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Turpel-Lafond rejects seat on new advisory council for child welfare

B.C.’s representative for children and youth is refusing to sit on a new advisory council for child welfare, saying it would undermine her office’s independence.
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Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond: –Today, we still see unaddressed disconnects between systems that so urgently need to be working closely together in domestic-violence situations ã child protection, income assistance, mental health and judicial systems.”

B.C.’s representative for children and youth is refusing to sit on a new advisory council for child welfare, saying it would undermine her office’s independence.

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond said participating in the council, which was launched last week, would be inappropriate because she doesn’t agree with the results of a recent ministry review by retired deputy minister Bob Plecas, upon which the council’s work is based, nor has she been able to get the records he used to compile what she called Plecas’s “insider” report.

“It would be extremely inappropriate given [the ministry’s] complete allergy to having anyone look at this backroom exercise,” she said. “That would reduce us from a watchdog to a lapdog.”

The seven-person panel is supposed to help the Ministry of Children and Family Development craft a new multi-year plan to improve child welfare training and policies, as well as an “early-warning system and alert-code model for high-risk cases” and to increase public confidence in the system, the ministry said.

It had been designed to include the representative’s office, as well as a variety of outside eyes. Those include retired Delta police chief Jim Cessford, B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union president Stephanie Smith, Ernst and Young partner Giselle Commissiong, Northeast Aboriginal Business and Wellness Centre director Paulette Flamond and Sources Community Resource Centres CEO David Young. Also on the panel is Tom Syer, who was deputy chief of staff to former premier Gordon Campbell and is now director of government affairs at Teck Resources.

Turpel-Lafond said “the membership have some strong connections to government” and labelled it an “inside the beltway” review.

Turpel-Lafond’s office was set to participate in some way until the middle of last week.

“The ministry had a number of exchanges with the representative for children and youth’s office confirming a senior staff member’s place on the advisory council as a full participant, in accordance with the draft terms of reference,” Children’s Minister Stephanie Cadieux said in a statement.

“The RCY’s office ultimately decided not to participate.”

Turpel-Lafond said her deputy had been willing to be an “observer” on the committee but pulled out last week after realizing the ministry had not addressed her office’s concerns.