Provincial child advocate Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond has called for a sweeping overhaul of B.C.'s residential care program for children, saying the current system puts children at risk of abuse from unsuitable caregivers and of being placed in unsuitable accommodation, including hotels.
Her report, an aggregate review of 31 cases reported to her office between December, 2010, and December, 2011, concluded the provincial residential system was "fractured," with some children living in foster homes in which a foster parent does not reside, agencies that run multiple homes, and foster parents who hire staff to look after children.
The system is particularly unsuitable for the most vulnerable children, including those with complex medical, psychological and developmental needs, Ms. Turpel-Lafond said.
"B.C.'s residential care system is not providing appropriate, supportive and culturally competent care for young people with complex needs," Ms. Turpel-Lafond said on Wednesday in a conference call.
"It is a matter of law and policy in B.C. that children be raised in a family environment, with loving and appropriate supports to meet their development – and unfortunately, that system fell short in every case that we examined."
Even before Ms. Turpel-Lafond finished that conference call about the report, Children and Family Development Minister Stephanie Cadieux challenged some of its conclusions, saying that while otherwise thorough, it "does not reflect my ministry's most recent and ongoing work in this area."
"The representative is aware – given the numerous updates and interactions our offices have had on each and every case outlined in the report – of the detail and scope of our work to address the report's key themes," Ms. Cadieux said on Wednesday in a statement.
Ms. Cadieux then cited several examples, including a pilot program in which experienced foster parents provide support to a network of foster homes and a new six-bed facility at the Maples Adolescent Treatment Centre in Burnaby.
Ms. Turpel-Lafond, however, said those initiatives do not go far enough and that the province has failed to fix problems she identified in a report last year.
Her report includes three recommendations for the province: stop putting children with complex needs in group homes and inappropriate residential placements; set up an oversight body to create a "continuum" of residential services; and audit contractors who provide residential care services.
As part of the first recommendation, Ms. Turpel-Lafond recommended a new class of foster and shared care that would allow family members to share guardianship with the ministry so that, for example, grandparents could get help caring for a child who could not live with his or her parents.
Ms. Turpel-Lafond also said the province should report publicly whenever a child is placed in a hotel as a substitute for appropriate care.
In response to an inquiry from The Globe and Mail in October, the province said it did not track hotel stays because they were "statistically insignificant."
Of the 31 cases in the review – including two deaths and 31 injuries – four involved children who stayed in hotels or motels, one for five weeks, because no foster homes or group homes were available.
About 9,000 children in B.C. are in provincial care.
Ms. Turpel-Lafond, who was appointed in 2006, has written several reports citing shortcomings in the province's approach to child welfare, including one in 2013 that concluded B.C. had spent about $66-million over the preceding dozen years on aboriginal child welfare initiatives without significant improvements.