Below is a letter to the Minister for Children and Family Development and the Representative for Children and Youth questioning the appropriateness of jointly formulating policy and legislation regarding adoptions. I am publishing this letter in light of the Representative’s release her BC Adoption Update which predictably finds the Ministry under-performing. To date I have not had an official reply from either the Minister nor the Representative. NS
November 12, 2015
Dear Hon. Stephanie Cadieux and Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond,
Yesterday I learned that the Office of the Representative for Children and Youth (RCY) would be joining the Ministry for Children and Families (MCFD) to conduct a “Joint RCY – MCFD review of hotel policy for children in care.” (Press Release, November 9, 2015 at: http://www2.news.gov.bc.ca/news_releases_2013-2017/2015CFD0050-001872.htm).
The review is to:
“…examine the historical and current usage of hotels as placements for children in care, including the demographics of those children, the reasons behind the use of hotels as placements and the potential risks to children in care associated with hotel stays. Most importantly, it will make recommendations regarding new policy and practice on hotel placements going forward.” [Emphasis added.]
Further, according to the joint press release,
“The joint report is consistent with the approach suggested in the 2006 Hughes Review of B.C.’s child welfare system, when former justice Ted Hughes recommended, “the representative to take part in the development of policies or practices that reflect a deeper understanding of the needs and interests of children, youth and their families.”
Justice Hughes wrote a 175-page report included his musings on “the joint development of policies” which could be found in the body of his Report, for good reasons that did not become one of his 62 recommendations. Nor was this function legislated into the scope of the Representative for Children and Youth Act [SBC 2006] which defined the Office’s functions:
Part 3 — Representative’s Functions and General Powers
Functions of representative
6 (1) The representative is responsible for performing the following functions in accordance with this Act:
(a) support, assist, inform and advise children and their families respecting designated services, which activities include, without limitation,
(i) providing information and advice to children and their families about how to effectively access designated services and how to become effective self-advocates with respect to those services,
(ii) advocating on behalf of a child receiving or eligible to receive a designated service, and
(iii) supporting, promoting in communities and commenting publicly on advocacy services for children and their families with respect to designated services;
(a.1) support, assist, inform and advise young adults and their families respecting prescribed services and programs, which activities include, without limitation,
(i) providing information and advice to young adults and their families about how to effectively access prescribed services and programs and how to become effective self-advocates with respect to those services and programs,
(ii) advocating on behalf of a young adult receiving or eligible to receive a prescribed service or program, and
(iii) supporting, promoting in communities and commenting publicly on advocacy services for young adults and their families with respect to prescribed services and programs;
(b) monitor, review, audit and conduct research on the provision of a designated service by a public body or director for the purpose of making recommendations to improve the effectiveness and responsiveness of that service, and comment publicly on any of these functions;
(c) review, investigate and report on the critical injuries and deaths of children as set out in Part 4;
(d) perform any other prescribed functions.
While it is a good idea to review the historical and current use of hotels as placements for children, the commitment to joint recommendations on “policy and practice” threatens the independence of the office and exonerates government from responsibility for resource allocation as it relates to policy decisions, and this sets a dangerous precedent.
In this particular case, policies around the use of hotel rooms cannot be examined in isolation from other funding choices made by government. Everything associated with the use of hotel rooms is tied to other government funding priorities; the number of social workers recruiting foster homes, the number of foster homes, the level of compensation offered to foster parents, the use of youth agreements, the number of children brought into care etc.
It is the Ministry’s responsibility to set policies, allocate budgets, and ensure practice standards are met. Under the proposed joint plan the RCY will be both the policy maker and the watchdog. If the policy fails, who would be accountable? In the future will governments retain the autonomy to write policies without the Representative’s input? Will staffing and resources be shared?
A recent example of the possible problems associated with blurring the lines between the MCFD and RCY functions came to my attention this past summer.
In June of 2014 your offices issued a joint press release that read: “Representative and Minister Align on Adoption.” According to the Press Release:
VICTORIA – Representative for Children and Youth Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond and Minister of Children and Family Development Stephanie Cadieux today announced a joint commitment to dramatically increase adoption rates for children in the province’s care. –Press Release, June 14, 2014 https://www.rcybc.ca/sites/default/files/documents/pdf/reports_publications/nr-finding_forever_families.pdf
Shortly thereafter I heard about a 6 ½ year old child being moved from her foster home to her new adoptive home without adequate preparation. She had lived in one home all her life, with the support and consent of her biological mother and community. One day social workers picked her up from school and brought her to her new adoptive home. She had never had an overnight visit there, and she was not given a chance to say good-bye to the only parents she had ever known. I wondered why such a decision would be rushed, to the detriment of all parties involved; the child, the life-long foster parents, the child’s extended family, the child’s First Nation –which had not approved of the adoption, as well as the adoptive parents.
The Minister agreed with my concerns and I was told by the Director of Child Welfare that a formal review would be conducted. I asked for, and MCFD appointed an independent specialist to coordinate a reunion which nonetheless took three months to take place.
I was told by three government employees that the RCY was “involved in the decision”. When I asked, the Director of Advocacy at the RCY reassured me that while the office supported the child’s plan, they did not necessarily agree with the sudden manner in which the transfer was handled. The Ministry conceded poor practice but never explained their actions. The proximity of the independent RCY to this decision, in the context of their “joint commitment to dramatically increase adoption rates”, regardless of the weight its advice carried, is sufficient to bring into question the independence of the office.
While dealing with the case of the 6 ½ year old, two other cases were brought to my attention that involved questionable decisions around adoption placements. They either contradicted entire families’ specific requests, or showed haste, and a lack of objective review. If these three cases are contributing to the appearance of success in achieving a “dramatic increase in adoption rates” who will be accountable for the poor practice, if it was indeed a joint RCY/MCFD effort?
I believe the appearance of independence is as important as actual independence of the RCY from MCFD. To blur the lines between the two agencies threatens further the weak public confidence that currently exists in the child welfare system, and feeds an existing cynicism that this government might be undermining the independence of oversight officers.
Nicholas Simons, MLA
Powell River – Sunshine Coast