2011 Legislative Session: Third Session, 39th Parliament
SELECT STANDING COMMITTEE ON CHILDREN AND YOUTH
MINUTES AND HANSARD
SELECT STANDING COMMITTEE ON CHILDREN AND YOUTH
Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Douglas Fir Committee Room
Parliament Buildings, Victoria, B.C.
Present: Joan McIntyre, MLA (Chair); Claire Trevena, MLA (Deputy Chair); Mable Elmore, MLA; Gordon Hogg, MLA; Douglas Horne, MLA; Kevin Krueger, MLA; Richard T. Lee, MLA; Nicholas Simons, MLA
Unavoidably Absent: Kash Heed, MLA; Leonard Krog, MLA
1. The Chair called the Committee to order at 8:10 a.m.
2. Stephen Brown, Deputy Minister, Ministry of Children and Family Development, appeared before the Committee, provided an update and overview of recent changes within the Ministry, and answered questions.
3. The Committee adjourned to the call of the Chair at 10:29 a.m.
The following electronic version is for informational purposes only.
The printed version remains the official version.
REPORT OF PROCEEDINGS
select standing committee on
children and youth
Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Issue No. 12
Ministry of Children and Family Development: Overview of Organizational Changes
* Joan McIntyre (West Vancouver–Sea to Sky L)
* Claire Trevena (North Island NDP)
Kash Heed (Vancouver-Fraserview L)
* Gordon Hogg (Surrey–White Rock L)
* Douglas Horne (Coquitlam–Burke Mountain L)
* Kevin Krueger (Kamloops–South Thompson L)
* Richard T. Lee (Burnaby North L)
* Mable Elmore (Vancouver-Kensington NDP)
Leonard Krog (Nanaimo NDP)
* Nicholas Simons (Powell River–Sunshine Coast NDP)
* denotes member present
Byron Plant (Committees Research Analyst)
Stephen Brown (Deputy Minister, Ministry of Children and Family Development)
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WEDNESDAY, JUNE 22, 2011
The committee met at 8:10 a.m.
[J. McIntyre in the chair.]
J. McIntyre (Chair): Good morning. This is actually day 2 of our meetings. We're delighted to have with us today Stephen Brown from the Ministry of Children and Family Development, who will be providing us an update on the ministry. We actually have a new deputy and a new minister.
As we heard from the representative, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, yesterday, the relationship seems to have been, I guess, in her words "reset." So we thought as a committee, getting off on the first of our meetings and the first meetings of this session, that it would be very interesting to hear from the rep in terms of her updating the work she has done in the last while and is working on and, equally, to find out any plans from the ministry or updates. In particular for those of us who were on the committee before, perhaps any new directions or resetting of direction would obviously be of interest to us.
We did review three reports yesterday. The Growing Up in B.C. report that the representative's office and Perry Kendall, our health officer, conducted, I think, in October 2010. We looked at the System of Services for Children and Youth with Special Needs, which is a report that the representative's office brought out in September 2010, and also Hearing the Voices of Children and Youth: A Child-Centred Approach to Complaint Resolution, January 2010, which the Representative for Children and Youth office worked on with the Office of the Ombudsperson.
I had mentioned to Stephen very briefly to feel free if he wants to just touch on any of that, but not necessarily. We didn't ask for an update or a response from the ministry on those reports yet.
With that, unless there are any questions or anything from members, I'd like to turn the meeting over to Stephen for his presentation.
Ministry of Children and
Overview of Organizational Changes
S. Brown: Thanks very much. I'll move it along, and then we'll see…. If you look as though you're getting bored, I'll stop, and then you can go into questions.
I'll give you kind of a sense of the last three months and then a sense of where we're going to try to be taking some steps to move forward as we go forward through the balance of this year. As Claire found out during estimates, I'm still on a bit of a learning curve in terms of some of the detail of the programs, although I've got a pretty good sense now of the main programs.
I will do my best if you've got any detailed questions on programs to answer them, although based upon the topic, I decided not to bring any stuff with me today and just thought we could have a conversation more on the focus of the topic. But if there are any questions I can't answer, I'll certainly get the detail and get that pulled together for you quickly.
I'd say the first three months has been learning for both myself and the minister in terms of understanding the scope. I'd say the other focus has been just trying to get a sense of clarity in terms of what some of the key areas are that we want to focus on.
The starting point that we both took was starting with Strong, Safe and Supported and the key themes there in terms of the things that were highlighted as themes for moving forward. We've tried to kind of build from that in terms of our understanding to try and make sense about what exactly we would then want to be doing concretely with those directions.
One of the deliverables I've got, which is due at the end of next week, is to have a draft action plan to the minister that would then take effect for the last nine months of the year. We referenced that to Claire when we were in estimates, in terms that the minister is going to give her a briefing. But I'd be more than happy at a future meeting to give you a more detailed briefing on the action plan that we'll be having for the balance of this year.
The goal is to actually have an action plan for the nine months, and then during that period we're going to use the time to get more detailed and in-depth understanding and begin to shape up a more concrete three-year plan that has some targets. So that would be an objective over the balance of the year.
We thought, because the service plan was already done and there are a number of commitments already made, that for this year it was better to actually build on those and clarify some of the direction there. Then we can have a look at how we actually kind of shape up for the next three-year plan over the balance of the year.
The other piece that the minister was really keen on me getting focused on was…. There's a danger in any organization that you can get lost sometimes in the process and actually forget about the customer — in our case, the clients, the children and youth and families.
The minister wanted a very clear direction that we begin to understand what we're doing and how that relates to outcomes for children and youth so that in terms of an action plan, there's a level of clarity that we're taking action in a way that will either improve outcomes for children, youth and families now or there's a very clear rationale that we're trying to get a foundation in place that is a basis for improving outcomes, but not to actually lose focus.
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It's an obvious thing to say, but sometimes in big organizations you kind of lose your focus a bit in terms of getting so bogged down in the detail of process that you lose the clarity.
The way we're trying to focus on the outcomes is quite simple, really. It's to say that at one level we've got individual outcomes that we need to be paying attention to, and that would be individual outcomes for a child, a youth, a family. Then at another level we've also got an obligation to understand at a population level how we're either contributing or strengthening communities in terms of taking care of vulnerable children. So we could look at a population level.
We're just trying to bring a level of clarity about: when we're doing something, is it for an individual or is it for a population?
The other piece that we thought of was just kind of getting a little bit of clarity.... A word that gets bandied around a lot — not only in this area but in an area I just came from, health — is the word "quality." We always talk about how we want to provide quality services.
What we're settling on in terms of quality.... When we talk quality, what do we mean? Well, we're going to keep a focus on quality being that the service is actually focused on the child or the youth or the family. There's a sense that that is what you should be building around, not that they have to fit in — so a building and a focus on client-centred.
The other aspect of quality is access — having access to service and understanding what level of access people have. I'll talk a little bit more about that as we go through.
Safety is critical, particularly in this field. It was in the field I just came from, and it's critical here — a focus on the safety and well-being of children.
Appropriateness. Appropriateness can be cultural, but it's also the appropriate kinds of services to meet various needs. And then a focus on effectiveness, which gets you back to outcome — that we're actually providing services to achieve an outcome. So do we have a level of clarity around that? We're going to try and use that.
When we use the word "quality," we're going to try and look at…. There are certain dimensions of quality that we want to actually focus on and be able to be accountable for and describe where we're at, where we've got strengths and weaknesses. That would apply across building on the work already done, whether we're looking at prevention or at early intervention or at more tertiary kinds of intervention.
The other piece that we want to focus on, then, beyond quality is the other word that gets bandied around a lot: "efficiency." That's about how effectively we use the resources we've got to actually deliver the services.
We're going to try to get focus on the outcomes when we're talking about what we're doing, as well as then delivering those through the lens of quality services as well as understanding efficiency.
Then the last piece — you mentioned Mary Ellen talking about the reset — is also a level of accountability and transparency, which is a key theme and absolutely critical in this area. We're going to try to really work on that issue about the accountability and transparency.
The way I'm going to do that is.... I've had some discussions with the representative, and I'm going to do some work over the summer and then be working and reporting back to the rep. We're going to look at trying to get a little bit more of a stronger focus on the report card.
I think the ministry took some good steps in the last couple of years in terms of expanding the number of areas that they report out on. We're going to see if we can get a little bit more sophisticated. As we discussed, Mary Ellen and I, it's not to get some kind of perfect system in place by later this year, but it's to actually get underway, and then iteratively we'll improve on our reporting.
