Some things just need to be said...

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

BC Liberals ignored secret report into Child's death

"A Port Alberni man who killed his foster daughter (Sherry Charlie) was allowed to care for her brother for months even after investigators knew the death was suspicious." ~ Irwin Loy, 24 hours, August 5, 2005

The full report on Sherry Charlie's death says social workers responsible for smaller communities like Charlie's suffered from "woefully inadequate" funding. Stan Hagen, Minister of Children and Family Development is denying budget cuts can be linked to the death of Sherry Charlie in 2002. Paul Jenkinson of the BC Association of Social Workers says the underfunding is putting children at risk. "So you have not enough workers, high caseloads, and that's been a chronic complaint," he told CKNW.

Minister Hagen told 24 Hours the tragedy had nothing to do with money.
"That may be the opinion of the person who wrote the report, but we don't have any statistics that back that up."

"The new system for dealing with the most vulnerable children in Canada was implemented by faxing," Dix told 24 hours in an interview. "That's just not good enough."

On Monday, August 8 Minister Stan Hagen was showing the pressure as he lashed out at the media. Hagen said to CKNW that the media is responsible for staff in his Ministry speaking out and feeling frustration, anger and betrayal (of the Ministry) "Since I became the Minister, I've been working at improving the situation. Now, you know the media has to bare some of the responsibility for that."

That's the situation today, the government according to Jane Morley's report into the death of Sherry indicates that the Ministry suffered a great deal due to budget cuts, and as the social workers point out, heavy caseloads and staff cut backs are creating a worsening situation.

The Gove report was supposed to put an end to this kind of tragedy. That report was ordered into the death of Matthew Vaudreuil who died in 1992. He was 5 years old. The Gove report led to a brand new ministry and the Child Commissioner office being established. The BC Liberal government have slashed budgets for over the last four years and eliminated the commissioner's position.

The Straight reported on March 10th, 2005...

"On March 8, B.C.’s former children’s commissioner Cynthia Morton, former B.C. ombudsman Dulcie McCallum, and Joyce Preston, B.C.’s former advocate for children, youth, and families, released a letter they wrote to the premier last June expressing concerns about the lack of public accountability. The premier’s office never responded, even though their letter was hand delivered and requested a meeting."

The big media in BC ignored the story in the lead up to the provincial election and only reported it when the news broke out via the internet and other small media outlets. While the big media was ignoring this story, the BC Liberal government was sitting on the report into Sherry Charlie's death. Minister Hagen had to have known at that time the report's conclusions.

Despite the government's knowledge of the circumstances around Sherry Charlie's death we learned that more cutbacks were coming in the Ministry of Children and Family Development. The Campbell Liberals slashed the budget over 300 million dollars since 2001. On April 27, 2005 we learned the South Vancouver Island district of the ministry this fiscal year (2004/05) had over spent by $1.3 million. The Ministry directed the district to be on budget next year. Senior management are looking at trimming 18 positions. This is on top of 58 position lost in this area since 2002. These cuts would put the safety of the most vulnerable children in BC at increased risk.

The provincial government introduced the Kith and Kin program in 2002 to place aboriginal foster children with aboriginal families. The program did not train people in its application. Agencies were faxed a policy document. The ministry didn't provide aboriginal agencies with any training and simply faxed them a six-page list of draft guidelines in July, 2002. Guidelines were general, and stated that social workers "should" do criminal record checks, instead of saying they "shall" or "must," the report stated.

As most of us know Sherry was killed by Ryan Dexter George, her uncle, on September 4, 2002. Her death came eight weeks after the new Kith and Kin program was implemented and only weeks after being placed in his home. Her uncle was on probation for spousal abuse at the time, no criminal records check was completed prior to her being placed in his care. He has since pleaded guilty to manslaughter and is serving a 10 year sentence.

Despite this chaos the ministry was determined to do more restructuring this year. PublicEye online broke the news that the Ministry was in for another big change, moving mental health services for children to the Ministry of Health. "...there are apparently concerns within the bureaucracy that, with so many other programs to look after, health may not pay enough attention to the child and youth mental health plan - introduced two years ago by then Children and Family Development Minister Gordon Hogg"

The NDP wrote the Premier on June 27, 2005 expressing their concern with the impacts such a change could have on the Ministry and the children it is to look out for. The letter concludes...

"You are in the midst of a massive restructuring of child and youth services in BC. The decision to move mental health services from MCFD to the Ministry of Health will simply cause further uncertainty and disruption without benefit and put children at further risk. We ask you to reverse this decision."

Yours Sincerely,

Adrian Dix MLA, Vancouver-Kingsway
Charlie Wyse MLA, Cariboo South

See the letter at PublicEye Online

And on June 28, the Federation of Child and Family Services of British Columbia wrote the Premier over the announcement to move mental health services for children...

"...Without information, concerns are circulating that your government is in the process of dismantling the Ministry of Child and Family Development. This program transfer is also perceived as an abandonment of the government's commitment to promote the integration of child and youth services in BC and to the legacy of Mathew Vaudreuil..."

"...You have stated that your government would avoid superficial analysis of a problem that only leads to superficial solution. We also know you want to provide the best and most responsive system of support in Canada for children and youth at risk. We only ask that you provide the consultations and rationale that spurred this decision to revert to a multi-ministry model that contributed to the death of Mathew Vaudreuil. The last thing anyone in BC wishes to hear again is: "He died as a direct result of flawed decision making and poor management by ministry executives." (Gove Report)."

Respectfully yours,
Noreen Boudreau, President

See the letter at PublicEye Online

The government reversed their decision later that day, a reversal that likely had something to do with a report they had secrectly sat on for months. A report that indicated in part, Sherry's death was due in part due to government budget cuts, lack of staffing and inadequate training. The government implemented a program by rolling the dice and Sherry Charlie, her brother and family lost.

Portion of report released July 22, 2005 by the Ministry of Children and Family Development
Final report released August 4, 2005

More reading here...

A child is dead, and three years later big questions remain
Too little information on the way we treat kids in care
Children and families failing, says the front line
More answers in the sad case of Sherry Charlie

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