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Government Response On Youth In Care

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Abbotsford/Victoria – In response to recommendations on the Alex Gervais case in Abbotsford where the young man aged out of care and committed suicide.

From the Huffington Post:

A Metis teenager in government care was alone, hungry and crying out for help in the days before he jumped to his death from a fourth-storey hotel window, says British Columbia’s acting representative for children and youth.

Alex Gervais was abandoned by B.C.’s child welfare system and took his own life as an act of desperation on Sept. 18, 2015, Bernard Richard said Monday in releasing a report titled Broken Promises: Alex’s Story.

“As this report says, Alex lived a life that none of us wish for our own children or any child,” Richard told a news conference. “For 11 years, Alex drifted through the care of the Ministry for Children and Family Development, living in 17 different placements under the watch of 23 different social workers and caregivers.”

The report concluded the government failed to find the 18-year-old a permanent home or family.

The Provincial response:

Government has accepted all of the recommendations in the representative for children and youth’s (RCY) latest report and has committed to additional actions to further strengthen the contracted residential care system and improve planning for all children and youth in government care.

The report makes four recommendations themed around:

  1. Connecting kids with extended family.
  2. Ensuring plans of care are complete and up-to-date for each child and youth in government care.
  3. Making child and youth mental health services more available and accessible.
  4. Strengthening quality assurance, oversight and accountability for all contracted residential agencies.

“I completely agree with the findings in the new representative’s first report,” said Minister of Children and Family Development Stephanie Cadieux. “The report is fair, balanced and its call to action achievable. I’ve told the RCY that I believe more can and should be done, and I hope that his office and the ministry will support each other, in our respective roles, on delivering the additional measures I’m announcing today.”

Government has allocated $2.7 million to help in the development of culturally specific plans of care that are responsive to the specific community and culture of each child. Government is working with a number of Indigenous organizations to assist in the distribution of those funds.

The Ministry of Children and Family Development is mandating 100% compliance with the requirement to have a plan of care in place for all children and youth in government care. Those plans must include considerations around permanency, and cultural components if the child is Indigenous.

“The state of our relationship with the agencies that screen, approve and hire their own caregivers must and will change,” said Cadieux.

Child welfare background checks and criminal record checks for all residential caregivers – whether they work directly for the ministry or for a contracted agency – will be brought in-house as a ministry accountability. This will help ensure that all those who work with vulnerable children and youth in government care have the necessary security clearances and skills to properly support them.

The ministry is working to standardize contracting and increase its financial and practice oversight of resources and homes run by contracted agencies. Government welcomes the input of the office of the auditor general, which has signalled its intent to audit the ministry’s oversight of contracted services for at-risk children and youth.

Ultimately, the ministry aims to limit the use of such contracted agency resources. Their purpose will be to help children and youth get stabilized and returned to a family-based setting.

“We know that a caring family member is better than a contracted caregiver in almost every instance,” said Cadieux. “We’ve been making progress on this front, bringing fewer kids into government care and placing more with extended family. Our task is to make it even easier to identify extended family members who can step in. We need to properly train those folks and give them appropriate financial support and access to services, like counselling and respite, to help them succeed as long-term caregivers. As a government, we have prioritized supports for vulnerable children, something that will continue to be reflected when the minister of finance tables his budget later this month.”

Quick Facts:

  • There are approximately 7,100 children and youth in government care at any given time.
  • As of Dec. 31, 2016, there were 699 children and youth placed with 93 contracted residential agencies. Between November 2016 and January 2017, social workers visited each and every one to verify that their living conditions and quality of care met or exceeded ministry standards.
  • When appropriate, out-of-care options – such as placement with extended family, friends or community – are a best practice. To help ensure the well-being of children and youth are, these options are pursued as a substitute for admission into government care.
  • Over the past 10 years the number of children and youth in care has declined by more than 2,000 (20%) while the number of children and youth in out-of-care options has increased six-fold to 1,200.
  • Social workers are required to develop a plan of care for every child or youth who is in government care. This plan is developed cooperatively with the child and family, and documents the services and provisions needed to keep a child safe. It must be updated every six months and also include considerations for the child’s medical, educational and cultural needs.
  • Improving B.C.’s system of residential care for children and youth

    Immediate actions the ministry has taken in light of the latest RCY report, Broken Promises: Alex’s Story.

    • Face-to-face and home visits with the 699 children or youth placed in the care of a contracted agency to ensure appropriate living conditions and quality of care.
    • $2.7 million to establish criteria that must be included in the cultural planning for all Indigenous children in our care.
    • Commitment to 100% compliance on the development of plans of care for children and youth in the care of the ministry.

    Further improvements planned or underway:

    • A review of the background and qualifications of all staff currently providing care to children and youth, ensuring they have the required safety clearances, skills and qualifications.
    • Mandatory financial audits by ministry staff of each residential service contract, ensuring that funding meets the needs of children and youth and that contract funds are being allocated appropriately.
    • Increasing the ministry’s investment in family-based care in order to reduce the need for children and youth to be placed with residential agencies in the first place.
    • Limiting the use of contracted group homes to therapeutic purposes in order to get children and youth stabilized.
    • An early warning system that will send an automatic notice to the central ministry offices when a child or youth in government care moves placements frequently.
    • Standardizing contracting functions for all residential resources in which children and youth in care may be placed – whether they are ministry resources, family homes, or resources run by a third-party agency.
    • Taking over the screening of ministry and contracted caregivers centrally within the ministry.
    • Developing a database of current caregivers and their qualifications, allowing us to see where criminal record checks and child welfare background checks have been completed. And should we find that standards have not been met, the home or agency responsible will be subjected to a thorough and comprehensive audit.
    • Ensuring an Agreement with Young Adults is automatically offered to every young person who ages out of our care.
    • The office of the Auditor General has signalled their intent to audit MCFD’s oversight of contracted services for at-risk children and youth. The ministry welcomes that move and will work with them to identify and implement further improvements.

    In the last three years, the ministry has:

    • Banned the non-emergency use of hotels as placements for youth in care and clearly outlined the approval, tracking, monitoring, oversight and reporting process for hotel stays.
    • Raised the standard to require that contracted caregivers be vetted on par with foster parents.
    • Publicly posted twice annual performance management reports that show how services are working for children and families across every region of B.C.
    • Standardized a process for auditing and reviewing staffed residential resources.
    • Hired 200 new frontline staff, with another 100 on the way by the end of fiscal 2017-18.
    • Introduced a centralized services hub that will host screening functions – criminal record checks and child welfare background checks – for all ministry and contracted caregivers.
    • Begun practice auditing more areas of ministry operation more frequently.
    • Hired eight new dedicated quality assurance staff with another 13 to be hired over the next two years.
    • Established a new Youth Advisory Council made up of current and former youth in care who help inform ministry policy, practice, training, and operations.

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