British Columbia

Child protection report on 'culture of blame' leads to accusations

A report calling for an end to the "culture of blame" surrounding the death of children in care has led to criticism and accusations of cynicism against the seasoned civil servant who wrote the document.

Author of B.C. ministry review called 'cynical' for suggesting children will continue to die in care

Minister of Children and Family Development Stephanie Cadieux welcomed Bob Plecas' report and asked him to help implement his recommendations. (CBC)

A report calling for an end to the "culture of blame" surrounding the death of children in care in B.C. has led to criticism and accusations of cynicism against the seasoned civil servant who wrote the document.

Former Ministry of Children and Family Development deputy minister Bob Plecas called for an overhaul and an injection of money for a ministry he says lacks leadership, accountability and funding.

But while those observations met with praise from the ministry's critics, Plecas was lambasted for suggesting that grilling from the media and B.C.'s representative for children and youth have resulted in "a culture of relentless accusation."

First Nations' leaders claimed Plecas was downplaying the extent of the issues facing aboriginal children who make up 60.6 per cent of the 7,200 children in the ministry's care.

'Significant and real change' required

"We take great offence at Mr. Plecas' cavalier observation that the deaths and serious injuries to children known to the MCFD 'occur rarely,'" the First Nations Leadership Council said in an open letter to B.C. Premier Christy Clark.

The council, comprised of political executives of the B.C. Assembly of First Nations, the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs and the First Nations Summit, says Plecas failed to consult with First Nations' leaders.

"What is certain is that significant and real change is required, as well as direct investments to First Nations' communities to support First Nations' children and families."

Plecas was tasked with reviewing ministry policy and direction following a damning B.C. Supreme Court judgment that found the province's child protection service abused its authority in a case involving physical and sexual abuse.

The family members can't be identified to protect the children, three of whom a B.C. Supreme Court justice determined were sexually abused by their father. (CBC)

The judgment detailed a series of ministry failures which allowed a father to molest his child while the toddler was in the ministry's care.

Plecas commended the front-line workers who deal with the 37,000 child protection reports generated in B.C. each year and went on to say they're about the only thing keeping the ministry together.

He described a bureaucracy where change is the only constant. Leaders come and go, and with each new administration comes new direction and policy. There's little training for social workers who perform work on par with that of police officers. Child protection workers themselves are underpaid. And the ministry is starved for funds.

'Nothing could be further from the truth'

Children and Family Development Minister Stephanie Cadieux thanked Plecas for his "thoughtful recommendations." She says she has asked him to stay on to help with the implementation of the report's recommendations.

But the report drew heavy fire for its focus on the woman legislatively mandated to act as the ministry's number one critic. As representative for children and youth, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond has written a series of reports highlighting failures in tragic cases of death and abuse.

Alex Gervais, Nick Lang, and Carly Fraser, all teens in care who took their lives. (CBC)

Plecas praises Turpel-Lafond's work on the one hand, but he also says the "sheer volume and constant nature" of her recommendations "have become part of the bigger management problem."

He details a plan that would see oversight taken on by the ministry itself.

In response, Turpel-Lafond applauded Plecas for recognizing many of the same issues she has been raising for years. But she says the ministry is not ready to forgo independent oversight.

"Nothing could be further from the truth," she said. "Independent oversight of B.C.'s child welfare system — provided for the past nine years by my office — remains a necessity"

Turpel-Lafond also called Plecas "cynical" for saying that despite the ministry's best efforts, "we will never be able to police every family and prevent abuse and, yes, even murder."

At a press conference of his own, Plecas said he has a great deal of respect for Turpel-Lafond's work, but was asked to review all the ministry's challenges, and those include the relationship with her office.

And while he says he is mindful of First Nations' concerns, he also says those should be dealt with in another report.

"The system is okay," he said. "It needs some change. It doesn't need some more reorganization and all that. It just needs some real good fine-tuning over time."