B.C. children's minister drops program criticized by watchdog

The Ministry of Children and Family Development has scrapped a program that was supposed to help transfer authority over child welfare services to individual First Nations.

The move follows a report last year by Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, B.C.’s representative for children and youth, that showed how little control the ministry had over the Indigenous Approaches program.

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In some cases, money was released to agencies without a written contract or any plan in place for how it would be spent or who would benefit.

Projects included researching governance models, identifying traditional welfare practices and consulting with communities.

Turpel-Lafond concluded that the government spent more than $31 million on the program over four years without any proof the money helped a single child.

Stephanie Cadieux, minister of children and family development, said the report reinforced the ministry’s own decision two years ago to shift away from governance talks and refocus its energy on providing front-line services to vulnerable children.

The report, When Talk Trumped Service, also highlighted the need for tighter controls on spending, Cadieux said. “That’s why we will be inviting Indigenous Approach contractors to apply for funding by submitting business plans that clearly outline measurable targets for providing services to children,” she said in a statement.

The decision affects 16 contractors currently receiving $8.2 million a year, her office said. The money will be spent on direct services to children instead of governance discussions.

Cadieux said the Liberal government still recognizes the importance of those discussions with First Nations, but has yet to decide which ministry will take the lead.

The First Nations Child and Family Wellness Council blasted the government for breaking yet another commitment with First Nations. The Liberals earlier spent nearly $35 million trying to establish regional aboriginal authorities before that process also collapsed.

“The province does not want to create the space for indigenous people to take on and exercise our inherent jurisdiction and authority over our children,” said Chief Bob Chamberlin, a co-chairman of the council, on Thursday. “They don’t want to change the way they do business.”

He also accused the province of using Turpel-Lafond’s report as an excuse to kill the Indigenous Approaches program.

“I feel like the government grabbed hold of that one piece … and used that to shut the whole thing down,” he said.

But Turpel-Lafond said that’s a misperception. She said there never was a real program — just a bunch of ad-hoc contracts without plans or oversight. The ministry knew it was exposed and needed to fix the problem, she said.

“The entire project was premised on a basis that, whatever people submit, they get money for, on a no-questions-asked basis,” she said. “So there are some historical agreements that present some rather unusual practices.

“Obviously, the time was coming for that to be rethought.”

Turpel-Lafond said the contractors will able to reapply for the money, which will be used to provide direct services to aboriginal children.

“If they’re doing great work, they probably have to file actual plans and come within an accountability structure,” she said.

“I don’t think that’s too high of a burden.”

lkines@timescolonist.com

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