A damning new report by B.C. Children's Representative Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, says that child protection services in British Columbia are in crisis, and that immediate action is needed to address what is an "unsafe situation."

In her review released Thursday, Turpel-Lafond outlines a litany of issues, including underfunding, chronic understaffing, standards routinely not met, and urgent child safety concerns not dealt with in a timely manner.

Presenting the report Thursday morning, Turpel-Lafond said that not one social worker interviewed felt they could meet the demands of their job.

She said that 250 more staff need to be hired for the system to become functional, at a "reasonable and modest" cost to the province of $20 million — six percent of its current surplus.

Turpel-Lafond linked an increase of child suicides directly to the lack of social workers, saying  that "very bad things happen" when no follow up is done with children.

In response, Stephanie Cadieux, the minister for child and family development, said that the numbers quoted in the representative's report are outdated, and that the concerns raised are already being addressed.

She told reporters that the report highlights the complex work being done at the ministry, and that each time the representative does report back, the government tries to acknowledge the recommendations.

She said she is confident that the ministry is reaching a point where all staff feel like they can accomplish their job.

Cadieux also said that she is less concerned about extending foster care, and more concerned about changing outcomes for children.

Alarming

The report comes just weeks after the death of Alex Gervais, a teen under government care, living alone in a motel.

"The results of the review are alarming," the executive summary of the report "The Thin Front Line" states. 

Alex Gervais

Alex Gervais died after he jumped from the open window of a hotel in Abbotsford. (Dylan Pelley/Facebook)

"The problems are systemic and have accumulated over time, worsening and not improving. While the demands and complexities of child protection work have increased, there are fewer front-line workers in B.C. now than in 2002."

Understaffing, including a lack of backfill for illness or vacations, mean heavy workloads for social workers which have led to reporting standards not being met as a matter of routine, the report finds.

Situation 'unsafe'

The report questions the Ministry of Children and Family Development's own assessment that staff are "unable to consistently complete necessary child welfare functions," but notes that the ministry also concludes that there is "no indication that children are at risk."

Turpel-Lafond calls this "an irreconcilable inconsistency," noting that timelines and standards are not optional, but are legislative requirements.

The report points to continued cuts to, and underfunding of, the ministry's budget making it impossible for social workers to do their jobs effectively, added to an increased level of bureaucracy due to several  computer system changes that eat up time front line workers should be spending creating relationships with clients.

"Any real improvement in MCFD's ability to provide robust child protection services depends on government's commitment to listening to the voices of these workers, and the findings in this report, and acting immediately to address this unsafe situation," the report concludes.

Read the full report

With files from Richard Zussman