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British Columbia B.C. audits show child welfare services falling short of provincial standards

Alex Gervais died in September, 2015, after he was placed in a hotel by child-welfare workers. Dozens of family care homes in B.C. that provide services for children in government care were found last year to be in “zero” compliance with provincial standards for monitoring a child’s safety and well-being, government records show.

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Dozens of family care homes that provide services for children in government care were found last year to be in "zero" compliance with provincial standards for monitoring a child's safety and well-being, government records show.

Those findings – included in "service delivery area practice audits" conducted by B.C.'s Ministry for Children and Family Development – focus on foster homes run by individuals. They cover five regions and in three, significant deficiencies were found.

In the region that serves Abbotsford and Chilliwack, 23 of the 48 records reviewed by auditors lacked sufficient documentation to confirm that required visits took place, while the other 25 records "had no documentation of any ongoing monitoring or in-person visits to the caregiver's home."

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The audits offer a troubling view of the scale of the challenges in the way British Columbia looks after children in care. While the audits shine a light on foster homes, last week, children's watchdog Bernard Richard issued a report raising numerous concerns about kids in the care of contracted agencies. Mr. Richard highlighted a lack of supervision of children and youth in group homes and questionable screening of employees.

Provincial records show ministry-sanctioned foster homes are not problem-free and, in some instances, are falling far short of legislated standards.

In three regions, auditors found zero compliance with a standard for continuing monitoring of children in care.

That standard requires Ministry resource workers to have in-person contact with the caregiver and each child or youth in care every 90 days in the caregiver's home.

Nearly all of the records had some evidence of other monitoring activities, such as phone calls, e-mails, texts, caregiver reports about youth in care and reports on the home from community agencies, the audit said.

Ministry auditors also found zero compliance with that monitoring measure in the Kootenays and Northwest service delivery areas. (There are 13 service delivery areas in British Columbia, along with 23 Delegated Aboriginal Agencies.)

The audits, part of ongoing oversight at the Ministry, also found low compliance in other areas, including required criminal record checks for caregivers. Auditors found high compliance with some other standards; in the East Fraser region, for example, there was a 94 per cent compliance rate for "supportive practice" – which refers to providing services outlined in each child's care plan.

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The Ministry audits reflect the scores of policies and procedures that apply to child welfare in the province and how difficult it can be to put them into practice.

"Another challenge is the large caseloads of CYSN [Children and Youth with Special Needs] workers," said a 2016 Family Service audit for the East Fraser region.

"Understaffing has made it extremely difficult to shift from providing emergency responses for individual families to a more proactive, preventative approach to service delivery" the audit said.

"A shortage of residential resources (group homes) and level 3 foster homes was also cited as a major challenge for the [service delivery area]."

Indigenous leaders are demanding an overhaul of the system and more investment into the child-welfare system.

"We can have all kinds of reports, but if they [the government] don't act on them, they're useless," Babine Lake Nation chief Wilf Adam said on Friday, a day after Grand Chief Ed John had renewed his call for reform at a First Nations Summit meeting in Vancouver.

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"These recommendations have to be followed up on, it can't be just lip service," Mr. Adam added.

Mr. Adam is especially keen on recommendations to connect children with extended family, saying a young girl in his community was recently injured in a home where she'd been placed after being apprehended from her mother.

That placement occurred even though the little girl's grandmother was prepared to take her in, Mr. Adam said.

"She [the grandmother] would have been able to help," Mr. Adam said. "There has to be more effort to work with extended families instead of just pulling [children] out of the home."

Those frustrations echo some of the themes in Mr. Richard's investigation, which found the Ministry of Children and Family Development failed to follow up on opportunities to find Métis teen Alex Gervais a permanent home with family members and instead left him to drift through 17 care placements over 11 years.

Mr. Gervais died in September, 2015, after he leapt from the window of a hotel, where he'd been placed after the Ministry cancelled its contracts with the operator of his group home over safety concerns.

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Multiple reports have highlighted a lack of resources and leadership within the ministry, said NDP child welfare critic Melanie Mark.

"If the leader doesn't advocate and lobby for enough resources, training, give you direction as to which way you're going – people can't do their jobs," Ms. Mark said.

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