Part of the reset was to actually acknowledge and really begin to work with the important role both the representative's office but also some of the other oversight bodies play in terms of children's services. Because of the kind of power that you have through legislation in a number of areas in children's services and the actual impact you can have for good or bad in terms of children and families, the role of oversight is critical.
We wanted to be very clear that that — even though it's not easy on a given day, and it won't be easy on some days, when we get feedback — is a critical role in terms of a healthy and competent child and family services system. We want to try and really build on that.
Those are some of the comments, probably, that Mary Ellen made yesterday in terms of just trying to reset, because this is a key area. Your committee plays an important role.
The level of oversight is a healthy thing to have, and that accountability is a healthy thing to have, even though it may not be comfortable on a given day, when you're actually in the management area of trying to make that work. So we are going to try to build on that and very much look at trying to get not only just a report card, to be honest….
One of the issues that came up through some of the questions that came up in estimates is our ability to actually report out on when to get into the various service lines. Are you actually getting down to the regional level? Even more importantly, one of the questions that you asked was: what about some of the rural communities or smaller urban communities?
We're trying to understand how we can get our management information system so that we've got the aggregate data. It seems pretty good in a number of areas, perhaps not so strong on outcomes. But we'll actually be able to drill down so that we can report out for a more local area, because our services are delivered locally.
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We can say that we can do certain things, but if we don't understand what's happening in some of the local areas…. So we're going to work on that this year. As I say, it's going to be an iterative process. It won't kind of come out the door. We're just going to get something going and get it out of the door, and then we'll iteratively improve on it as we kind of go along over the coming period.
That was that. This will sound a bit daft, but anyway, I wanted to get some level of clarity on: what exactly do we think we deliver on the service lines, and what are our key service lines? So get a level of clarity on that, just to make sure everyone's on the same page.
We have said that the service lines that we deliver as MCFD are early childhood and child care services, services to children and youth with special needs, child and youth mental health services, child welfare and protection services, adoption services and youth justice services. There's nothing startling in that. It's just a level of clarity. When we're reporting out, we should be able to describe what's happening across those service lines and understand that as it's happening across the different geographies in B.C. So that will kind of feed into that.
The other piece that I'll talk on a little bit in a few minutes is then getting some clarity about what the key programs and services and interventions are that we offer under those service lines so that there's a greater degree of clarity in that area.
The other piece that's been tricky, I'll say, is just getting some clarity on a key message we got from staff. It was: "Just give us some clarity on what the transformation piece is, and get that kind of grounded." We've really worked — and you'll see how far we've got — in terms of just trying to get a level of clarity on what's meant by that.
One of the promises that I made to staff early on is that we would drop the word "transformation" from the lexicon and actually talk about incremental changes that we're going to make that link to the minister's direction about keeping it focused on outcomes for children and families. We'll look at making some concrete, incremental steps forward in terms of how we do improve services.
What I've done with the clarity is…. We spent quite a bit of time just working with and understanding some of the aboriginal pieces, which you may want to talk about in a little while. Then also, in the last few weeks we moved on to really trying to understand what was called CAPP — the assessment, planning and practice piece — and said: how can we articulate that in a way that begins to show concrete action?
Staff put it to me nicely yesterday. He said: "If we could have a little less philosophy from you and a bit more concrete action, that would be helpful." So we're going to try to do that.
The way we'll try to do it is…. I was just talking to Mary Ellen about this the other day. Because I'm kind of a compulsive organizer, I just needed to get at something to hang this on to.
So what I've done is that someone told me about a piece of work, which I didn't know was going on. But it was a piece of work in the U.K. Now, it is focused on child protection. It’s by a person called Munro, and she just reported out, I think, in May in the U.K.
The interesting thing about that was that she actually did.... I think it's probably not the first time. But the fact of actually doing a report when there is not a crisis is not a bad idea, because most of what happens in MCFD kinds of worlds across jurisdictions is that you've got a crisis, and then you get some kind of a commission or report that looks at the particular crisis. Well, this is interesting in that she's done it over a period of what sounds like a couple of years.
Anyway, we've looked at that and said: "Okay, what are the key elements that you would have in kind of a solid child and family service system?" Then, how would the elements that MCFD has been working on link into that kind of a system, and then could we use those elements to say, "We need to make progress across these several areas," and then map out how we're going to make progress over what we're going to do this year and what we're going to do next year and actually begin to get quite concrete about areas of improvement.
The neat thing about doing that, from my point of view, is that you're looking at it in a more full organization way, so you're not looking at one piece. You're trying to understand the bigger system. What I've done, if it's okay, is I just listed the nine areas, and I thought if we could use that as a bit of an anchor, I'll talk you through where we're at and link it to the transformation piece and then kind of give you a sense of where we're going. Is that okay? So I'll just give this out.
J. McIntyre (Chair): Stephen, can I interject just for a moment, especially because I...? Particularly on the government side, the members are new. When you're talking about the transformation piece, is that the nice big graph that had the five strands in it?
S. Brown: Yes. Yes, the transformation was the larger piece of transforming services. It was focused on prevention, on early intervention, on aboriginal services and improved services, etc., then also about transforming how we do practice, which was another key concept that was kind of buried in there. Yeah.
J. McIntyre (Chair): I just wanted to make sure that I and others were fully conversant.
S. Brown: In the context of this, then, we're going to use this as a bit of a framework and see if we can begin to
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get more concrete. So I'll just talk through these areas and then give you a sense of where we're at with them.
The first issue is a child-centred practice and service delivery system. We're going to really try to drive, as I said about the minister's direction.... Our focus is children and families. One of the things that we're really just trying to get a little bit of clarity.... As you will know, it's a tricky world for the individual workers who are delivering services, because you've got a tremendous range of pressures here. You've got the focus on the child, but you normally have got the child in the context of a family and the family in the context of a community — hence the name of the ministry.
One of the key issues, and it's come out of several of the reports from the representative, is making sure that in that complexity that you're trying to manage as a worker or as a system, you actually don't lose the focus, which is the child — the child being the key focus — and that you don't lose that. It's easy to say, but across jurisdictions, that's often a hard thing to do because the children are not objects. They're persons with rights, and they're persons with rights who live inside of families, and that becomes a very complex environment in which we're working.
We're going to try to really look at that and say, "What does that mean?" across the different service lines. But from a risk management point of view, we thought the first area to really to begin to focus on was the child protection.
We've had a lot of discussion over the last several weeks of understanding in terms of the elements of the transformation. What exactly does that mean on the child protection piece? The child protection piece is so tricky in the sense of the protection of the child, but there are also all of the rights of the family, as well, and all the drama that goes on. So that's a tricky environment.
One of the pieces that we did early on, which just made sense to the minister and I, was that we reinstated the director of child welfare, so we've got a singular point of accountability. We're continuing to develop that role. The role currently…. The person doing the role is also responsible for a region. Certainly, Mary Ellen has expressed to me, and I don't disagree with the direction of: why not try to get that role based fully, with full attention, out of the provincial office so that it gets full attention? I told Mary Ellen that we'd certainly continue to explore that idea based upon resources such as we've got through the year. That was a key step in terms of getting that underway.
The other piece that I've been just trying to get some understanding of is what we can learn from special case reviews, our serious case reviews, which is normally when there's been a very serious injury or the death of a child. The danger with them is what they are, which is that they're singular hindsight on an individual case. But when you look at them across multiple cases, what can you learn from that? We're trying to focus in on that and just get a better understanding of what we can learn.
In this kind of a field you will not eradicate the risk that happens, which is serious injuries and deaths of children. What you can do, though, is do everything you possibly can to try to mitigate those risks. We've had quite a lot of discussion on understanding....
Someone pointed me to this work about an oversight body in the U.K. called Ofsted, and they have done a recent summary — I think it was in March or April of this year — on serious injuries and what you can learn across multiple cases. I'll just give you a couple of the elements.
You look at that, and you say: "There are things here we could begin to learn systemically, and can we improve on and mitigate the risks?" It's about professionals seeing the child. It's about the challenge sometimes of listening to other adults outside of the family that you may not believe are totally credible, that you may have issues with, a whole range of other factors — but not listening attentively to those adults. Their parents can keep the workers out by talking about how they're not available, they've got other appointments, they're not well and so on and so forth. There are a number of factors.
We're going to be looking at: with those factors, are there things we can do systemically? It's difficult and challenging for individual workers who are doing this day in and day out to balance this. So how do we actually develop some good standards, policies, guidelines that can help workers discern and make judgements?
The other piece that the staff have been working on under the changed agenda is exploring if we can strengthen the way we do assessments of risk. There's a B.C. risk assessment that's been in place for a number of years. There are a number of ideas that we've been exploring. We're going to look at settling on that sometime over the summer.
