British Columbia

B.C. Children's Ministry report reveals 'chaos,' NDP says

The provincial ministry mandated to protect more than 9,000 vulnerable children is in crisis and existing budgets are at their breaking point, a leaked internal report says.

The provincial ministry mandated to protect more than 9,000 vulnerable children is in crisis and existing budgets are at their breaking point, a leaked internal report says.

The Opposition New Democrats seized upon the September 2008 Ministry of Children and Family Development report, accusing the ministry of being in a state of chaos and blasting plans to cut 200 ministry jobs over the next three years.

"This report clearly points out that there's chaos in the ministry for children and families," said NDP Leader Carole James.

"Once again, at a time when for five years in a row British Columbia has had the highest child poverty rate [in Canada], at a time when we know there are more vulnerable children than ever, this government is providing less support to them — it's appalling."

The 16-page report, titled Child in Care Cost Driver Analysis, concluded that cost increases between 2005 and 2008 to resource-service contractors and foster parents have stretched the budget beyond capacity.

"A sustainable, healthy child welfare system is open and flexible, and able to meet the demands of its clients and caregivers," the report says.

The report says increased spending does not necessarily mean better outcomes in terms of services provided for children and youth care, adding the system needs an innovative approach to change.

Rising overall costs

The report says overall ministry costs and costs for individual children in government care are rising above the rate of inflation and beyond "the ministry's capacity to continue to fund within existing budgets."

In the report, ministry staff say their needs to help children are becoming more severe and concentrated.

The report outlined child-care cases that included nine-year-olds who require 24-hour, double staffing at residential facilities, five- and seven-year-olds who do not go to school and 13-year-olds dealing with drug addiction and pregnancy.

Children's Minister Tom Christensen said the report is one of many within his ministry.

The most recent budget estimates, tabled last week, indicate the ministry's budget will increase to $1.4 billion in 2011-12 from $1.38 billion in 2008-09.

Christensen said the government is facing pressures from increased costs for foster parents and contracted resource services, but it plans to hire more social workers despite overall job cuts.

"This, again, was work that was done internal to the ministry," he said. "It's exactly what we should be doing in identifying what some of the challenges are going ahead and makes a number of recommendations that the ministry is following through on."

James said the government chose to withhold the report from Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, the former Saskatchewan provincial court judge appointed by the government three years ago to advocate for the well-being of children in care.

Christensen said the ministry does not share every one of its reports with Turpel-Lafond.