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Message from the Representative:
2008/09 In Review
This year marks the midpoint in my first 5-year term as B.C.’s Representative for Children and Youth. This unique Office of the Legislature has a challenging role to support children and youth and strengthen the services they require and obtain. This annual report on work completed during the 2008/09 year provides an important opportunity to reflect on the work done to date, while examining the pressures we face to meet the high volume of activity in all program areas.In 2008/09 in B.C., approximately 14,500 children and youth lived outside their parental home. About 60 per cent of those were in care and more than half were Aboriginal children and youth. In addition, nearly 4,400 children and youth lived out of parental placements in the home of a relative, over 600 were on youth agreements and 188 were in kith and kin arrangements. In some instances, government takes on full parental roles for these children and youth. In others it is not so clear where responsibility and accountability rests for the day-to-day care of children, their guardianship or their well-being. Many of these children are in limbo and my Office continues to advocate for a stronger system of supports for them, with proper guardianship.
In the past year my Office has worked hard to meet the growing demand for advocacy assistance, as the public gains increasing awareness of its services. In 2008/09, our advocacy staff worked on 1,564 new advocacy cases. While I believe there is still much to be done to reach vulnerable children and ensure they receive the advocacy support they require, I am proud of the excellent advocacy service my Office has provided to children and youth throughout British Columbia.
Many of these children and youth in care face barriers and struggles throughout their young lives, and encounter situations most B.C. children would not face. They often deal with sudden and frequent moves and have limited roles in decisions that may have life-long effects. They are unable to talk regularly to a parent – in their case, the government – about what they need, want and require to become responsible adults. We must ensure our system of care builds their resilience and not their despair.
An important part of building that resilience is by engaging with, listening to and hearing the voice of all vulnerable children and youth. As adults we have the responsibility to provide and nurture a safe and effective system of supports for children. Just as importantly, we need to talk to children and youth to make sure it is really working.
These supports must be available to all children, equally and consistently across the province. Taking responsibility for all will benefit everyone, as Lilian G. Katz, an international leader in early childhood education, emphasizes:
I really believe that each of us must come to care about everyone else’s children. We must recognize that the welfare of our children is intimately linked to the welfare of all other people’s children.
After all, when one of our children needs life-saving surgery, someone else’s child will perform it.
If one of our children is harmed by violence, someone else’s child will be responsible for the violent act.
The good life for our own children can be secured only if a good life is also secured for all other people’s children.
But to worry about all other people’s children is not just a practical or strategic matter; it is a moral and ethical one; to strive for the well-being of all other people’s children is also right.
We must pause to consider the particular situation of Aboriginal children. Just eight per cent of B.C.’s child population is Aboriginal, yet more than 52 per cent of children in care are Aboriginal. In B.C. one in five Aboriginal children will have contact with the child welfare system. This is an astounding disparity. It is a profound injustice for these children, and a major issue for British Columbia and Canada. These children are equally capable and deserving but frequently do not get the support they need in their families and communities. Poverty, deprivation and social exclusion, along with inadequate academic and personal supports, leave too many too far behind. This is nothing short of a travesty and deserves dedicated efforts to not just talk about change, but to make that change real in improved outcomes, measured elimination of the gap in well-being, and enhanced resilience and strengths.
As B.C.’s economic climate continues to be affected by the global economic crisis and provincial budget pressures, our work has become more sharply focused on examining the impact this will have on all vulnerable children and youth.
Over the last year I have publicly advocated that it must become a priority for government and the child-serving system to examine and quickly act on child poverty. The economic slowdown has implications for services to children, youth and their families, as financial downturns usually mean decreased focus and resources dedicated to addressing their needs. Better coordinated and integrated children’s services for housing, income assistance and other needs are critical.
We have seen more families impacted by job loss, reduced income or threat of unemployment during the past year, making it vitally important for government to recognize and plan for more seamless, family-focused services.
My Office also continues the work of evaluating whether the current system of supports for children and youth is accessible, responsive and promotes good outcomes and positive development. We have made recommendations in key areas that are designed to help families, communities and governments strengthen their ability to care for and improve the health, safety and well-being of vulnerable children and youth. Key themes pertained to:
• better understanding of issues and needed services to Aboriginal children
• consistent practice throughout the province on planning for and with children living out of the parental home
• ensuring all the opportunities for prevention of poor outcomes are fully realized across systems of support (including child welfare, education, justice and health).
Significant work remains to be done as the Ministry of Children and Family Development continues to shift practice, and struggles to measure its performance and to meet its targets for improvement. I continue to carefully monitor the ministry’s progress in its areas of service responsibility and its plans to improve the child-serving system. Periodic reporting on that progress is crucial to public accountability and to regularly assess if enough is being done to help ensure better outcomes and supports for children and youth.
I am grateful for the hard work to date by my staff, the stakeholders who regularly support and assist us, and staff in the ministries whose work I seek to support. Much work remains to be done. We all must become accustomed to higher levels of accountability, reporting on outcomes accomplished for children served, and keeping the commitment to make the system better.
I close by offering my sincere thanks to all those who work with children in the child-serving system, including the ministries, schools and the health care system. Foster parents and adoptive parents deserve particular acknowledgement for their commitment to ensuring that a parent and family is there for children in government care. That is the model we want to build for all children – that of a caring, loving parent willing to stand beside them through their full and successful development, and into adulthood.
Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond
Representative for Children and Youth
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