The one that they're most looking at is one that was developed out of the U.S. but has been used in Australia, various parts of the U.S. It's been used in Ontario. It's a range of assessment tools that give you a bigger picture of risk and therefore highlights certain factors perhaps stronger than we currently have. So we're going to continue working on that, and that will be something that I'd be happy to talk about perhaps at a future meeting when we've reported to the minister and made some recommendations in terms of moving forward with that.
The other piece that we're focused on was particularly for children in care, the rights of children in care. So the protocol agreement that we signed with the representative's office was a key step in terms of reaffirming that we're focused on explaining and ensuring that children and youth who are receiving our services are informed of their rights, and that we do that more effectively. That
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will be an ongoing piece of work that we'll be doing over the coming year with the representative's office to really try to strengthen and make sure we get that rolled out and implemented.
So that gives you a flavour on that. On the child centrepiece, we're going to look at it across the service lines, because it applies to all the service lines. But just in the early work we've done, in terms of areas of focus that are taken, we're focused more on the child protection piece right now, just to have a look at what we can learn and what we can implement to better mitigate and keep that strong focus in terms of the safety of the children.
The next area is the family being the best place for children and youth. In this context, this is where, when the material that will have been talked about before in this committee in terms of the transformation.... There's been a lot of discussion about how we can use a collaborative, strength-based approach to working with families.
Now, there's nothing magic in this, although there's a certain kind of expectation mystique that's built up around it. But this is a fundamental way of practising that. In fact, the vast majority of work is already due, and it's really a matter of focusing in on it and saying: "How can we continue to develop this?"
It's just common sense, as well as good evidence-based practice, which for most of us is that if someone comes into our lives and tells us that they want us to change, we don't take kindly to being told to change. We tend to react to that. We actually might do more in the way of change if the person is collaborating and working with us instead of lecturing us and telling us what to do. Real change comes about, more likely, when you are actually working with, and working with in a respectful way — listening. The basics of a relationship.
I believe that most of the workers, if not all the workers, would actually be trying to do that on a day-to-day basis. What we need to do is look at how we actually support and strengthen that practice so that a person becomes better and better at how you actually work with a whole range of different families and individuals and youth and children who have a whole range of different issues. How do you actually bring yourself into kind of working collaboratively with them while paying attention to the risk factors that you need to pay attention to?
The strength-based approach. Again, there's nothing mystical about it. It's a pretty commonsense approach. Again, if someone comes to you as an individual and says "You need to make a change," and all they do is list all of your weaknesses, that isn't often a good basis for you to react, to say that you want to change. You want to actually hear some good stuff about how you've got some strengths and that you can build on those strengths and you can work together.
These are elements which are good practice, commonsense good practice that we need to build in and make sure we build in. That is a more effective basis for change. So if we say we're going to try to work with families where we can, you've got to bring that kind of practice philosophy or orientation to the work you're doing. It's kind of a commonsense approach, and we're going to look at ways how we can reinforce....
A worker said to me last week in the Okanagan: "Please don't put me through a role play. I don't need a role play. I'm working every day. I need you to help me look at the kind of casework I'm doing." In a very concrete way, we'll look at the principles and then say "How can we improve our practice?" as we're working with the reality of very specific families and children and youth. So we're going to look at how to kind of smarten up in that area and support staff in terms of that approach.
The other piece that has come up and may come before this committee, but anyway, it's definitely come up in the.... There are various words for this, but it's called differential response, alternative response.
It's simply this. When you get a report, and you make a determination in terms of the local office about how you proceed in terms of investigating that report, there's a very formal way you can go about it. The formal way really is that you've decided the risk is so great that you need to actually prepare evidence for or against whether abuse or neglect has taken place, in a way that you're preparing to go to court. Even in that circumstance, you have to work collaboratively with the family and with the various extended individuals — collateral people that were involved in the case.
The alternative approach is to say that if the risk is not great, and you're not likely to end up in court, by actually bringing a collaborative approach early on to working with the family and seeing that they're willing to address some of their issues, you're able to move along faster. So you're not focused totally on getting ready for court.
So if you're not going to go to court, and the abuse is not of a nature that you need to actually do that quickly and apprehend the child and get ready to go to court, you could actually do this in a collaborative way.
We're going to look at using that approach. It's already being used; it's been used since 2003. I think it was called family development and response in 2003. We're using that, but we're going to get a level of clarity around: what are the steps, when are the off-ramps, when do you need to pay attention to the risk factors that are too high to use it? But when it makes sense, it absolutely makes sense to collaborate and work with the family.
For the vast majority…. I think there are something like 30-odd-thousand reports a year. We do not bring 30-odd-thousand children into care. There would be serious issues if we were doing that. It's only a small subset of children who come into care. For the vast majority we're actually working with the families to address any issues and give them some support in working through issues.
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On the family side, we're trying to really strengthen and focus on that. There's no mystique to it. It's a common sense approach to change, which is that you work with, you work collaboratively, you build on strengths. But you also need to pay attention as a system to the risk factors and don't get lost. Keep the tricky balance of trying to understand, working with the families but keeping the focus on the risk to the child — keeping that focus.
Because of the way the world works, you see mistakes being made about that. So to the degree that we can strengthen good standards and good practice support to help workers working in very, very tricky situations in terms of making judgments, that will be a key focus. You'll begin to see some action steps that that will take.
The third area is the extended family. We talked a little bit about this during the estimates, but there's been a process of changes over the last two or three years. I think it was last year that the ministry introduced the extended family program. This also makes good sense, if you've got a good, healthy, extended family around you, to use that family to support the family, up to and including…. Rather than bringing a child into care, the child can stay with an extended family member.
So there's a program being developed there, and some of the changes that went through this spring in the session further enabled another step, which is that if that placement with an extended family member works out, and you want to get a sense of permanency…. We had a kind of quirk, if I understand it correctly, in the way our legislation is written. If the family wants to go to permanently take care, you have to bring the child into care, and in fact, you can lose access to the supports that you've been getting. Some of those supports are important to the families in terms of their ability to take care of more children.
The steps that were taken over the springtime in terms of the amendment to the legislation were that by the end of this year we'll be introducing the change where you can then move that to a permanent relationship. You don't have to come into care, which is just a technical.... You can actually move into a permanent guardianship through the court in a very straightforward manner and continue to get supports. We're working out the details of that to be able to implement it, and again, later on in the year we'll be able to report back to you in terms of the implementation of that.
Having said that, with the extended family, you've still got the same issue, going back to the number one issue, which is that you've got to continue to pay attention to risk and to providing adequate support to the family. Often families are very keen to get engaged in support, but you've got to make sure that you keep the focus on the child and the ability of the family to take care. That has been addressed through the extended family program.
There's an outstanding issue, which the rep brought to the minister's attention very early on, about some of the earlier programs — the Child in the Home of a Relative. We're kind of working with the rep's office right now to look at how we can take some steps there that are constructive steps that work for the families but also pay attention to: have those families got the right kinds of support that they need in terms of taking care of the children?
So that's a piece of work that is underway. I'll definitely be able to report back to you on that in the fall if that's an area that you want further briefing on.
The other piece of this is a more tricky piece, which then will lead us into the aboriginal piece. Under the mandate of the ministry is also that we actually support children, families, in the context of community and that we want communities to be healthy communities, particularly for supporting vulnerable children and families. I think the minister wants us to get a level of clarity about what exactly the role of MCFD is in supporting communities. It would be foolish to think MCFD is the answer to supporting communities.
We need to work collaboratively with the other ministries. As well, in the case of First Nations, we have to work collaboratively with Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, as it's called now, for on reserve. We've also got to work collaboratively with municipalities and the whole array of not-for-profits and various foundations, etc.
We're going to try to get a little bit more clarity and look at how we are more effective in working in partnership with other ministries and other partners in terms of what role and contribution we can make to making the communities healthy and vibrant places.
That very much fits with the family-first agenda and the drive that the ministries have got now, which is looking at how they work across ministries to make sense of how we support families. It very much fits with that. That will be a theme as we get some other clarity on that. We're going to drive some clarity on that and certainly drive some of the partnerships across the ministries as we go through the coming year — to get ourselves positioned.
Having said that, there is a strong commitment to No. 4, to aboriginal children and to families. As you'll know from previous reports, when you look at children in care, we have got a majority of children in care who come from aboriginal families. I think it's about 54 percent, and that number hasn't changed significantly over a period of time. So that is an absolutely critical and important issue, and there are historical realities to the relationship with aboriginal families that we also have to face up to and deal with.
