Opinion

BC Libs' $200 Million Computer Glitch

Putting kids at risk, ICM system works worse than government admits.

By Claire Trevena , 8 Aug 2012, TheTyee.ca

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Claire Trevena, NDP critic for Children and Family Development: 'ICM wreaking havoc in Ministry of Social Development.'

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Following recent criticism of the Integrated Case Management (ICM) system by the Representative for Children and Youth, and concerns raised earlier in the legislature by the New Democrats, the BC Liberal government has finally admitted their multi-million dollar computer system was poorly implemented and may not keep children safe.  Unfortunately they failed to tell British Columbians just how flawed the system really is. 

The Minister for Children and Family Development would have you believe that ICM's problems are limited strictly to child welfare. This is both untrue and misleading. In addition to its incompatibility for child-protection work, reports from workers show that ICM has also been wreaking havoc within the Ministry of Social Development.

Front-line social workers in both ministries need to be able to document a person's story and they need to be able to retrieve information about a child or a family quickly. With the almost $200 million ICM system, neither of these things can happen, and that means that children could be put at risk.

Incompatibility between statistics-based systems and social services has been seen before. A system similar to ICM was implemented in the UK in 2004, but it was quickly recognized to be unsuitable for social work. A scathing report on the system from United Kingdom's Open University called the system "deficient," and in particular noted its disturbing incompatibility to the core values of social work. After spending more than a hundred million dollars, the British government abandoned it.

Where was the planning?

The BC Liberal government clearly did not plan properly before committing $182 million to this system which impacts two of the most sensitive ministries in government. During a 2007 government request for proposal, it was asked if there was a requirement that ICM be previously successful in providing child welfare and income assistance services. The government answered "no." The Liberals believed it was not a necessary requirement for a system that's responsible for providing British Columbians with high priority social services, to have been successful elsewhere in the past.

With the new system, social workers are being left in the dark, sometimes unable to find information on children in unsafe situations. Case workers need specific information to protect children's lives. Experienced social workers have said they're afraid a child will fall through the cracks on their watch due to the inadequacies of the system.

In addition to the $182 million price tag on the faulty system, Minister of Children and Family Development Mary McNeil has said the government has found another $12 million to throw at the problem. At almost $200 million, the increasing cost is not easy to digest, particularly when there has been no increase in the budget for front-line services for children and youth. Just how much the whole system will cost is still unknown, and New Democrats will hold the Liberals to account for the climbing price tag.

One would have hoped the Liberal government would learn from its mistakes given that they spent almost $100 million on BCeSIS, a data system for the Ministry of Education, and later scrapped it because it did not work.

Yet millions of dollars that could be better put towards services that support vulnerable people continue to be funnelled into the fundamentally flawed ICM system. This reflects on a combination of poor Liberal government leadership and an ongoing pattern of mismanagement.  

British Columbians deserve a government they can trust, and one that makes the needs of children and families a priority. The Liberals' ongoing failure to manage projects that support vulnerable people shows their growing inability to lead a vast province with varying needs. 

Providing social programming that supports vulnerable families and the role of front line workers is a priority for Adrian Dix and the New Democrats.

B.C. Liberal Minister for Children and Families Mary McNeil's response published in The Tyee is here.  [Tyee]

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