It was a sad week in this province — and proof the provincial government isn’t concerned about our most vulnerable.
Last week marked the end of the decade British Columbians have had Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond holding the government to account in her role as the Representative for Children and Youth.
It was her job, along with those who staffed her office, to review results of government involvement with children and youth.
She often reviewed the kind of stories that made headlines and no doubt prompted a lot of tears, not just from the people involved in the individual cases, but from the average British Columbian who wondered how these tragedies could occur.
I’ve certainly been one of them.
In the 10 years since she was appointed to the job — one created in the aftermath of a report by retired judge Ted Hughes, who was hired to conduct an independent review of the province’s child-protection system — Turpel-Lafond has reviewed 17,000 cases and made more than 200 recommendations to government.
In her final report, Turpel-Lafond outlined what has worked and what needs urgent attention.
Among successes, she wrote, was the advocacy her office did on behalf of children and youth, providing them with a voice they might not otherwise have had.
That advocacy led to almost doubling of the number of cases she reviewed, starting her decade with 1,191 in 2007 and finishing this year with 2,096.
That, she wrote, was her greatest success.
The number of children in care has declined during her watch. In 2006, there were 9,097; this year, there are 7,198.
However, the percentage of aboriginal children and youth in care has increased to 61 per cent from 50 per cent.
“This despite the fact that aboriginal children and youth comprise only about nine per cent of B.C.’s total child and youth population,” Turpel-Lafond wrote.
A report that stands out for her involved a former Kamloops teen, a young girl identified only as Paige.
At the time of its release last year, Turpel-Lafond called it one of the most horrific cases she investigated, one that led to Paige dying at the age of 19 in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
Virtually every person and agency involved in Paige’s short life failed her, including the child-protection system, health-care and social-service agencies, the education system and the police.
Areas that need urgent work include helping youth leave foster care, improving indigenous child-welfare services and improving services and supports to children and youth with high needs. Government also needs to figure out a way to help children and youth in a cross-ministerial way, not through ministerial silos that now exist.
Turpel-Lafond’s final urgent call is for government to put children at the centre and be accountable.
That’s an interesting one to end with because, while knowing her term was coming to an end, the government has not appointed anyone to replace Turpel-Lafond as the representative for the province’s most vulnerable. A committee was struck in the spring to hire one, but has not done that.
There is no succession plan, no opportunity for transition from one to the next.
Turpel-Lafond has not been shy in her criticism of government. Even as she leaves, she has said Victoria often worked against her, left her feeling as if it was retaliating for what she was saying and reporting.
Hughes has said Turpel-Lafond proved the need for the position and the value it has in identifying deficiencies in the child-protection system.
It makes one wonder just what the future is for this position.
– Dale Bass is associate editor at Kamloops This Week