Some lessons to heed from question period this week:
1. BC’s neoLiberal party abuses Freedom of Information requests to make themselves look good and justify leaving abused children vulnerable.
2. BC’s neoLiberal party has lied about the need for better funding for treating children who have suffered sexual abuse.
3. The installation of a Representative for Children and Youth last fall should be viewed in this new light.
4. The government should actually hold legislative sessions for public accountability.
5. Tom Christensen’s offices are just gorgeous [see above] with their new renovations using money that could have paid for child sexual abuse counsellors.
It was a sick, sick Halloween when in question period, Minister of Children and Family Development Tom Christensen tried to dance around being caught by the Times Colonist [see below] in redacting critical elements of a report, thus allowing the Ministry to deny providing poor service to child sexual abuse victims.
Christensen, with no sense of irony: “It’s unfortunate that the opposition is choosing to politicize this issue.”
Then NDP MLA Rob Flemming followed up the questioning, “Sadly, it isn’t the first time they’ve tried to cover up failings when it comes to protecting children. Last fall the opposition revealed an FOI which was sent inadvertently to the opposition, complete with handwritten sticky-notes. That FOI about child protection in the Coroner’s Service had a handwritten note from the Deputy Solicitor General asking for more severing because it ‘contradicts what we’ve said to this point.’ The FOI also showed the public affairs bureau has been given sign-off authority by this government.”
Christensen’s ass-covering reply: “I can tell you that the Ministry of Children and Family Development receives well over a thousand FOI requests each year. I have nothing to do with a single one of those, but in fact we have a piece of legislation that balances access to information with a number of other considerations.”
So much for ministerial responsibility. I know he doesn’t process FOI requests, but the minister is responsible for the ministry’s actions. Further, the FOI legislation isn’t designed for the government to sever information in FOIs that contradicts their public messaging to keep from appearing duplicitous.
Christensen, later: “I’m proud of what this government has accomplished for children and youth with mental health issues across this province — a child and youth mental health plan that is the envy of jurisdictions across Canada.”
I wonder if those jurisdictions envy the BC neoLiberals’ ability to redact documents to justify defunding child sexual abuse treatment programs.
And now I think back to last November when the government reluctantly decided to actually hold a legislative session to appoint a Representative for Children and Youth, a session that the NDP stretched out to a whopping 3 days. Knowing now that at that time the government was hiding the report that was critical of their funding of child sexual abuse treatment, maybe that helps explain why that Representative appointment was enough to justify actually holding a fall legislative session.
2006 report identified problems with B.C.’s child abuse programs
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
The B.C. government has known for 18 months that its program to help sexually abused children is in trouble and needs help, documents obtained by the Times Colonist show.
Long before stories broke last spring about children waiting months for counselling, a review by the Ministry of Children and Family Development uncovered extensive problems with its Sexual Abuse Intervention Program (SAIP).
The April 2006 review concluded that the 47 agencies and societies helping abused children felt neglected, isolated and short-changed by government.
“Providers were unanimous in their view that program funding is insufficient to meet the needs for SAIP services,” the 26-page review stated.
The report said the program was a “critical element” of services related to child and youth mental health and “deserving of a more explicit focus.”
“There is a pervasive view among providers that the program has been neglected by government decision-makers over the past several years,” the report stated
The ministry blanked out those comments from a copy of the review released under the province’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
But the TC has obtained an unedited version of the report that shows many of the agencies complained about a lack of money for training, poor wages for counsellors, an inability to travel to provide services in remote geographic areas, isolation from decision-makers and deteriorating relationships over the past 10 years.
“A more intensive focus on sexual-abuse intervention programming should yield greater satisfaction among providers and improved access and quality of services for clients, resulting in a more consistent standard of care across the province,” the report said.
The province’s sexual abuse program made headlines last spring when Victoria’s Mary Manning Centre was forced to issue layoff notices to three part-time therapists because of a lack of funding. The subsequent publicity prompted public donations totaling more than $130,000 that allowed the centre to re-hire therapists and eliminate a waitlist for sexually abused children.
A TC investigation at the time found that other agencies were also struggling, that sexually abused children were waiting up to six months for treatment in some regions, and that the program’s budget had been frozen at $3 million for 17 years.
Children’s Minister Tom Christensen expressed concern last May that the budget had been frozen for so long.
“I’m asking my staff questions about that to see if it’s something we need to be looking at more closely,” he said.
The ministry’s review a year earlier, however, had already identified key areas requiring attention, including “establishing appropriate funding.”
“Providers maintain that funding has not kept pace with population growth, particularly in high-growth geographic areas, or inflation,” the review said.
Christensen said in an interview this week that he did not know all the details of the review last spring, though he was aware his ministry had been looking at the sexual abuse program. The review was done about five months before he was appointed minister.
“Having said that, quite frankly my answers in the spring wouldn’t have been any different,” he said.
Christensen said it’s no surprise that when the ministry surveys agencies to see if they have a shortage of cash, “you get the answer, ‘Yes, there is.'”
He noted the review found little consistency among how agencies run sexual-abuse counselling programs across the province, and stressed the need to establish standards before dealing with money matters.
“That’s the work that’s been underway for the las
t number of months,” Christensen said. Draft standards are ready for review, and the ministry recently held a training session on trauma counselling, he said.
“We are moving forward in terms of trying to ensure that this is an effective program and that the public can be assured of quality services, regardless of where they may access them in the province, and that there’s some consistency of standards,” he said.
Once that’s done, he hinted at a possible budget boost for the program in the 2008-2009 fiscal year. “I didn’t make any secret of it in the spring that I was surprised that the funding had been frozen, and I certainly am of the view that when people have suffered sexual abuse and we have effective counselling that can help them to deal with that, then we need to be working hard to make it available.”