Phase out independent child advocate: report

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond rejects suggestion an internal team and MLA oversight can replace her role

The B.C. government should immediately put an extra $50 million into the budget of the troubled Ministry of Children and Family Development, and wind down the independent watchdog that highlights the worst cases of young people who die in ministry care.

Those are among the recommendations of a review by former deputy minister Bob Plecas, released Monday. Plecas said the ministry needs a four-year strategic plan to build up resources, starting with hiring 120 additional child protection social workers in the first year and building from there.

Representative for Children and Youth Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond has issued a string of reports on child protection failures. One recent one looked at an aboriginal teen named Paige, who died of a drug overdose in Vancouver’s downtown east side after 30 child-protection reports and interventions with her alcoholic mother.

Another recent case was Alex Gervais, an 18-year-old who fell to his death in September from a fourth-floor hotel room where he had been housed by the ministry after his Abbotsford group home was shut down due to poor conditions.

Turpel-Lafond rejected Plecas’ suggestion that an internal “contrarian” and a ministry spokesperson similar to those employed by police forces would be trusted by the public to identify and report on issues in the ministry.

Plecas said privacy rules need to be changed so an all-party committee of MLAs can be briefed on child death and serious injury cases, allowing opposition MLAs to provide the oversight and criticism they bring to other ministries of the B.C. government.

Children and Family Development Minister Stephanie Cadieux said she can’t commit to specific financial measures until the provincial budget is presented in February, but she has the support of Premier Christy Clark and the cabinet to increase resources for the ministry.

Turpel-Lafond said accumulated cuts and freezes to the ministry budget leave it at least $100 million below what it needs to keep up with its caseload.

She also objected to Plecas’ statement in his report that no system will ever protect all children in government care from death, which he described as rare. There have been 90 deaths so far in the current fiscal year, Turpel-Lafond said.

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