruitment of more foster and adoptive parents, and we look forward to more resources to support the newer approaches to social work, including post majority transition services,” he said. “There is much to be done, and we are hopeful the recommendations will be implemented by Children and Families Development Minister Stan Hagen.”
“Together with my colleagues, I will spend the coming days looking in detail at Mr. Hughes’ recommendations and his plan,” Hagen responded. “We will move expeditiously, but carefully. He has set out a reasonable timeframe to act on his recommendations. Where we can act faster, we will,” he said in a press release. “His support of initiatives such as the Kelowna Accord and Aboriginal governance echoes this government’s firm commitment to improving quality of life for Aboriginal people and fostering a new relationship with their communities. We acknowledge Mr. Hughes’ comments about areas where the ministry has struggled, and agree that the ministry can do better. We will do better and we have the resources and dedicated people to follow through. We will work collaboratively with our partners: this means our Aboriginal partners, our community partners and our federal partners. This will not happen overnight, but it will happen.”
By David Wiwchar