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Budget boost expected for B.C. children's ministry

Tracy Sherlock, Postmedia Network

Minister of Children and Family Development Stephanie Cadieux. (Supplied Photo)

Minister of Children and Family Development Stephanie Cadieux. (Supplied Photo)

B.C. Finance Minister Mike de Jong confirmed Wednesday that a budget boost is in the works for the Ministry of Children and Families.

After a scathing report was delivered last week by the province's Child and Youth Representative Bernard Richard on the life and death of foster child Alex Gervais, de Jong said more money is needed so government can fund changes in the child welfare system recommended by both Grand Chief Ed John and retired civil servant Bob Plecas.

“The work by Mr. Plecas and the work by Grand Chief Ed John all spoke to some fairly significant recommendations for the need for additional resources, and we’re anxious to address that in the budget,” de Jong said.

Minister of Children and Family Development Stephanie Cadieux said last week when responding to the Gervais report that a “multi-year plan” for her ministry will come out after the Feb. 21 budget. She said it will “ensure that most kids stay home.” She also promised more respite care to try to keep families together.

John made 85 recommendations about Indigenous child welfare in his November 2016 report. Many of the recommendations were supportive of keeping families together and preventing children from being taken into care. Rather than making recommendations, Plecas called for a multi-year strategic plan to be implemented, including massive change and increased resources for the ministry.

The opposition NDP hammered the government over the Gervais report in the Legislature on Wednesday afternoon. Premier Christy Clark called his death a tragedy and said the government has an obligation to learn from it. Cadieux said she is committed to reducing government's use of contracted agencies, but said she isn't responsible for the day-to-day decisions made about children's care.

MLA Carole James said children in B.C. need a minister who does get involved in the day-to-day decisions.

"It is the government’s responsibility to be the parent for these children, and they have failed over and over again," James said.

Cadieux responded by saying there will always be more work to do in her ministry and that she is committed to doing that work.

James made reference to ministry audits of family care homes in B.C., which found many were not in compliance with basic child welfare standards such as criminal record checks for people living in the homes or monitoring of the child’s safety and well-being.

In the East Fraser Service Delivery Area, for example, an audit last summer found that none of the nearly 50 homes checked had the required in-person visits every 90 days by a resource worker to ensure the child’s safety and well-being. Also, none of the homes had completed a required annual review and just 20 of 48 homes selected for audit had properly completed criminal record checks for all residents older than 18.

Among John's recommendations on Indigenous child welfare were that more social workers be hired for aboriginal communities and to work with Metis people, that the ministry support interventions to prevent children from being taken into care, that more support be given to parents and families to keep them together, that Indigenous elders be trained about child welfare, that flexible payment options be available for some out-of-care options, that funding be available to create permanency plans for all Aboriginal children in care, that childcare staff be trained in Indigenous cultures, and many other recommendations.

Plecas's plan included a new management model, strengthened staff resources, restoration of programs, streamlined policy, moving practice toward evidence-based, structured delivery with fully implemented quality assurance, appropriate and effective oversight and appropriate financial resources. His plan called for $50 million in additional funding for this year, with more needed in the next three years.

— with file from Rob Shaw

tsherlock@postmedia.com