Comment: Funding should go beyond Children’s Ministry

Rick FitzZaland

For years, the Federation Community Social Services of B.C. has been alerting our provincial leaders to the challenges the Ministry of Children and Family Development faces to meet its mandate. We, and many others, have called for specific changes and adequate funding time and time again.

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And once more, a report commissioned by the government has said the same thing. Enough is enough. As the title of Bob Plecas’s review of the ministry suggests: it’s decision time.

It is clear from this review (and a decade of previous reports and recommendations before it), that much work needs to be done to improve the system of care for children, youth and families in this province. Repeated changes in leadership and direction have failed to improve services.

Like Plecas, we believe that a consistent and sustained process of strategic improvement is required. We also believe that MCFD’s current leadership is working hard to do just that. But we also know that this an impossible task with a continuously shrinking budget.

Reports and recommendations offer directions and paths forward, but they require commitment and funding to become anything more than words. The federation has been calling for increased funding for a long time. But unlike Plecas, we know very well that funding internal MCFD systems and adding additional social workers is not enough to fix this crisis (and it is indeed a crisis).

The $50 million of additional funding called for by Plecas is much needed and we strongly urge the government to fund that amount. But, as the review notes, community support will be needed to make this, or any, plan work. It does take a village to raise a child and, as such, investments will also need to be made beyond the boundaries of any one ministry.

This is a complex system that stretches far beyond the government buildings. MCFD is not the only piece of this puzzle. The bigger picture includes hundreds of social-service organizations from Victoria to Valemount, from Fernie to Fort Nelson, organizations upon which the government relies. We’re all a part of the village.

So here’s our recommendation: Match the $50 million of additional funding for MCFD’s child-protection system with a $50-million investment in the community social services that provide mental-health supports, family-preservation work, residential and other support services for children and youth in care, and early-years support for the children and families of B.C.

This money would not reduce the need for improvements to other ministries and the co-ordination of health, education, justice and social services for B.C.’s vulnerable youth. Nor would it absolve individuals and communities from stepping up and helping to care for their neighbours; the burden of responsibility cannot be assigned to a single person, nor a single institution.

But increased funding is long overdue. And to fix the entire system, you need to fund the entire system. We’re ready to do the work. It’s time the government made the right decision.

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

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