A $180 million computer system operated by the B.C. government has been down for a week and the NDP opposition says that's putting vulnerable people at risk, including children in government care.
The Integrated Case Management System was meant to replace 64 different databases, linking information from two high profile ministries, children and family development, and social development, with social workers, police, service providers and other ministries.
It's been controversial since its launch two years ago, because of its cost, and widespread complaints it hasn't worked as well as advertised.
Now, the system has been down for a week, meaning for example no new online applications for social assistance and social workers aren’t able to access electronic files.
And NDP MLA Carole James says it also means if there's an emergency, such as a child in care needing help, social workers can't access files quickly.
James says it's unacceptable for the system to be down for so long and she blames the government for choosing the system, and continuing to support it.
"They should have cut their losses. They should have said this isn't the computer system for us, and put something in place that will work."
"Instead they have continued pouring money into the system. They've continued to frustrate staff who are overworked already, and most importantly clients and children at risk are not being served by this computer system."
Widespread problems reported
Social Development Minister Don McRae says staff are working to get the system operating as soon as possible, but he can't say when it will be fixed.
In an emergency, he says clients should go to a ministry office and staff will help, using pen and paper.
"If there is an urgent crisis by all means go into the offices.The staff are working hard.They are using that traditional paper and pencil method."
But front-line social workers say even that process is not working.
Rosemary Collins, an advocate at the Wilson Heights community church, says she is incredibly frustrated.
One of her clients, a single-mother who applied for welfare at the beginning of April, has yet to receive a cheque.
Collins says there is no word when she will get it, and she fears her application has been lost forever.
"I don't know if I have the words to describe how frustrated I am, because, I mean, the system doesn't work on a good day," said Collins.
At the Kettle Friendship Society, Kris Sutherland advocates for clients who are mentally ill. He says he has many clients with no money, wondering when they will receive their social assistance.
"I think all of us would be quite alarmed if our employer came to us and said, 'I'm sorry, you're not going to be able to get your paycheque this month," said Sutherland.
The advocates say there the government has failed vulnerable people twice, once by pushing for automation and integration over dealing with then face-to-face, and then again by choosing a computer system that been plagued with problems.
Last year, an independent consultant's report found major flaws with the system, including a lack of knowledge about its goals and insufficient resources for training.