B.C.'s deputy director of child welfare has acknowledged shortcomings in the way the province reported on an alleged sexual assault against a girl at an aboriginal healing centre.
But he disputes a suggestion from B.C.'s child watchdog that the ministry should have conducted a broader review of the circumstances of the alleged assault, saying no systemic issues were involved and the facility was already closed by the time the incident came to the ministry's attention.
"We looked at this one and it didn't fit any of the criteria [for a case review], and so we moved on," Alex Scheiber said on Tuesday. The ministry conducts case reviews to determine whether social work practices have resulted in harm or injury to children in care.
Mr. Scheiber was responding to a story in Friday's Globe and Mail that said a report on the alleged incident was mistakenly deleted from the ministry's system and raised questions about the ministry's investigation of the alleged assault.
He said ministry staff removed and subsequently replaced the report after noticing it was incomplete.
The report concerned the alleged assault in 2011 of a girl who was enrolled at the Stehiyaq Healing and Wellness Village near Chilliwack. A former part-time youth worker at the centre is scheduled to go on trial in Chilliwack in March on one charge of touching a person under the age of 16 for a sexual purpose and one charge of sexual assault.
Stehiyaq opened in April, 2010, backed with about $5-million in government support. According to the ministry, it closed Sept. 30, 2011, after admitting a total of 15 clients. The girl disclosed the alleged assault in November, 2011.
Mr. Scheiber acknowledged several lapses in the way incident was reported, beginning with an initial account filed by a delegated aboriginal agency that had placed the girl at the centre. Delegated aboriginal agencies are native groups that are authorized to provide some child-care services. That initial report, which was supposed to be filed within 24 hours, took about two months and did not arrive until January, Mr. Scheiber said.
After shortcomings were noted in it, the ministry took over and delivered a revised report in March, 2012.
"Out of all of this, that is one area I can say as deputy director I am not happy with," Mr. Scheiber said. "The timing of this report was nowhere close to our standards."
As a result of the delay, the name of the alleged assailant would likely not have been flagged in the ministry system until the revised report was filed, B.C.'s child and youth representative says.
"The concern when things get submitted and are deleted or taken off the system is that there may be an individual who poses harm to children who continues to work in the system," B.C. Representative for Children and Youth Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond said Tuesday.
"So not only are you not reporting properly on the incident that may have occurred, you are not flagging an individual who may pop up working somewhere else the next day," she added.
Ms. Turpel-Lafond, who was appointed in 2006 and has frequently criticized the ministry's reporting procedures, believes the ministry should have done a broader review of the alleged assault.
"The ministry is taking a position that the [healing centre] was closed and that it therefore had no duty to review what happened with provincial funds and children in care," she said. "While the centre may not be serving children and youth now, that does not take away from the fact that learning is required by the ministry."'
The recent Globe story said the ministry failed to launch a tripartite protocol investigation that would have involved the ministry, the health authority that licensed the facility and police. The ministry says such an investigation would not have been required because the healing centre was closed when it learned of the alleged assault. And the ministry maintains that a broader review, which Ms. Turpel-Lafond called for in the recent Globe story and referred to as a protocol investigation – would not have been required because that process applies only to foster homes.
B.C.'s Child, Family and Community Service Act provides broad latitude for reviews for purposes including "public accountability."
The ministry records about 1,200 reportable circumstances a year, with about 25 or 30 of those resulting in a case review.