There's a range of things that have been going on in the work. I think there has been a resell over the last
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four or five years with the aboriginal communities. The sense I get coming into this is that for many communities, through the work of our staff, there's a different perception.
I was actually with a unit yesterday which focuses on the peninsula and out towards Port Renfrew and Sooke, working with First Nation communities. It was interesting, listening to some of the comments of the staff. This is a team that has come together, and it's an integrated team which has got a range of mental health services, child protection services, CYSN services, probation services.
It's kind of co-located. They're kept distinct, but they're co-located, and they work together. One of the interesting comments was just how hard it is for some of the other partners in that co-location because of the perception of protection. It has such a strong symbolic connotation for a whole range of First Nations people and Métis people. It has just got such a strong connotation. This team, I think — you know, listening to them yesterday — has just done some exceptional work in actually building trust.
I was with a team in Penticton last week that works in the communities there. They're focused on the on reserve. Again, the trust and the relationship piece of this is fundamental.
A big part of the work that has been going on, on the First Nation piece, has been, first of all: are the services that we provide culturally appropriate? This doesn't mean — and the First Nations I've met with have been absolutely clear — that we have second-class standards and that we're not driving towards service excellence, but what it does mean is that we need to pay attention to the cultural aspects, respect those cultural aspects and respect their world view.
That would also apply to some of the work we're doing elsewhere in this province, such as various communities in the Lower Mainland. It's a fundamental issue that goes back to change. If you're not respected as a person in the culture you come from, you're not going to take help easily. The kind of help you get may be alien to the kind of way you see the world.
So we need to be respectful, and in particular with this focus, that has been a key area of focus. That will stay a focus in terms of trying to take concrete steps to make sure not just that we've got special units like the one that I visited yesterday but that across our services they need to be respectful and building in, in concrete ways, what it means to say: "We're going to be respectful of the aboriginal culture."
That also means recruitment, although there are real challenges. It was great listening to the team yesterday. I mean, they really pointed out to me the challenges. When you've got about 4 or 5 percent of the population and you've got 54 percent of the children in care, you're not going to be able to get all the staff who are actually aboriginal. So you've got challenges there: how you make that welcoming and include people. But we have to work on that in concrete ways and also work with the staff, then, in terms of how we can support staff to understand and be culturally appropriate.
Another piece of work that I'll just highlight there, which I'm kind of learning and getting an understanding of, is on the child welfare side. I mean, coming from the culture and the background I come from, you know, I haven't experienced this. It's the profound experience that individual families have had with child welfare.
There's a whole piece of work that's been going on, over the last couple of years at child welfare, of reconciliation work, as they call it, with First Nations around the issues of protection — particularly the protection side, the child protection side. That will be a continuing piece of work, and it's a fundamental building block, it appears to me, in terms of building trust and relationships and making it healthy.
The team I met with yesterday pointed out that as this trust develops, you actually get more requests for help instead of it being buried. So if the trust develops and people have a trust that they're going to get help and their children are not going to be taken away and scooped automatically…. But again, it's the same issue. It's the challenge of delivering that, and also, you're keeping an eye to the protection of the child.
In some of the discussions I've had with a number of the First Nations over the past three months — and the minister has been involved in some of those — I mean, they're very clear about keeping the child at the centre of this and not that it's about other things. So we need to keep our focus on the child but look at how we actually work. That's one piece.
The other piece that's linked, on the aboriginal piece — which has been going on since, I think, 1986 — is the use of delegated aboriginal agencies. That's a second key strand of the aboriginal work that will continue. A key issue there is: how do we work effectively with those agencies and ensure they're strengthened and developed and appropriately resourced?
That's an area that's been going on over the last couple or three years, with some significant work about looking at how we adequately support and also beginning to get a balance about how many we need and what resources. You know, you've got to look at the capacity issues, etc.
Over the coming year we're going to be working on getting greater clarity around the kind of policy framework and standards framework related to it. There has been a significant amount of work done by the delegated agencies on this. We're going to continue that work and get it to some closure in terms of standards and how we actually shape up and develop. So that will be an area that we're going to continue focus on.
Then the third strand that we've kind of been trying to get a better understanding of over the last quarter and
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will continue working on is the role that we have in terms of supporting, particularly, First Nations on reserve — but also, we're looking at issues around urban aboriginal care — of how we can support and engage aboriginal people in the design and development and delivery of services. What does that mean, and how do we actually make it clear in terms of accountabilities?
The challenge here is simply — and the argument is a logical one and a good one from my point of view — that you need to have strong communities to have strong families, to look at healthy children.
The challenge is: if you kind of, then, are into the community side of development, how do you actually make sure that's linked and that there's some concrete linkage, too, that's going to lead to some improvements for children? So we need to keep working on that and focus on that and get a level of clarity about it. What are we doing, how does that link, and what benefits do we see children and youth getting?
Also, I guess, to the point earlier, MCFD is in community development. It's got a contribution to make, so we need to work in partnership with other ministries, and there is some interesting work going on in that area.
There's some work going on with the Tahltan up in the north, which is where they're very much interested in not MCFD but MCFD and Education, as well as MARR, as well as Health — in working together with them in a more holistic way to look at what contribution those different ministries can make in terms of supporting them as they move forward in shaping and developing their community.
I think we'll see some more of that as we shape up and get a better understanding and clarity about how to kind of move that agenda forward. So that was the aboriginal piece.
Now I'll just talk briefly on the other areas. On the prevention and early intervention, I think the piece there that we've been focusing in on is just trying…. There's an array of services. We canvassed some of them when we were in estimates. There's a wide array of services. What I don't have a good handle on now and I'd like to get a better handle on is the array of services and how that array is then available across the different geographies. That was one of the areas that I think we canvassed in estimates.
There are some areas which have got an excellent array of services and some areas that have not. And I think that was one of the questions. I can't remember the community, but you asked about a particular community. So one of the pieces we're going to do is look at the range of prevention services, look at the linkages.
I've had some really interesting meetings with a number of the agencies, and they're very much onto this and are already doing it. They're looking at how they leverage the resources they've got, work collaboratively together and work with communities in a much more holistic way. I've actually met several agencies in Penticton last week, and they very much are into that, which is: how do they collaborate and work together, link resources, so that it's not confusing to families in the community where you've got seven or eight agencies working independently?
So it's how we actually leverage those linkages and understand the distribution. For the distribution, the kind of geography we're trying to use is to say that we've got remote, rural, urban and metro. What's the distribution of services that we have across those communities in B.C.?
Understand, if you're in a remote area, you're just not going to get the same range of services that you might get in downtown Surrey. But how would you get access to services if you are in a remote area? What can we do in terms of the continuing of services?
So on the prevention, there's a wide array of prevention and early intervention services. We're looking at kind of getting those to look organized on paper a little bit, understanding where they're delivering, understanding the linkages that they have and working with those agencies to actually show that, from a family perspective, a family in a community can make sense of where to go for services and how to best access those services, and also look at the value-added of those services in terms of again pushing to the point the minister wanted in terms of the outcomes that you're trying to deliver to a child or a family in terms of the community.
We've got to finalize these yet, but I think that will probably be the main focus that we'll have, because we've a vibrant range of services. I think it's going to really be trying to understand how we can best use those services and link those services and leverage them even more effectively. We'll be doing that obviously in collaboration with the wide range of agencies that we work with.
The next one, which is about effective services, gets to the very first thing I said, really. We've got six service lines, and then across the service lines there are certain programs, and those programs offer certain services. Some of the services are actually one-on-one interventions.
It sounds a bit boring, but I want to say that we've actually got that…. We understand what that range is. If you understand that range — that these are programs, these are services and these are interventions — you can then begin to get to the transparency and reportables about: are they effective? Do they actually deliver what we think they're delivering? Do we understand that? Can we articulate that? What's the evidence for them? How are we using them? Are we using them most effectively?
One of the key challenges, I think, for any practitioner — any social worker or mental health worker or probation worker or CYSN worker — is always judging where
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the child or youth is at, where the family is at and what's the right level and intensity of services that we should be offering to this child, youth or family at this point. Do I have access to those services? If I do have access, do I have the right level of access? Do I bring in the right amount at the right time? So that requires a significant degree of professional judgement.
I think we can help staff by having a greater level of clarity about: here's the range of things that you can use. Also, what do we know about when to use those services and how much to use in terms helping individuals? Then we can also look at that across the geographies and say: what does that mean for a youth or child in a remote area or in a rural area or in an urban area? That is another key direction we got from government — understanding particularly access out into the rural and remote areas. How do you facilitate and support access?
