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BC United, Greens Call for Children’s Minister to Resign After Damning Audit

A Tyee report sparked calls for accountability, not ‘bland, programmatic apologies.’

Jen St. Denis 20 Oct 2023The Tyee

Jen St. Denis is a reporter with The Tyee covering civic issues. Find her on Twitter @JenStDen.

Opposition parties are calling for Minister of Child and Family Development Mitzi Dean to resign after a Tyee report revealed a damning audit showing consistent failures to meet ministry standards for protecting children.

The audit found no evidence or documentation that social work teams had made required visits to check on children in at least 14 foster care placements.

Karin Kirkpatrick, the BC United critic for MCFD, said the audit revealed “a complete neglect of youth for extended periods.”

This was “a clear violation of policy,” Kirkpatrick said during question period Wednesday. “Despite assurances from the minister, the situation has only gotten worse.”

The special audit was commissioned by the ministry after two Indigenous children were placed in a home near Chilliwack where they were horrifically abused for months, with no visits from social workers over a seven-month period. One of the children, an 11-year-old boy, died of his injuries in March 2021.

The case became known to the public only in June, when the foster parents were sentenced after pleading guilty to charges of aggravated assault and manslaughter.

The 2022 practice audit, which looked at 20 files, found at least 14 other cases where children in foster care in the East Fraser service delivery area had been going without regular visits from social workers.

Under the ministry’s own practice standards, kids are supposed to get a visit from a worker every 90 days. But the 2022 audit showed that instead of a total of 87 required visits, children in the cases reviewed got a total of only 32 visits from MCFD workers between January 2019 and December 2021.

The audit also found missing care plans and no planning for what to do if children go missing from foster care.

The Tyee obtained the audit, which is partially redacted, through a freedom of information request. While other practice audits are posted on the ministry’s website, the 2022 audit had not previously been made public.

Compared with a practice audit completed in 2020 for the same service delivery area, the quality of social worker practice for children in the care of MCFD had worsened, from 33 per cent compliance in 2020 to 11 per cent in the 2022 audit. The 2022 audit looked at far fewer files than the 2020 practice audit.

In June, Kirkpatrick called for an inquiry and for Dean to resign. After The Tyee’s story about the 2022 audit was published Wednesday, Kirkpatrick said the special audit was the “final straw” and called on Premier David Eby to “fire” Dean.

Adam Olsen, Green MLA for Saanich North and the Islands, said he doesn’t usually call for ministers to resign. But he said the performance of MCFD has been so egregious that Dean must resign at this point.

Olsen, who is a member of the Tsartlip First Nation, said that while front-line workers were fired in response to the tragedy, there has been little accountability when it comes to the upper echelons of the ministry, including the deputy minister and minister.

“If parents wilfully neglect their kids, there is accountability. That's the system we have: the criminal justice system says when you neglect children and they die, there is a price that needs to be paid for that,” Olsen said.

“And this premier, this minister, the deputy minister and the senior staff, there's been no price paid. Just bland, programmatic apologies.”

In response to Kirkpatrick’s comments in question period Wednesday, Dean said the ministry took action “as soon as we found out that the house was not safe.”

That included “making sure that all the children and youth under the care of that particular MCFD team were visited and seen.” Their foster care placements were also assessed, Dean said.

Olsen said he was flabbergasted by that response. With no in-person or even video visits with child welfare workers, the abuse was apparently not detected until the boy was in hospital with fatal injuries, according to court sentencing documents.

“The point of it is not to go [visit the children] once you've been caught, the point is to be going and making those regular visits,” Olsen said. “Why is it only once you're caught, are you going and looking into this?”

B.C.’s child welfare watchdog agency, the Representative for Children and Youth, is now investigating what happened in the East Fraser abuse case.

While we wait for the results of that investigation, The Tyee has been exploring long-running problems with the child welfare system in British Columbia. Those stories have shown systemic problems with poorly staffed child welfare offices and alarmingly low safety compliance when the quality of those offices’ work is regularly audited.

Olsen said it is because of those well-known systemic problems that Green party MLAs have been calling for “transformation change” of the ministry.

“And that’s why there needs to be somebody who is prepared to do more than just apologize for the status quo, which is all Minister Dean has shown she is willing or able to do,” Olsen said.

With files from Katie Hyslop.  [Tyee]

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