The Federation’s response to the 2017 BC Budget

Part one: New investments could mean improvements for kids in care.

On Tuesday, BC’s Finance Minister released the provincial budget and pledged an additional $796 million over three years to support families, individuals, and children in need. We have been told that this investment includes a much-needed increase to services and supports for young people in care.

As I mentioned in our press releases after the budget lockup, an increase for the Ministry serving BC’s most vulnerable children and families is always welcome and perhaps a sign of the government’s commitment to do much better when it comes to kids in care.

The budget includes new money for childcare, services for children with special needs and mental health challenges. I am also hopeful that these new investments will allow further implementation of the recommendations in the Residential Review Report.

As many of you know, that report contains 32 recommendations for improving BC’s child welfare systems. It captures three years worth of consultations with social workers, community social service workers, foster parents, and children themselves.

BC’s new Representative for Children and Youth, Bernard Richard, recently noted that if more of those recommendations been implemented, young people like Alex Gervais may still be alive today. Thanks to Mr. Richard’s statements and our ongoing efforts, the report has been getting significant attention of late and this seems to have motivated the government into action.

Because in spite of what the MCFD Minister may have claimed in the legislature last week (that most of the work has already been done), the recommendations from the Residential Review Report have only been partially implemented. This is because the funds to make the required changes were never made available to MCFD.

But now it seems at least some of those funds are available. As such, we are looking forward to working with the government to make further and more substantial progress on the shared goals laid out in that report. The children of BC have waited long enough.

Part two: A strong, united voice

Earlier this week we also penned a joint statement with Aspect BC, Inclusion BC, the Canadian Mental Health Association, Disability Alliance BC, Housing Central, and the British Columbia Aboriginal Network on Disability Society. You can read the news release here.

As much as we were pleased by the above-mentioned investments, the budget also left much to be desired. Many of our provincial allies were with us at the budget lockup and heard the same things we heard and noticed the same omissions we noticed.

In response, we pledged to join in one united voice calling for further increases to disability rates, more affordable housing options for people with disabilities, increased temporary income assistance rates, more and better supports for indigenous children, as well as increased funding for mental health services and employment programs.

These are some of the areas that still need attention, increased government investment, and cooperation from communities and organizations like ours.

We know what it means to be altogether better. This Federation doesn’t just talk the talk, we walk the walk. There is still a ways to go and until we get there, we will stand together with our allies. We will be a strong, united voice representing all the British Columbians that still need support, help, care, and love.

BC’s Health Care Assistant oversight renewal and institutional models of care

In late 2016, the BC Ministry of Health made clear its intention to move forward with a new model of oversight for Health Care Assistants (HCA) in the province. An HCA Oversight Policy Intentions Paper described a new, single nursing regulator (made up of the three nursing colleges) which would be given full regulatory oversight once implemented.

After reviewing the paper and coordinating with our partners Inclusion BC and the BC CEO Network, The Federation submitted a formal response to Assistant Deputy Minister Ted Patterson outlining our concerns about the impact this model would have on community-based services for children, youth, and adults with developmental disabilities. You can view The Federation’s letter on the member’s section of our website here.

It is our belief—a belief shared by researchers, practitioners, and The Ministry for Children and Family Development—that the best possible option for any child is to grow up in a home-like environment. An institutional, health-based model of oversight would negatively affect the many homes where staff are employed to provide care to children and youth with developmental disabilities.

Like the letters penned by the CEO Network and Inclusion BC, we made clear that people with disabilities and their allies have long worked to move away from institutional models of care. And we made clear that the model proposed by the Ministry of Health would take us many steps backward.

While we believe the time has come to expect provincial registration for anyone working with a vulnerable child, youth, or adult in the community service sector, the HCA registry as proposed would fail to meet the needs of those serving people with disabilities.

The Federation will remain engaged in this process over the coming months actively working with government and our partners to ensure there is a registry for our sector that reflects our unique needs. We will keep you, our members, informed about any future developments.

If you have any questions or concerns about the proposed model or our organization’s response, feel free to contact me.

The Federation’s stance on the recent RCY report

As many of you know, our province’s new Representative for Children and Youth released his first report last week. It revisits the heartbreaking story about the life and death of a young man who experienced the worst parts of a broken social care system. What happened to Alex Gervais was awful and leaves no doubt that our child welfare system needs to be better resourced.

There has been plenty of media coverage this week looking at various angles of the RCY’s report as well as the MCFD’s response. The Federation has submitted letters to the editor and made its position clear in the media—you can read our statements in this Globe and Mail article and listen to Rick’s interview on CKNW.

Over five years ago, The Federation committed to taking a stand in order to improve residential care for young people in BC. Since the final Residential Review report was released in 2012, we have consistently worked to have the recommendations in the report made a government priority. This is one of the main reasons we work to build relationships with the RCY office and MCDF—to be in a position to help make these changes happen.

I am hopeful that the Representative’s comments this week in support of the Residential Review will move it up the government’s agenda. We knew from the start that this would be about incremental change and because of our position and the power of this federation, we have been able to persistently and consistently express our position to government: that this work is important, that changes need to be made, and that it is the right thing to do to help the young people of BC.

I have also heard the Minister’s remarks about “rethinking” child welfare and potentially moving away from contracted service providers. Because of the RCY report, the Minister is currently under attack and it is not surprising that she would try to deflect some of the attention. However, her statements will not change our attitude about working collaboratively with the government. And, frankly, we know that the solution she suggested simply won’t work.

The Ministry has a draft Multi-Year Action plan that will be released after the budget. I have been briefed on it. I cannot divulge what it contains, but I can say that it does not include a wholesale move away from young people living in residential placements. Such placements meet an important need in our province and are absolutely necessary.

That said, we know all too often such placements are a last resort for young people. And The Federation would be supportive of any changes that would see fewer children in need of this last resort.

What happened to Alex was truly horrible. His loss has been a heartache for his loved ones and the people of BC who care for our kids. Let’s hope, and let’s work, for change on behalf of Alex and the many other young people out there just like him.

If you have any questions or concerns about The Federation’s position, the Representative’s report, or our relationship with MCFD, please contact me. I am always available for our members and I have dedicated office hours to connect with members this Friday between 1:00–4:00 pm.