Limited funding leaves children vulnerable

Starved ministry funding limits proper care for vulnerable children.

Can you fancy working for a boss who refuses to meet with you even once in twelve months?

How would you seek direction or iron out problems on the job? How would you suggest improvements to further the company’s bottom line? Would it not be in management’s interest to hear you out on a regular basis?

Apparently not if your boss is a minister in the B.C. Liberal government.

For nine years and eleven months Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond has laboured away in Victoria as the advocate for children and youth in government care. Yet despite prior commitments, in the past year, her boss Minister for Children and Family Development Stephanie Cadieux has failed to meet with her even once.

Talk of uppity!

As reported by Vaughn Palmer in The Vancouver Sun’s October 25 edition, “Turpel-Lafond herself underscored the breach in a final report that circulated online as the watchdog did her farewell turn before the committee.

“Government must be accountable for its actions on this file and show an urgent interest in improving the services it offers to children, youth and their families,” she stated.

“Despite a mandate to meet with the representative a minimum (a minimum!) of four times per year, the minister has refused to meet with me at all during the past 12 months. This government must work on its ability to own up to its shortcomings and to address them. B.C.’s children deserve that much.”

A major achievement for Turpel-Lafond was persuading 16 B.C. colleges and universities to waive tuition for youth transitioning out of foster care at age 19. BCIT, for example covers the cost of tuition, student fees, medical and dental, and lab and material costs for five students in a trades program.

She has been instrumental in raising the completion rate of students from 20 per cent to 40 per cent in the past seven years. I count that as a remarkable improvement in the lifetime outlook of young people who have spent their formative years in care.

From the date of her appointment, I’ve taken a special interest in Turpel-Lafond’s work for two reasons. First, she was born into the Muskeg Lake Cree Nation in Niagara Falls, Ontario, and grew up in an alcoholic family as dysfunctional as many of the youth for whom she advocates. It gives her a unique understanding of their problems. She was a provincial judge in Saskatchewan and a legislative advocate for children’s rights before the B.C. government appointed her in 2006 as the first Representative for Children and Youth, an independent position reporting to the Legislative Assembly.

Secondly, my daughter’s life work is counselling and supporting these same children and their families; young people with physical or mental disabilities; their families who struggle to care for them; teachers at their wits’ end coping with these students’ emotional outbursts. Daily my daughter struggles to compensate for the same ministry shortcomings Turpel-Lafond has pointed out to Cadieux – a marked shortage of youth workers, inadequate funding to hire counselling services, and little if any support for foster children who “age out” at age 19 and suddenly are expected to live as adults on their own.

Turpel-Lafond’s final month will be spent catching up on vacation time. The committee Cadieux appointed last spring to name her successor has yet to do so.

Starved ministry funding limits proper care for vulnerable children. Social workers, counsellors and many other specialized personnel stand ready to help youth in need. The minister’s behaviour suggests she has no urgent interest in improving services for these children.

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