It's a bit basic. One of those foundation pieces is to actually get some clarity on that and then say: "Okay, now what steps can we take to begin to improve the effectiveness of the services so that they link to children and families?"
The next one is a key one and is at a level of confusion. Another word that I said I would stop using, although I failed because I used it in a document the other day, was "integration." We've used it a lot. That's bounced around, and people are getting both anxious and confused about what is meant by integration. We're going to actually try to use this word: "collaboration."
If a child is receiving services from more than one of our service lines, there is a higher risk that that child — and we're going to see examples of it; we've seen examples of it — will fall through the cracks because of the lack of clarity of it. It could be roles. It could be a lack of clarity about how to collaborate and work together.
My observation is that where we've got co-location, that is not such a big issue. When you know the person two offices down is the probation officer or three offices down is the CYSN worker, and you know them and they know you, you talk to each other more easily.
Where we've got separation, we've got to think carefully about: if the CYSN office is three kilometres away from a child welfare office and they're working with the same child and family, how do you make sure there's effective collaboration? I think that's going to be a mixture of getting some clarity around standards as well as how to actually facilitate people effectively working together from different professional lenses to look at the child or the family in a holistic way.
I haven't got an answer on this right now, but we are going to be looking at taking some clear steps to clarify standards, clarify practice as in how you actually.... I think there's a key role for supervisors here and how we actually do supervision. How do we identify those children and families who are receiving multiple...? And then again it becomes an issue of: are we getting the right levels of services, and how do we actually link those services together?
That will be a key piece of work that I'd be happy to talk more about later on in the year when we settle down and identify some of the key actions that we want to take and then how we're going to make some progress — what progress we hope to make — over the coming year.
Another piece linked to that in terms of collaboration is then getting back to the issue of collaboration across ministries or across providers. It's not just collaboration within the MCFD but it's how we effectively link appropriately the social development with health or with education in terms of working where we need to pay attention.
A lot of the time that works, and sometimes it doesn't work. We need to understand why it is not working, where it fails and what kinds of things we need to do to actually strengthen that. That's something that, for sure, I've had some conversations with Mary Ellen about, and we'll be actively working with the rep's office over the coming year on that area.
Then the last area I'll just emphasize under collaboration is.... I'll get a percentage run, but a large percentage of our dollars and therefore our services are provided by agencies. A key issue is using effectively, working with effectively and partnering effectively with those agencies and how they work.
Again, I was in the Okanagan last week. I was with a team in the Okanagan, and they've done a really neat thing. When I went to meet with the team, they'd invited the local agencies to be part of the same meeting, so we had a joint discussion together. They were talking about how they work together to understand the families' needs in the communities and how they can help each other and support each other.
That is the kind of collaboration we need, because if you've actually got the right kind of collaboration going on, you're minimizing the risk of a family falling through the cracks. Even outside of the kind of more dire situations, it's much easier for a family or a child to make sense of this confusing array of services if they're working together in the interest of the family.
I think we'll work this through and get into some more detail, but we'll take some concrete steps in all three of those areas over the coming year, and I'll be happy to report back on that.
Number 8 and 9 are kind of underpinning fundamentals that we need to pay attention to. Number 8 is social work expertise and competencies, and so all of the above in this field….
This field is based upon the professionals and the support staff who actually work with the children and families every day. If we're not supporting them adequately and paying attention to the kinds of skill sets they need,
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the competencies they need, and how we're helping and supporting them develop those in the complexity of the kind of services they are providing, you've got every risk. So the contribution you can make to those individuals as a ministry, both within MCFD and in the agencies, is you're looking at how you're developing your key competencies across the sector in terms of working.
We're going to be actively looking at that. What are the key competencies? How do you develop them? How do you best develop them? We had a good discussion. I had a good discussion anyway, I thought. It was a good discussion with the team last week because they gave me some very concrete feedback about what they thought helped them and what they didn't think helped them in terms of developing competencies.
I am very much interested. We're going to do something with the report that's going to come out shortly from the rep's office, which is to use that as an active case, a case review, that could actually be used across the various sites to say: "Okay, what does this tell us? Does this apply to us? Have we got the same....? How can we improve our practice to make sure this doesn't…?"
I got a few ideas last week from people about really focusing on specific cases or case reviews or types of cases or types of situations. A key issue that was raised yesterday was how effective or not we are in terms of dealing with serious addictions. How do we actually judge that? What services can we bring? When do they get brought? How do we do that, and when is it the right time?
There are a number of key areas that if you look at the kinds of children and families and the kinds of problems and challenges they're dealing with…. If we focus on those and say, "Okay, how can we up our game in terms of bringing more skill sets and competencies as well as how we link services?" we can probably deal with the high percentage of the kinds of issues that children and families are dealing with on a day-to-day basis when they come and present to us.
That's a work in progress. Again, we want to get up to a more concrete, specific plan about what steps we would be taking.
The other piece I just mentioned that I had some meetings this week on — and again, we'll compile that action plan — is what steps we're going to take in terms of supervision. What's good supervision? Supervision doesn't just have to be the manager. It can be peer supervision. It can be shared case reviews, etc. But we're going to get a level of clarity on that, because if we're going to try and up our game and support staff, we need to make sure that they're getting the kind of support they need.
The last piece is on the organizational context. I'll just highlight a few areas. The fact that our services are geographically delivered means that people want to be able to get decisions at a local level that apply to their management services. So we're taking a look at and will make some decisions on how best to really support and strengthen the middle management across the ministry or out in the field, working and supporting staff.
We're having some discussions right now with the management in terms of how we might strengthen and focus that. We're going to get to a conclusion about action on that almost immediately, to be quite honest with you. But I need to work it through with staff before I could report out on it.
The other piece with that is having a level of clarity around accountabilities so that there's a level of understanding about where a person can make decisions, where they need to get help, where they need to actually go. So we're looking at the decision-making — how we actually make decisions. It's not some magic to it; it's quite simple. But we'll just get a bit more discipline around: "Here's how we get decisions made and how we then enact decisions."
A third piece is how we as the MCFD work at a broader level of engaging the various agencies and the bodies in terms of having an ability to engage in discussion about policy direction and shaping up so that we strengthen partnership in working together and we take advantage of the expertise and knowledge that is out in the contracted sector but also the not-for-profit sector.
We have got to deliver on phase 2 of the integrated case management, which is an IT project. That's a key area of focus over the past several months and will remain a level of focus over the coming balance of the year as we move forward.
The last piece I'll just highlight then is to say that on the quality side, there has been a lot of discussion and work done by the team over the last couple of years in terms of how to get a more effective quality assurance system that looks more holistically at quality, not just in terms of paper files — check marks against pieces of paper — but actually looks at the issues I've been talking about, which are around outcomes achieved, around practice, around issues of linking resources — a more rounded approach to quality assurance. The work has been done. They've really been waiting for the go-ahead to come and do it.
We will be implementing that quality assurance system, which will focus on site-based practice and quality assurance, which is based on more continuous learning as opposed to some kind of check-mark system. We're going to start running those in October, and we'll have a schedule for those that will be done as some routine discipline in terms of moving forward.
We're also looking at how we can better link knowledge in terms of…. There are like a zillion bits and pieces of journals and work being done out in various sectors. How can we translate that and help that knowledge get to staff in usable and easy ways so that they could actually use it to develop practice? So that's another task that the team is going to look at.
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The last piece linked into that is an area I mentioned earlier, which is that we need to look at how we report out and how we actually account for the work we're doing and make some further steps in terms of strengthening that. Sorry for going on for so long, but that gives….
What I've tried to do is anchor the kind of making sense onto these kinds of areas and what the next steps are…. I've got to report to the minister in about ten days with: "Okay, these are very nice. Here are the ten to 15 key actions that you're going to deliver on, and she wants to see some action here." From what you've just heard, I will be actually working for the balance of the day and over the next several days to get a document ready for the minister, which will then say: "Here are the key actions that we're going to work on this year."
We're going to be on a bit of a learning curve here, but the way we're going to try and move on those actions is on 90-day cycles. So instead of it being something that is kind of out there somewhere, whatever action we come up with, we're going to actually then look at the balance of the year and say: "Okay, these are the steps we want to take over the next 90 days."
We will not be perfect in achieving that, but we're definitely going to try and get anchored in: "Here are the action steps. Here is the outcome we think we're going to get to, and then here are the key milestones that we're going to work on over the next period — nine months, it will be — in 90-day cycles," which then at least I'll be held accountable for in terms of moving those forward. So that's how we're going to try to really get working with staff.
