VANCOUVER –A damning report released today by B.C.’s children’s representative exposes serious inefficiencies in supports for children and families following an investigation into the case of a young girl with Down syndrome found alone with the body of her deceased mother, say the New Democrats.
Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond’s report, Isolated and Invisible, contains critical lessons for the Liberal government to significantly improve practices based on the investigation into the case of the 15-year-old girl who was discovered starved, soiled and terrified in her mother’s mobile home in September 2010 after her mother had been dead for approximately seven days.
“Today’s report exposes many disturbing aspects about how this case was handled under the Liberals from the beginning,” said Claire Trevena, New Democrat children and families critic. “The children’s representative had to subpoena the B.C. Liberals to get the documents in this case. What was revealed was a disabled girl that was severely neglected by a system that is both disconnected and fragmented.”
Trevena pointed to the alarming lack of communication within the Ministry for Children and Families (MCFD) and their relationship with the Ministry of Social Development (MSD), compounded by overwhelming case loads for social workers.
“The child in this case remained in a situation where her mother’s struggle with poverty and addiction was so profound that she could not provide the very basics of care for her child,” said Trevena. “Despite numerous reports from family and neighbours seeking to help the child and the revolving door of social workers coming into the home from MCFD, no one flagged concern for the child’s welfare, no one connected the dots.”
Turpel-Lafond refers in her report to one caseworker who had more than 200 files, so the time spent on the mother’s health issues overshadowed the daughter, stating, “MCFD lost sight of who the real client was…The primary responsibility should have been to the child, but it was not…her isolation was profound from long-term neglect. There was no plan in place to address her significant needs.”
Turpel-Lafond says the recommendations she is putting forth are simple, while some are long overdue: “I’m hoping this report will motivate people to act and if this doesn’t, I’m at a loss.”
The Representative’s recommendations for children and youth with special needs includes a detailed strategy to ensure that adequate services and supports are provided, a review of the plans for individuals transferred from Community Living B.C. (CLBC) to MCFD services, and a policy that would ensure income assistance can’t be terminated without a review with MCFD and a home visit.
Trevena says the Representative’s recommendations today are critical to improving practices such as reviewing caseloads, streamlining casework communications between ministries and re-establishing personal caseworkers.
“One of my main concerns moving forward is for the 11,000 children who were part of the massive transfer in 2009 from CLBC to MCFD,” said Trevena. “The Liberals must immediately act on the Representative’s recommendations so that these children don’t fall through the cracks of a system struggling with deep systemic problems.”
“The New Democrats will be holding the B.C. Liberals to account to ensure the Representative’s recommendations are put in place so that B.C.’s most vulnerable are supported and protected.”
Adrian Dix and the B.C. New Democrats are committed to making life better and more affordable for families by investing in healthcare, education, and other vital services.