Facing a public outcry because some children in government care are not being looked after properly, B.C. Premier Christy Clark has acknowledged more money may be needed to do the job.
In response to questions about the state of government funding for children in care, Ms. Clark suggested B.C.'s children's ministry was in turmoil until she became Premier in 2011, but that she has been working to get it "back to stability." She said she will look for guidance from recommendations in a report expected next week that she ordered after a scathing B.C. Supreme Court ruling on one case.
Ms. Clark's Liberal government has been under fire over the deaths of several children in care in the past few years, including one who had been placed in a hotel against government policy, and the services it provides to its young clients, some of whom have complex needs, and a disproportionate number of whom are aboriginal.
Ms. Clark discussed the issue on Wednesday in a sit-down interview after revelations in The Globe and Mail this week about an investigation into A Community Vision, a private contractor that housed youth in ministry care. The review found that the company employed caregivers facing criminal charges and one who kept a weapon in one of the homes, that caregivers were eating their charges' food, and that a youth was locked outside on a balcony as punishment.
A financial review of ACV by Ernst and Young that the province commissioned found a "high risk" that government funds meant for workers "may not be paid as intended" and that nearly 20 per cent of contract funds had been going to company administration rather than a budgeted 6.5 per cent.
According to public accounts, ACV received $3.5-million in government contracts in the most recent fiscal year.
Through his lawyer, ACV president Peter Finck has challenged the conclusions of the financial review and defended his hiring practices, saying ACV followed all ministry protocols when hiring caregivers.
Lawyer Bryan Baynham said the Ernst and Young report was not an audit and that an accountant that the company hired cautioned that the results should not be relied upon.
Ms. Clark said she expects any decision on more resources for the beleaguered ministry to be informed by the report expected next week. Bob Plecas, a veteran civil servant was named in July to review ministry practices after a court decision that found the ministry left four children with an abusive father while their desperate mother battled for custody.
"I'm going to wait to see what Bob Plecas tells us in his report, which will be coming out soon and we will respond to that with more resources if that is necessary, if that is what he calls for," Ms. Clark said.
"If he comes out and says, 'we need to devote more resources to it,' I'm going to be all ears to that," she added. "And it's not just a question of more resources, it's making sure those resources are deployed properly and effectively in the ministry."
If new money does appear, it will not come soon enough for labour unions, service providers and others who have cited a litany of problems in B.C.'s child care sector, including a shortage of specialized residential facilities, overburdened social workers and disorganized systems that make it easy for children to fall through the cracks.
Relatives of some of the deceased children have complained publicly about their dealings with the province, minister Stephanie Cadieux has had to fend off tough questions in the legislature, and reports this fall by the children's representative and a labour union described a system in which employees were overburdened while children were under-protected.
The problems have been detailed in several reports by B.C.'s independent child and youth representative Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, whose position was created in 2006 after a review of B.C.'s children and youth services by former judge Ted Hughes.
In Paige's Story, a report delivered in May, 2015, Ms. Turpel-Lafond chronicled the short, bleak life of an aboriginal girl who moved more than 50 times between Downtown Eastside homeless shelters, detox centres and single-room occupancy hotels before dying of a drug overdose in April, 2013, at the age of 19. In that report, Ms. Turpel-Lafond said "professional indifference" put Paige in harm's way and that "persistent inaction" from front-line workers contributed to her death.
Shortcomings also show up in the government's own reports.
A May, 2015, audit of family care homes for the Thompson Cariboo Shuswap Service Delivery Area – one of 13 such areas in the province – reported a zero-per-cent rating for "ongoing monitoring of child safety and well-being," one of 11 "critical measures" in a provincial ranking system. Family care homes operate under contract to the ministry.
Of 53 records rated "not achieved," 51 had documentation showing that the level of monitoring and contact did not meet the minimum requirement of home visits every 90 days, the report says. And two had no documentation of any home visits during the 36-month period leading up to the audit, "even though there were [a child or youth in care] placed in the home during that period of time."
Other critical measures had a higher ranking – the compliance rate for criminal records check, for example, was 65 per cent.
But the audit results reflect concerns around the ministry's oversight and services long voiced by Ms. Turpel-Lafond and others.
B.C. children's ministry had a $1.3-billion budget in 2014-2015. About 8,000 children are in care in the province, roughly half of whom are aboriginal.