There are few things a government can do that is more irresponsible than failing to heed dire warnings about threats to the children in its care.
And yet in British Columbia, such warnings have been repeatedly ignored, and a bad situation has been left to deteriorate further by a government that sometimes seems to be unaware there is even a problem.
How else to take the claim by Katrine Conroy, the B.C. Minister for Children and Families, that she had no idea her department had failed to vet the backgrounds and qualifications of the staff at almost half the contracted private agencies that house 800 highly vulnerable children.
“We need to do a better job,” Ms. Conroy said on Tuesday.
Agreed. Doing a better job might have prevented the province from having to close, for the third time in three years, a group home because of dangerous behaviour by staff.
The latest was shuttered in May after a resident came forward and reported that a staff member “was gang-affiliated, took youth on drug drops, had smoked marijuana with the youth and offered him cocaine,” according to Bernard Richard, the B.C. Representative for Children and Youth.
A subsequent investigation found that only 10 of 33 staff had been screened for criminal records. The government has since felt it necessary to ban nine of the staff from ever working in a group home again, according to Mr. Richard.
In the meantime, 18 children now have to start over in a new home, making a hard life just that much harder.
The B.C. government vowed to screen all group home staff in the wake of the 2015 suicide of a Métis teen who jumped to his death from the hotel room where the system had warehoused him alone, without proper supervision.
Mr. Richard’s 2017 report about the plight of Alex Gervais exposed a multitude of problems with staff vetting and training. NDP leader John Horgan, then in opposition, said the report laid bare a system “that just doesn’t care.”
Now Mr. Horgan is Premier, it’s a year later, nothing has changed, and he and Ms. Conroy need to show that they do, in fact, care about the children who most depend on them.
The way to do that is to ensure that every single staff person in every home is immediately screened, and to report back to the legislature with the results. Saying you care is one thing; having the courage to act is another.