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BC spent over $66m talking about, not helping, aboriginal kids: watchdog

A new report from the province's Representative for Children and Youth's office says the B.C. government spent approximately $66 million talking about how to improve services for aboriginal children in care, with nothing to show for it.

"When Talk Trumped Service: A Decade of Lost Opportunity for Aboriginal Children and Youth in B.C." is the culmination of five years of research by the Representative's office into aboriginal child welfare services and governance. In a press conference held in Victoria this morning, Representative Mary Ellen Turpel-LaFond said the expenditures started in 2001 when the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) was discussing the creation of Regional Aboriginal Authorities.

"The creation of Aboriginal Authorities -- whether it was going to be 11, 25 [Authorities] -- was an initiative commenced after the [MCFD] core review in 2001 to send the responsibility of service out to an agency at arms length from government, a crown agency," Turpel-LaFond explained, adding the discussion process around this cost government nearly $35 million between 2002 and 2008.

"In the end only one such agency was created in British Columbia, and it didn't have anything to do with aboriginal people, really, and that's Community Living BC that dealt with children and youth with developmental disabilities, and they lost that mandate."

Another $31.02 million was spent from 2009 to 2013 on funding First Nations to create their own child welfare projects, what the report calls a "Nation to Nation approach." The approach seems to be have had the goal of transferring children and family services responsibilities to aboriginal organizations -- which Turpel-LaFond pointed out were not nations, and neither is British Columbia -- without a transition plan to achieve this goal.

"There is no evidence for that $66 million -- and I stress that that's a conservative estimate, I expect it's much higher than that -- that a single child or family actually received a service that would have contributed to improving their life circumstance," she said.

On top of this, the province has been funding 23 Delegated Aboriginal Agencies $90 million to provide services to aboriginal families on reserve and in urban areas. However there is no funding formula for how each agency receives its funding, and at least one agency has received nearly $5 million since 2010 despite never opening a single service file.

The Representative says she hasn't been able to account for the $57 million the federal government puts into on-reserve child welfare services in B.C. every year, either.

"The funding to the delegated agencies alone follows no metric or rubric that could make any sense to me, nor does the federal funding. And the federal funders are clear to say they don’t know how the province funds, and the province says they don't understand how the feds fund," she said.

"All I can say is I have a lot of kids who don't get service and need it."

The report says as of March 2013, more than half of the province's 8,106 children in care were aboriginal, about 4,450 children.

Turpel-LaFond says the level of detail in this report is unprecedented for a report from her office and may shock British Columbians, including current MCFD Minister Stephanie Cadieux, whom the Representative described as "genuine" in telling her she had no idea this was happening in her ministry. Cadieux is expected to address reporters later today.

The report lists five recommendations for improving services:

  • developing an explicit policy created by the province's Attorney General to negotiate any transfer of services to authorities other than the provincial government;
  • suspension of any open-ended aboriginal related initiatives currently funded by the MCFD;
  • developing a clear plan with goals for closing the achievement and service delivery gap for aboriginal children and youth across all ministries;
  • an immediate review of MCFD senior leadership team and develop an action plan to ensure more aboriginal leaders with experience in child welfare are included;
  • public, semi-annual reports from MCFD on the safety and well-being of aboriginal children, especially those in the ministry's care.

Deadlines for the recommendations range from February to September 2014.

Katie Hyslop reports on education and youth issues for The Tyee Solutions Society. Follow her on Twitter.

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