A Fraser Valley tribal council plans to drop out of a provincial group set up to deliver services to aboriginal children, citing a recent report by B.C.'s child-protection watchdog that found dire shortcomings in how the group was operating.
"We are withdrawing our support for the Wellness Council," Grand Chief Doug Kelly, president of the Sto:lo Tribal Council, said on Monday. "We don't believe this provincial organization has been able to do the work that we need it to do. It's long past its expiry date – it's time for that council to wind down and it's time for the regions to do the work they need to do."
Mr. Kelly said he planned to share the council's decision at the sixth annual Indigenous Child at the Centre Conference, scheduled to be held in Richmond later this week. If other groups join the Sto:lo in voicing a lack of confidence in the council, it could increase pressure on the province to overhaul a system widely seen to be in disarray.
The Sto:lo Tribal Council's decision follows a blistering report by Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, B.C.'s Representative for Children and Youth, that concluded the province has spent $66-million over the past 12 years on discussions and projects for aboriginal children without helping a single child.
Those projects included the First Nations Child and Family Wellness Council, often referred to simply as the Wellness Council, that was set up in 2009 and was part of a "nation-to-nation" approach that included transferring authority for aboriginal child services from the province to individual First Nation communities.
The problem with that approach, according to Ms. Turpel-Lafond's report, was that there was no comprehensive policy, "just a series of ad hoc contracts."
The Wellness Council was a successor to an earlier, regional approach that also lacked clear goals and measurable outcomes, her report said.
Ms. Turpel-Lafond's report also skewered the province's decision to hand over some child-welfare responsibilities to delegated aboriginal authorities, or DAAs. It said the agencies often operate without enough qualified staff and without being required to provide measurable outcomes, such as how many children are attending school. Of 23 such agencies in the province, only one meets a federal policy that says there must be at least 1,000 children for a service agency to be formed.
Some of those agencies have received funds without having a single file on their caseloads, Ms. Turpel-Lafond says in her report.
Asked whether that raises questions about funds being misspent or misappropriated and whether investigative audits are required, Ms. Turpel-Lafond said the government distributed funds with few or no strings attached.
"The government gave them [delegated agencies] the money without any expectation that a child would receive the service," Ms. Turpel-Lafond said on Monday. "You can't really hold them to account when the government basically gave them money to talk without expecting any actual services to kids."
Provincial minister of social development Stephanie Cadieux has defended the agencies' work, saying it is not always necessary to have a case file to provide services such as family support or early childhood development services.
The ministry says it is also engaged in an "outcome development process" with delegated aboriginal agencies to set benchmarks for measurement.
Chief Kelly says aboriginal child care in B.C. could benefit from the approach used in setting up a First Nations Health Authority. That effort involved First Nations working with agencies that were already providing health services, like regional health authorities, instead of setting up bodies that might overlap or even be in conflict.
"It's bottom up, instead of top down," he said.