A failure to protect children

The only visible change in the ministry in past 30 years has been changing its name.

About 30 years ago, I wrote a series on adoption, foster homes and child abuse in B.C.

It was shocking to learn that the entire system, including the courts, was riddled with incompetence, indifference and a total lack of political will to do anything meaningful to address those serious shortcomings.

Now, a little more than three decades later, the courts have shown an increased awareness of the issues, particularly surrounding child abuse. But the government has failed to demonstrate any indication that the matter bears serious consideration or necessitates subsequent action and change.

The latest demonstration of government failure in its mandate to protect children is the case of the sexual abuse of four children by their father who was granted unsupervised custody of them, even though there was a Supreme Court ruling that he could not have unsupervised custody.

Someone in the employ of the Ministry of Children and Families took it upon themselves to set aside the court ruling and granted the father unsupervised custody for a period of time, which one observer determined was more than sufficient for him  to allegedly commit further sexual abuse of the children, specifically the youngest child, who, at the time, was not capable of speech and would be unable to tell what had befallen them.

Stephanie Cadieux is the Minister of Children and Families and the political blame must fall squarely on her shoulders. It is her responsibility to ensure all employees within her ministry obey the law and the dictates of the courts. Her failure to do so renders her blameworthy.

Following the blistering rebuke by Supreme Court Justice Paul Walker of ministry actions, Cadieux offered a weasel-worded statement that the public is entitled to know that the ministry is accountable and responsive for the decisions it makes.

History would indicate the exact opposite to be true. In fact, the only visible changes in the ministry in the past 30 years has been changing the name of the ministry from time to time.

The B.C. government of Christy Clark has consistently ignored or downplayed recommendations of its own child advocate, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, allowing the sexual, physical and emotional abuse of children to continue unabated.

Clark has made great political noise about her huge concern for the welfare and well-being of children, but she has done little or nothing to prevent the perpetuation of these recurring tragedies.

The NDP official opposition has severely criticized Clark and her government of failing to act in a prudent fashion to introduce changes which would offer proper protection for children against these abuses. But when the NDP was government and had opportunities to implement those changes, it also stood silently by and allowed the abuse of children to continue. Thus, the issue has become a systemic failure, rather than a partisan policy matter.

Past re-organizations of the structure involving matters affecting the protection and well-being of children has mainly resulted in turf wars between various bureaucracies and no noticeable benefits directed to children. Staff shortages and other budgetary inadequacies have only compounded the problems.

The public is entitled to a higher standard of performance by this ministry and the children in ministry care are certainly entitled to assurances that the abuse and abysmal lack of professionalism they have been subjected to over the years will come to an end immediately.

The culture of neglect that has evolved within the ministry over the years must end.

The current standards demonstrated by the Ministry of Children and Families?

Not the way I want my children or family treated.

 

– Sandy Macdougall is a retired journalist and former city councillor.

 

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