The other piece that I'll finish on is just to say that…. Now, with the Legislature you're kind of pretty well tied down here. So one of the key issues that the minister was really keen on was that we actually understand the reality, as opposed to having sat in a calmer office in downtown Victoria, about how the world should be. It's actually getting out and understanding and meeting with staff and understanding some of their realities, because if you don't understand the realities, we're not going to improve services.
All I've just said is based on the fact that we are now just underway. The minister is off in the Kootenays today. She was also in the Okanagan — passed through the Okanagan last week.
We're trying to get out — between us, over the balance of the summer — across the province in various locations to meet with staff, meet with agencies, meet with community groups and just try to get a flavour as much as you can. You do get a better flavour than sitting in an office in downtown Victoria about what the realities are for the youth and the kids and the families who are getting our services but also for our staff and partners who are providing services.
We think that by doing that, that will also further shape up our action plan as we go forward here so that we're basing it in the reality of what we're trying to work with.
That's my update. I hope that's okay.
J. McIntyre (Chair): Take a breath. Thank you very much, Stephen.
I thought I'd check who we have on the line.
N. Simons: Hi, it's Nicholas here.
J. McIntyre (Chair): Oh, good.
Anyone else but Nicholas? Gordie Hogg was going to join us as well.
N. Simons: If you can put me on the speakers list, Joan, I'd appreciate it.
J. McIntyre (Chair): Okay.
I see Doug Horne, Nicholas and Richard. All right, that's a good start. I'm on the list as well.
D. Horne: Stephen, I want to thank you for that. I think it was a great overview, and I have to say that it's great to hear the change that you're looking at and the review and how it seems to be very holistic in your approach and the way things are moving forward.
I think one of the things that might be helpful to the committee, as well, and one of the things that is important.... You talked a lot about getting up to speed over the last three months. Obviously, it's important, but I think one of the things we're often too modest about is our backgrounds and the skill sets that we do bring to the table.
I know you have a PhD in strategic planning in the public sector and the strategic management of those areas. You're obviously bringing those skills, but also your background in Alberta in the review of the child welfare system there, before you came here to Health.
Basically, you've now spent three months reviewing our department here. I'd be interested in some of the things that you found when you reviewed their system in Alberta a little bit over ten years ago now — some of the differences and similarities that you see and really how you see that background come into play in your new role.
S. Brown: I've worked most of my career in child and family services, right up to just getting parachuted into Health. It's probably not the right answer to this, but anyway, where I got to with the child welfare review is.... You know, when you do the PhD, they make you kind of look at the history. So I looked at the history of child welfare in Alberta as it was.
What astounded me — which is kind of obvious when you think about it, but anyway, it did hit me — is that
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child welfare is kind of bounced along based upon major reviews about every five years. Then out of the major review comes another big list of things to do.
In Alberta — I can't remember the date now, but I think it was the early '90s — with absolutely good intentions some really decent people who I've got a good degree of respect for launched a massive change process. They got some great engagement from agencies, communities, etc.
My own personal conclusion. When I was then asked to be part of the child welfare review, going out meeting with youth and families, I got a really bad feeling. I'd been part of the change process, so I felt, like other people, that what exactly had changed for the children and families through all this incredible amount of effort that had taken place....
I came out of that, even though I'm really interested intellectually in the idea of big change and how that's really exciting and dramatic.... In fact, child and family services will make a lot more progress if it was able to incrementally focus on some fundamental challenges.
When I read the Munro report, which I just referred to, I thought: "Well, that's astounding that they've done a report outside of a crisis." Munro wasn't like: "Well, let's go into a mega-transformation." She talked about how there are some key areas you need to focus in on and strengthen and improve. I'm an advocate of that. There are some key areas.
This is a true story. When I was doing my PhD…. I think it was in British Columbia. The Order of the Daughters of the Empire, I think it was called, which is a B.C. organization. They did a child welfare review. I think it was in 1940-something-or-other, and I had to dig this out of the archives. It was on Gestetner paper. Anyway, for the heck of it, I typed it up.
I got it typed up, and I actually handed out the recommendations of the Order of the Empire's review in 1948 at a meeting of agencies and social…. I said: "Here are recommendations." I'm not kidding you. For the most part, they were the same recommendations that had come through each of the reviews. So it's like: "Well, let's just focus in."
I talked to Ted Hughes. Ted Hughes's advice to me was: "You know, Steve, you're going to get these reviews." This is what happened. Look at what came out of his review, and you'll see some fundamental ideas there. I think Mary Ellen kind of thinks this as well. There are some fundamental pieces there. Okay. Now, have we actually taken that and embedded it and done it?
So my thinking is that…. That's why I said that even though I'm kind of interested in big transformations, I just don't think they get you there. Actually, I understand there are some key areas I thought we could strengthen. If we strengthen and keep a focus on the kids and families in a very concrete way and say, "Does this make a difference? If it doesn't, let's do something different," I think we'll make more progress.
It's a bit of a boring answer, really, but I kind of really feel that. That's the way we could move forward with child and family services — by actually doing that more concrete improvement stuff and not big, radical change.
D. Horne: Quite frankly, as I see it, it is transformational change to actually focus on delivering the services that we're supposed to. That's an unfortunate thing to say, but I take it there's some truth to it.
S. Brown: No, but with that, you do get transformation.
I can't remember. There was a new nun or a sister in health. She was at a conference. She runs a big organization in the U.S. She stood up, and she said: "You know, you can go out and you can get a million ideas from the airport bookshelves on change, and you got a million ideas of things you can do."
I can't remember her organization, but I do remember her saying this. She said: "What we did is picked one, and we said that we are going to stick with it for the next five years, and we're not going to do anything else. We're just going to stick with this one idea, and we're going to incrementally, year over year, make improvement." And she did.
Their organization.... This is several organizations on the health side. By picking a couple of key ideas and just drive with it, you make a lot more progress, which is transformational, than if you're actually flitting around every five minutes looking for the latest idea to change.
D. Horne: That's great.
N. Simons: Thank you. That was a very comprehensive overview.
My question is, first of all, what's been happening over the past six years, and what successes have been achieved in what I think has been mostly a talked-about change? I'm also curious. If the focus is going to be on the child and the family, well, where has the focus been before?
I'm caught between this idea that you're planning all sorts of changes, but I don't hear anything new. And if there is something new, have you made your recommendation that things don't occur without adequate resourcing, at the risk of putting the system into chaos, which we saw happening in 2001?
If this change is actually occurring, how is it going to be resourced? And if change isn't occurring, which is equally problematic, how are we going to address the fundamental problems that meet the child welfare agencies, which are impoverished? That's the bottom line.
So I'm kind of caught between wondering whether what you've said in the last half an hour is actual change,
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and if it's actual change, then are there going to be adequate resources?
S. Brown: I think our answer is this. The work that's gone on…. I don't know about the last six years, because I haven't focused on that, but I have really tried to understand the last couple or three years in terms of: what were some of the key pieces of work being done?
I didn't go back as far as you're asking, Nicholas, so I don't know about earlier pieces. But what I tried to focus in on was: what were some key areas that the ministry was trying to move forward on?
Outside of the big change stuff, there is lots of stuff that is changing in the ministry over the last three or four years in terms of different programs being introduced, changes that would be made across the different service lines. So there are lots of changes that weren't kind of linked to this idea of the transformation. There are lots of practical changes that have been made on various programs in child care, the extended family program. In child welfare there is a range of things that have gone on in terms of specific pieces of work that have been done that I've seen.
There's a whole range of stuff going on. But on the transformation itself, the big ideas.... I think in the transformation were two kind of big ideas. One was: how do you actually get more effective results for aboriginal children and families?
On that front, Nicholas, I'm learning on this, because I didn't have a lot of work that I did with First Nations when I was in Alberta. But my impression is that there has been a fundamental shift in the relationship with a range of First Nations, which has actually given them some sense of hope that there is going to be active collaboration and engagement to focus on concrete services, to the point of saying: "What is the change?"
On that front, I think we need to make that relationship now work in terms of concrete, specific services on the ground. There's a number of experiments going on, and there are about 15 or 20 pieces of work that are going on in different reserves with different bands across B.C. that I think, with further support and shaping up, will begin to make a difference.
I think the other big piece of change that they did was that they actually established…. They co-located a number of teams across the province that are specifically working with First Nation communities and with agencies. I think that what I am hearing is a shift and a change in terms of the practice, access, support — families feeling as though they're getting access and that it's safe to get access to supports.
I'm still working in terms of my incentive, but I do believe there has been a fundamental shift that people have talked to me about — certainly, quite a lot of the leadership. At the community level, a number of the agencies have talked about a fundamental shift that they see. Now they want to see further action. They want to get it mobilized. There's been a shift there.
