Comment: B.C. must care for kids, not bottom line

Re: “Youth group-home overhaul urged,” June 13.

For more than 30 years, the Federation of Community Social Services of B.C. has been working to improve the services and supports for British Columbia’s most vulnerable children, youth and families.

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In 2011, this work involved a partnership with the provincial government — one that would extensively review and, we hoped, lead to necessary improvements to B.C.’s system of residential care. That partnership resulted in a joint report detailing a list of 32 recommendations that would improve the lives of children in care.

Since then, there have been fleeting moments of interest in some of those 32 items, but for the most part, neither the funding nor the political will to implement them has materialized. Instead, the community agencies that remain committed to providing appropriate, safe and nurturing services to children in care have been forced to do so with continually shrinking resources while overcoming an increasingly burdensome bureaucracy.

And all while a plan to improve things — a plan co-authored by the government — continues to collect dust on a shelf.

The recent statements by B.C.’s representative for children and youth have once again brought attention to this issue. In spite of the systemic flaws outlined this week, staffed residential resources remain a necessary part of the system that takes care of our most vulnerable kids.

These staffed resources are needed because B.C. doesn’t have enough foster placements available. They are needed because, in some cases, they are the best option for a child.

But within an oft-neglected ministry, improving these staffed resources has often been the least important priority. And you can’t expect to fix a broken child-welfare system while pretending the most broken parts simply aren’t there — or aren’t needed anymore. That’s like trying to fix a flat tire by putting more air into the other three.

The ugly, painful truth is that prioritizing some parts of the child-welfare system over others is no different than saying some kids deserve better care and more protection than other kids.

To be fair, the government has been in power for less than a year and inherited a child-welfare system reeling from a decade and a half of neglect. We have been engaging with them over the past year and believe they are committed to change.

We’ve seen indications that there is the political will to back up the lofty ambitions. But substantial changes and significant investment are needed now — right now. The lives of children are at stake.

It’s time to stop making decisions based on budgets and bottom lines and start making decisions based on what is best for all children in care — not just the ones who are easiest to care for. We are ready to see the resources necessary to care for the many kids with complex needs. We are ready to see an investment that will allow professional staff to be secure and supported in their roles. We are very, very ready to see the things we have been advocating for finally come to pass.

We remain committed to working with the government to make these changes. We stand by our plan and the 32 recommendations that are ready and waiting on the shelf. But it’s time for the government to put its money where its mouth is and step up with the effort and the resources required to bring about the change that the children of B.C. deserve.

Rick FitzZaland is executive director of the Federation of Community Social Services of B.C.

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