The B.C. government blew more than $66 million on a failed attempt to reform the aboriginal child welfare system over the past decade and has no proof the money helped a single child, a new report says.
Representative for children and youth Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond accuses the government of wasting money on consultants, pointless research projects and endless meetings that went nowhere and delivered no tangible results.
“To be blunt, a significant amount of money has gone to people who provide no program or service to directly benefit children,” she writes in her report, When Talk Trumped Service.
The report says $34 million was spent on failed efforts to set up Regional Aboriginal Authorities, while a further $32 million went to self-government initiatives within the Ministry of Children and Family Development.
Little was accomplished and the ministry mostly gave aboriginal agencies money without checking to see where it went, the report says.
“I’m not saying the money was misspent,” Turpel-Lafond told reporters. “I just don’t know how it was spent, nor does the ministry.”
Turpel-Lafond said the “colossal failure of public policy” took place at a time when many aboriginal children have no safe place to live and no help coping with violence, abuse, mental illness and learning disabilities.
“Aboriginal children and youth in B.C. deserve better,” she said.
The ministry “needs to stop directing money into the big theoretical fixes and shore up the front-lines of the system.”
Turpel-Lafond urges the ministry to refocus on delivering services and leave talk about self-government to the province’s attorney general.
“They need to end the dream of having someone else do the job for them.”
She called for a cross-ministry plan to improve the lives of aboriginal children and regular reports on the health and safety of those in care.
Children’s Minister Stephanie Cadieux agreed with Turpel-Lafond’s overall findings. “We’ve strayed and need to get back to delivering service and we’re absolutely going to do that,” she said.
All aboriginal contractors have been told that future contracts will focus on direct services to children, Cadieux said.
She denied, however, that the $66 million was wasted. “Our efforts to build relationships with First Nations communities have established what I believe to be a solid foundation for government as it continues to move forward on the development of governance structures.”
Turpel-Lafond spared no one in her report, noting that aboriginal organizations were willing participants. “Whether this is because they have been so overburdened by so many agendas … or if they believe that they are actually making progress, the representative is unsure.”
Doug Kelly, who chairs the First Nations Health Council, said the report left him “bleeding from the ears and from the heart.”
“It hurt to hear the description of the issues and the problems and the missed opportunities,” he said. “She’s motivated me and I’m sure all of the other 200-plus leaders in British Columbia First Nations to take this problem on.”
Chief Douglas White of the Snuneymuxw First Nation in Nanaimo said the report exposed a “real disparity” in how the ministry distributes money. His agency struggles to stretch every dollar, while other agencies with similar caseloads receive five times more money, he said.
“When I see how they’re supporting agencies that don’t have a single file or when I see that they’re supporting year after year after year of discussions that are going nowhere and achieving nothing, it’s extremely upsetting,” he said.