I think on the other piece, on the practice piece, that, to be honest with you, has kind of stalled a bit in terms of getting the practice on the ground about what the shift in practice is. I think the ideas are sound. I absolutely think the ideas that have been worked on are sound ideas in terms of how to do collaborative practice with children and families, how to do strength-based approaches, how to actually do planning in a much more concrete way that links services.
The ideas are sound. The point you're making, I think, is that what we need to do is get that translated to the ground, for staff, in a meaningful way that actually helps them shift and change some of the way they deliver services.
In terms of the resource issue that you're seeing, I'm still trying to get my head around it, to be honest with you. I'm trying to understand where we have wait-lists. I'm trying to understand what the distribution is, access that people have, to services and how much service they get. The way I'm trying to do that is…. I think if we can get a good level of detail, a better level of detail, about…. Not aggregate, because in aggregate, a number of areas look quite good.
But to the question that Claire asked when we were in estimates: when you get down to specific communities, have they got access to those services? A key piece that we're going to look at is trying to get an understanding of: what is the distribution of services, and what is access like? That is going to be, in part, just kind of listening, but also listening to staff at a local level about what their challenges are.
Then it's really beginning to work within the resources that we've got, to look at how we're optimizing the use of the capacity we've got in terms of trying to meet the needs.
My own experience in child welfare — both in Alberta for a number of years and then in the U.K. — is that some of the challenges and complexity of problems that children and families have.... I mean, there are never enough resources, ever. And there are some complex problems that we, even with resources, are not sure about what you can do. But I think you can get a lot more disciplined about understanding the linkage between your resources and the demand. I think we're going to be able to describe that a lot better as we go through the balance of this year.
N. Simons: Well, yeah. Thank you very much for that response. I do think that the ministry has a role to encourage the federal government to take its responsibility with First Nations issues, because ultimately, if
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the federal government isn't a part of the on-reserve function, then we don't go anywhere, really.
I mean, the province is very reluctant to engage in funding services on reserve. As you pointed out, the fact is very…. A disproportionate number of kids in care who are aboriginal or First Nations is problematic. But I'm looking forward to talking more with you at some point in the near future. It would be interesting.
R. Lee: Thank you for the presentation. You talked about the engagement with different communities on the local level, on the ground, how the services should be delivered more effectively. We know that besides the aboriginal communities, there are multicultural communities around the province and also different values in certain cultures. Some of those are quite specific in terms of family values.
Sometimes the level of services or the aim of the services, the objective of the services at the ground level delivered or executed by the social workers…. Sometimes there are some conflicts, if I may say.
We know that there are certain standards, of course. The act of that legislation has to be followed. But there are certain cultural aspects of that, the sensitivity of that and also in terms of protection of children. Are there any efforts in...? I know that there are some efforts, but is there enough to engage the social workers so that they are more sensitive to different values?
S. Brown: I'll give you a partial answer. I was meeting with some staff out in.... I think the meeting was just in Richmond, but anyway it was some Fraser and Coastal staff from the Lower Mainland. They raised the issue that they felt there was some.... I mean, they're doing some work themselves, but they felt we needed to give a greater deal of emphasis, because on the issue of access, access isn't just about if it's there. A big issue just on the First Nations side is actually feeling comfortable in going to get access.
They were making the same point that for a number of the communities that they're working with in the Lower Mainland, it's whether the community feels confident. The same issue is actually, in many ways — different histories but the same issue — trust. It's about: "Do you understand my culture? Do you understand what my values are on child-rearing? And how are you going to engage with me, and how are you going to work with me?"
I haven't followed through on it, but the conversation we had was we were having a similar.... Where I just came from in Health, we were doing some similar work where we were engaging with some of the larger communities — because there were minority communities — in the area of primary care, to understand how primary care could make more sense in a cultural context so that people feel confident in terms of accessing it.
I didn't mention it in my presentation, but I did make a commitment to the staff that, in fact, we would have some further conversations about what initiatives we could take and how to do it from a MCFD, because it's not just the Lower Mainland. Obviously, B.C. has got a lot of families who are immigrant families — first-generation, second-generation. So it's how we actually think through that.
The message I got was that it's a key and a growing area of importance, and it will be a critical issue for B.C. over the next number of years. It already is in terms of the size of the population. So I haven’t got something concrete to say, generally, other than what you're raising was definitely raised as how do we do that, because that's the critical issue for quality in terms of access and appropriateness for a number of communities.
The staff felt as though they need more support and help in terms of how to work with that, even though the staff also reported there are some various pieces of initiatives going on in terms of that kind of work to make sure that the services are appropriate.
R. Lee: Can I follow up with one question?
The perception, I think, over the years is actually not that the transformation is going too quickly. It's the movement or inertia inside the ministry or the system itself. It's so big that this is difficult to change — making changes. I don't know. In your experience, is that the case?
S. Brown: It is a big organization, and it's big geographically distributed. The trick to changing it, if there was, like, a magic bullet here.... You know, the reality is that in the private sector, let alone in the public sector, I think about 70-odd percent of change initiatives fail. After about 50 years of research into change in organizations, a large percentage of the big changes fail.
One of the issues in changing where you can fail is…. If you actually spend so much time analyzing the change and it doesn't actually get out to the operations, and it doesn't start moving from operations to customers, in the private sector — in our sector, to citizens — you actually can get yourself stalled because you begin to overthink what you're trying to do.
I don't believe, personally from both my study and experience, that people are resistant to change. I think the change has to make sense, and it has to be articulated. You have to get it close to them so they can start working with it. I don't think it's about the size necessarily.
I think the trick is — and it's not like you critique this because this happens in big sophisticated organizations…. If you get too bogged down in trying to think it through too much and you don't get it out to your operations and start letting it happen and then shaping it up, it collapses in on itself.
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The other thing you can do.... And to the point you were asking earlier about, transformation — the danger of transformation. The word itself.... I mean, change is transformation.
If you go for big change, if you kind of dislocate the organization too much, so people start thinking, "Oh, I shouldn't be doing that anymore, and something's going to come in about three months' time that's going to tell me what to do," you can end up trapped in this middle ground where you've started letting go of some of your basics but you haven't actually landed something on the operations side.
My own thinking on change is if you're going to do it, just get the idea. You're not going to get it perfect. Get it out. You start using it. The reality of the world out there will actually shape up whether the idea is working or not.
My own view of the change piece.... And I saw this in Alberta, to be honest, in a bigger way than I saw it here. That went on from, I think it was, '92 to about '98, '99. It did land then. They did the regionalization. But it just got caught up in kind of blue-skying, refining ideas, thinking through, different people having different ideas of what to do. I'm kind of like focused on solving thinking. Just get focused on a dozen key ideas and just get them out there, and then they'll shape up. That's my own perspective on it.
C. Trevena (Deputy Chair): I have a number of questions, and I don't want to abuse the time, so I'll start off with one and then see where we go, with the indulgence of the Chair.
From your response to Rich just now, so we throw away the org charts from the previous transformational change and start again. Is that what we're saying?
One of the things that did come from the last six years, as well as a clear concern about a lot of blue-skying and not having anything concrete, was the shift to regionalization. We're hearing from people concerns about this and the delivery of services in a regional aspect — that there is unevenness in the delivery of services, not just the rural to urban but that the different regions have different approaches.
In fact, when we had the representative yesterday, we were listening about the child-focused complaints base process, and the representative said at that time that regionalization was impacting the complaints process there.
So while you have obviously very focused targets, are you going to be looking in an organizational way at shifting regionalization? That's one question, and then I have a couple of others, depending on time.
J. McIntyre (Chair): I think that's fine. I've got a couple of different areas myself.
C. Trevena (Deputy Chair): Okay, great. Thank you.
S. Brown: I'll do that one first.
The answer is no. We will not be shifting about the regions. In fact, we're trying to just get clarity about the regions and then what are the sub-areas within the regions, as kind of a structural piece.
But to the point you're saying, which is: how much consistency do we need and how much variance do we need? We need to increase a little bit more the consistency across various areas. Complaints is one that I've discussed. There is going to be a number of areas where we need to get greater consistency.
I think that it does vary, Claire, from whether it's metro or it's urban or rural, because you've got to have some difference there. But you should be able to…. If you're receiving services in a metro area or in an urban area, there should be similarities across, and there are some fundamentals in the complaint process, which Mary Ellen mentioned. The Ombudsperson also mentioned it to me.
There was an area where there needs to be consistency — the rights of the child and how we actually explain the rights of the child, how we do investigations. There needs to be consistency. So there's a level of consistency that is required.
