Systemic and significant changes needed at MCFD

VANCOUVER, Jan. 27 /CNW/ - The report on the death of 21 infants released today by the Representative for Children and Youth, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, is a disturbing review of the short lives of infant children who died in tragic circumstances and points to the need for a legislated poverty reduction plan, says the B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union (BCGEU), which represents social workers that provide provincial child protection services.

The report reviewed the circumstances and identified the factors that played a role in the deaths of 21 infants in a two-year period.  The report identified extreme poverty and related risk factors including inadequate housing as a significant factor that impacted the infants' well being.  There was a serious disconnect between the medical, child welfare and public health systems that provided services to these families.  There is a serious failure to provide provincial wide standards of care.                                                                                                                                                                                          

"It is very sad and disturbing to read this report," said Darryl Walker, BCGEU president. "The stories about the children are very painful.  We are not doing enough to protect those who are the most vulnerable in society. It is very alarming that 15 of the 21 infants were Aboriginal."

"In all cases, poverty played a significant role in the death of these infants," said Walker. "We are in full support of the Representative's call for the development of a legislated poverty reduction plan in the province. It is unforgiveable that British Columbia has the worst child poverty rates in Canada."

Turpel-Lafond also identified the changes needed to improve the Ministry of Children and Family Development's review processes and standards when responding to families in need. All of the infants' families were involved with the Ministry of Children and Family Development.

"Turpel-Lafond's report clearly identifies concerns over the lack of a central monitoring of these cases," said Doug Kinna, chair of the BCGEU's Social, Information and Health component, which includes social workers. "The lack of a central provincial body means there are too many regional differences in the way policies are applied. Inter-agency problems have also developed."

"We have told the Ministry there is a need for improved and consistent standards across the province. We have raised these concerns time and time again with the government and have yet to see a proper response," said Kinna.

"Caseloads for social workers range from 30 to 50 families, where a client list in the low 20s is the standard that should be followed," said Kinna. "The government has not allocated the resources that are needed to do a proper job of responding to serious social problems. We cannot do child protection on the cheap."

According to the ministry's service plan, there are 8,677 children in the care of the Ministry.

"This tragic situation should not be allowed to happen again," said Walker. "Government and the agencies involved in providing care must take the steps so that children do not die because of a lack of attention from their families or government. We must be partners in solving these problems."

The BCGEU supports the Recommendations identified by the Representative that will protect our vulnerable infants.

SOURCE B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union

For further information:

Brian Gardiner, BCGEU Communications, (604) 291-9611

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