B.C. Child Welfare Advocates are Calling for Funding Reforms

A number of national newspapers published stories last week highlighting the holes in current funding for the B.C. child welfare system.

CBC News noted that advocates are stating the system has become \”dysfunctional\” and in many cases has led to the neglect of children with disabilities.  B.C. child welfare advocates argue fundamental changes are needed to improve access for children with special needs.

A report highlighting how the system failed a boy given the pseudonym \”Charlie\” was released earlier this week by B.C.\’s representative for children and youth. The report details how the boy experienced years of neglect, malnutrition and a lack of support for managing autism spectrum disorder. The saddest part of this was that nothing in the report was surprising and neither were the recommendations, according to the Executive Director of Autism Community Training (ACT), Deborah Pugh.

The Ministry of Children and Family Development became aware of \”Charlie\” in 2006 while he was living with his single mother who was struggling with substance abuse. Ten years on, in January 2016, the 12-year-old was found naked, filthy, unable to walk and weighing 66 pounds.

Pugh said situations like this case where families, particularly single parents who have high-needs children living in poverty, are not provided with robust support or active engagement are all too common. Often, she said, it\’s due to a lack of communication between social workers for children with special needs and child protection social workers. In the case of \”Charlie,\” no child protection social worker ever laid eyes on the boy, despite four separate child assessment reports by the ministry. This type of situation points to a larger flaw of the system, according to Pugh.

Children with special needs are often pushed under the umbrella of child protection services but, Pugh said, an engaged family that\’s desperate to help their special needs child is seen as less of a priority than a child that\’s in immediate danger.

The Globe & Mail highlighted that Jennifer Charlesworth said social workers failed to comply with basic standards when responding to reports. She found that between 2006 and 2016, a range of professionals including police, doctors, income assistance workers and school staff contacted the provincial Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) to report a child protection concern.

The report said social workers were told Charlie appeared malnourished, that there were concerns he wasn’t accessing adequate medical care, that he had stopped attending school and that his mother’s mental health appeared to be deteriorating. Katrine Conroy, the Minister of Children and Family Development, called the behaviour of the workers responsible for the case “inexcusable.”

Charlie was taken into provincial care on Jan. 20, 2016, after police came to his mother’s home. Officers found there were no adults present and he had been screaming for half an hour, according to the report.

Charlie is now thriving in specialized foster care and back in school, Ms. Charlesworth said. But Ms. Charlesworth said the situation goes beyond individual workers. She said the fact no social worker ever saw or met Charlie is representative of systemic pressure social workers are under to do superficial and speedy investigations.

She made several recommendations to the government, including that MCFD should “ensure social workers lay eyes on children and adhere to timelines during child protection responses” and “ensure identification and involvement of an Indigenous child’s family, community and culture is made at first point of contact.”

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, who left the position she’d held for a decade two years ago and now teaches law at the University of British Columbia, authored three reports dating back to 2011 raising concerns that children who were the subject of child protection complaints were never seen by ministry social workers. All three related to children with complex needs, and two were Indigenous.

Community Ventures Society full supports the recommendations and funding reforms addressed by Ms. Charlesworth. We hope that these recommendations are integrated into the system and we see an improvement in the near future.