Retired civil servant Bob Plecas has penned a report blaming B.C.’s Representative for Children and Youth, the media and the Opposition for problems with the Ministry of Children and Family Development.
He was originally hired to write the report after a scandal into the botched handling of a child welfare case where a mother’s warnings were ignored and the children were returned to a sexually abusive father.
The 78 page report outlines some big concerns with a ministry riddled with scandal.
In particular, Plecas notes problems with leadership, funding and oversight. The result being an understaffed ministry, who are underpaid in a system that’s underfunded.
But Plecas also slams BC’s Representative for Children and Youth, the media. and the Opposition for a “culture of blame.”
He is calling for a strategic four-year plan, which combines changing the leadership model, adding more staff and programs, making sure there’s appropriate and effective oversight, and more funding, starting with an extra $50 million next year.
He’s also recommending oversight for MCFD be taken over by the ministry itself, with the Child and Youth Rep taking more of an “advocacy” role.
Cadieux defends her ministry but admits “we’re now at a crossroads with some decisions needed to be made to move the system forward.”
“We are not yet where we need to be and I think Mr. Plecas is right to frame his report the way he does that it’s decision time.”
Cadieux says her ministry will take the next couple of months to carefully consider the recommendations and is asking Plecas to stay on to help with the implementation.
Watchdog fires back
“It’s far too easy to shoot the messenger and to not get the message.”
That, from Representative for Children and Youth Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond who says she’s glad to see recognition in the report that the ministry has been “starved” of resources, something she says she’s repeatedly pointed out.
But she rejects Plecas’ assessment her office is to blame, saying without it the public would never learn about many tragic cases.
“I am not as confident as Mr. Plecas is that oversight of this ministry can end. I think oversight is needed more today than ever, and I certainly can’t see when that situation will change.”
Turpel-Lafond says the message she takes from the report is that the government needs to put more money into the ministry.
“I certainly hope they won’t be spending money on management consultants and backroom people. I hope they’re going to spend it on actual kids who need the services and on improving safety.”
Opposition calls for more oversight
Leader John Horgan says criticism from the Opposition, the media and the watchdog should not be reduced, especially when it comes to the vulnerable in our society.
“Let’s get it together here, people. The kids are who we’re doing this for, not for insiders, not for the minister, not for the deputy ministers, but the kids. And that seems to be completely lost in this report.”
Horgan says he supports Plecas’ call for more social workers to be hired and more funding to make it happen.
“I actually was appalled by it.”
Vancouver Sun reporter Ian Mulgrew spoke with CKNW’s Simi Sara about his story on the report, which he was leaked to him.
Mulgrew says that while Plecas recognizes in his report that the ministry has a difficult job and recommends more money be budgeted, he says he is particularly harsh on Turpel-Lafond.
“He thinks that a ministry spokesman could gain public credibility and do an equally good job at keeping us up to date and making the ministry transparent.”
According to Mulgrew, Plecas also writes that the government should only be held to account after parents, extended family, godparents, friends, religious organizations, community groups and the local community.
“The government is some fourth order of responsibility.”
LISTEN to the Interview with Ian Mulgrew of The Vancouver Sun:
Who is Bob Plecas?
Plecas’ appointment to conduct the so-called “independent review” was not without controversy.
While he spent decades working for the B.C government under both Social Credit and NDP, he’s hardly an outsider as a retired career civil servant.
In fact, he’s credited with creating the Ministry of Children and Family Development.
Plecas also has a family connection to the current Clark government.
His daughter, Bobbi Plecas, is the associate deputy minister for the Office of the Premier.
Father of teenager who died in government care outraged
“I’m absolutely insulted by this report.”
The Chilliwack father of a teen who died while he was in the care of the ministry says Plecas’ work needs to be ignored.
Peter Lang takes issue with the fact the review ordered by Premier Christy Clark ended up slamming one of her government’s most vocal critics.
“She doesn’t want to be criticized by the child and youth advocate, so [Plecas] puts forward a report that says hey, you should take some of the power away from her.”
Lang says it’s also insulting that in a system where half of the children in care are Aboriginal, the report would be done by who he calls “an old white man” without consulting First Nations communities.
Lang’s 15-year-old meth-addicted son Nick took his own life while in foster care.
WATCH: Nick Lang’s parents discuss MCFD problems on Drex Live
First Nations leaders pan report
First Nations leaders are also expressing outrage at the report.
Chair of the BC First Nations Health Council, Grand Chief Doug Kelly, says blaming the Children’s Watchdog for creating instability within the Ministry is deeply offensive and inappropriate.
He also says First Nations leaders weren’t consulted, even though the majority of children and youth in care are Aboriginal.
“You know I just came back from Ottawa, the Prime Minister, the right honourable Justin Trudeau has excited First Nations leadership with his approach. It’s an approach of recognition, respect and partnership, and that’s what is missing in Victoria.”
The First Nations Leadership Council has penned an open letter to the Premier, calling the report a “wide-ranging, biased survey of child welfare.”
The letter says First Nations leaders stand behind the work of Turpel-Lafond and her office, and calls for more funding for the MCFD.
It also slams Plecas’ report for failing downplaying what it alleges are nearly 3,000 critical injuries and deaths with links to the MCFD.
“We take great offence at Mr. Plecas’ cavalier observation that that the deaths and serious injuries to children known to the MCFD ‘occur rarely.'”
The council is calling for a meeting between the Children’s Representative, First Nations, and the Premier’s office.