I don't like to be critical because it's like a judgment call — right? — that you're making change. If you don't create enough space, people then feel as though it's a top-down change. So there isn't an easy answer about how much consistency versus how much creativity. One thing that I've heard, and I've seen it now in several instances of teams I've met with…. There is some really good, creative stuff going on, but going on within the context of good standards. So it's allowing enough space.
We are going to be looking at a number of the different areas about what our standards are and what we expect to be done across the province in terms of the implementation of those standards. I think part of the challenge for staff has been mixed messages about: some standards will change, and they're going to change and you're going to hear what those changes are. So people think: "Well, should I be following the standards or not following the standards?"
I don't overexaggerate that, because I don't think it's light. It's massive, but there are areas where we need to drive consistency. So there are some concrete areas. That was one that certainly Mary Ellen talked to me about — and the Ombudsperson — and we agreed that that is an area where we'll drive consistency, but there are several other areas that we'll focus on.
So we start to stifle. I don't want to send a message out, though, that I'm trying to stifle creativity and judgment, because that is critical in this field — right? But it's doing that within some parameters, and we get a shared
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understanding across in that we are a ministry and that citizens should be able to expect to be treated in a certain way. They should be responded to in a certain way. They should have access to certain services in certain ways, and they should be standard. We need to drive that, and it's not about it being a judgment at different levels.
I've had other examples. I think some of them came up during estimates — examples of a worker or a manager deciding: "Well, I'm going to do it differently here than over there." And that's not okay. Finally, I think there's a youth question. I can't remember now, but there was a question you asked.
So we are going to drive that a little bit and just see where the balance is — right? But I want to do that with…. I mean the biggest kind of screwup we can make is that you start deciding from an office down here about what that should be. So I've got to get engaged in a really good, healthy dialogue, debate and discussion with the executive directors, the community managers and the team leaders. But I am keen to drive a greater degree of consistency across.
C. Trevena (Deputy Chair): On that, and then I'll go back to my final question. You mentioned collaboration and the successful collaboration down here in the southern Island and other areas of collaboration. Is this in working, in involving the ministry…? Is this something you're looking at more, that there will be more not just collaborative teams but bringing in from other ministries so that you get health authorities working with teams and education to really work on all aspects of helping the child?
S. Brown: Well, there are two levels to it. I mean, we've had clear direction as deputies that we need to start working a lot more closely together in terms of looking at programs or services for children and families. We're looking how to… So that's a good direction. Now we've got to get practical about: what does that mean in terms of how we do that on the ground? You'll see that as a strong approach.
Because of where I come from, one…. I don't want to kind of oversell it, but the deputy of Social Development has got a very strong background and knowledge about this ministry, and already we're beginning to work very closely there. With Health, I've got a series of meetings set out with various CEOs to look at how we can begin to work more collaboratively on the ground in terms of a number of areas. I think there's tremendous overlap. Obviously, there's already strong collaboration on mental health, but I think there are other areas that we can collaborate on. I've had some conversations with the deputy of Education.
We're actually looking through MARR with the work with the Tahltan. Instead of having the Tahltan kind of line up to go and meet with the minister, the individual ministries, why can't we get the right people together in a room? And we're actually doing it together, and that's very much a direction we got from the Premier — that we need to get our act together and start making that work out at a practical level so that it makes sense at a community level.
I personally believe in that from the background I've got. I think you'll see that rise as a strong theme over the coming months.
C. Trevena (Deputy Chair): My final question for you, then, if that's okay. The Tahltan leads into it very nicely. Delegates to authorities. You mentioned that you're looking at, if I interpret what you're saying right, the delegation of authorities, perhaps a bit more accountability for limiting the numbers? I just wanted clarification on that.
Other questions that stem from this for me are…. For First Nations who are not on reserve — a large proportion of First Nations are urban; the urban aboriginal population is very large — whether the First Nations service is always appropriate. I know that in certain areas, like in Port Alberni, there's a shift to having First Nations service for all First Nations. Whether that's always appropriate and how much choice the families and the client will have in choosing the sort of service.
Secondly, maybe thirdly, on the aboriginal question. Nicholas raised the buy-in from the federal government. But at the moment, working with the social services on reserve: how much can you work closely with that if you don't have federal government buy-in?
S. Brown: Okay. I'll try to answer those. With the delegate agencies, I haven't met with the delegate agencies yet, so for me to be then saying: "You need more accountability…." I haven't done that kind of dialogue.
The message I've been receiving is that the standards that we have…. We need to have high standards right across the board. It's not some kind of development of second-rate standards. We need high standards, but the standards need to be culturally appropriate.
The discussion I've been involved in is to the degree the culturally appropriate and delegated agencies…. They should equally be appropriate to non-delegated work that we do, because we're serving a wide range of aboriginal peoples, both within the delegated and outside. I've had nobody say to me that that choice is not fundamental.
So the choice of the family in terms of where they receive services is, I think, a fundamental choice. Certainly no one's represented to me any…. I can't imagine it — that you would say: "You have to go get services…." People have a right to access and choice. That, I think, is probably fundamental to what we do.
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In terms of limiting it, I didn't mean limiting it as though we've got some magic numbers, so we're only going to have X. I think the key issue that is part of a dialogue and is part of a negotiation is capacity and size and the balance of how to make that work. It's a careful issue, as you would know, because that often requires, then, collaboration across bands, and they need to be engaged in that fully at the leadership level — what that means to them and how they collaborate.
I obviously have seen several examples of very strong collaboration, and I certainly heard from the Wellness Council, in terms of the deliberation by the chiefs, to say that they strongly support and that they need and want to collaborate between them in terms of the services to children. So part of that, then, as it applies to delegated agencies, becomes: what is the right size that actually makes you viable, and in what kinds of circumstances? You've got capacity issues, etc. So we need to work that through.
No one has come to me and said: "Here's the formula." But they've said, in terms of how we do it — what level of support we provide to the delegated agencies, how they move up the accountability in terms of what elements to take on — that that's really a key piece of work. I've had some discussions that that will be one of the key areas that we'll really try to get a level of clarity around in terms of how we move forward.
To the point, then, I didn't mention and I should have done, that you were making about Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, I have agreed, and the minister will be dialoguing this through, that we need to re-engage with them around the funding issues.
There's an area that I'm now going to really probably mess up on in terms of articulating properly, but there is a directive — I always get the number wrong; directive 20-dash-something-or-other — which is about funding, and that needs changing. I mean, it should have changed already. The feds recognize it. I can't….
Somehow, we haven't concluded it. Obviously, there are various reasons, but we need to get it, which is basically that the funding is based upon children coming into care to get funding, which is totally contrary to the whole thrust of children's services over the last number of years. So we're going to really engage and re-engage.
I'll be working through my colleague in intergovernmental relations and affairs there to actually re-engage on that issue in terms of that. They are a key partner in this, and we can't move forward without them, so we need to re-engage with that process as we go through this year. So I should be able to report back on that later in the year in terms of what progress we make.
J. McIntyre (Chair): Thanks. That leads to some of my questions. Actually, I have a couple of questions as well.
You've more or less answered it, but I just wanted you to sort of be on the record as trying to underscore that relationship with the federal government, because it's pretty clear from the work we've been doing and, actually, Mary Ellen's comments yesterday. When we look at some of the issues in the intergenerational poverty and all the issues, really the issues that we deal with off reserve for First Nations are fundamentally found in what's going on, on reserve. You know, the background and the housing, education — all those kinds of issues.
I guess I can't say enough or strongly enough that I hope that we make some headway — maybe I'll put it that way — with the federal government and their understanding of their role and their commitment and their funding — commitment to help us deal with these issues. If we're not working collaboratively and there are not the resources, you know, this problem is going to go on for more generations.
I think you've really answered the question, but I really wanted to underscore that. Certainly, from the work we did on the poverty hearings and everything we heard from Dr. Evan Adams, I mean, the issues are so huge, and the fact that we then end up with more than half of our children in care from First Nations is so disproportionate to their population.
I expressed yesterday that that's one of the issues I hope we'll take on as a committee, too, or one of the strands or themes. I would really like to see some progress and us working together to help address some of those issues.
Then that leaves me with a couple of questions. One is more general, one more specific. I'll start with the more general one.
I was interested, when you were describing the whole sort of holistic approach and the themes in your areas of delivery, in…. I want to know if you, as a ministry, have more emphasis on sort of strengthening families and dealing with children and families in general for British Columbia or whether there's still going to be this emphasis on child protection and the most vulnerable.
I'm interested in issues like child care, and again some of the issues that came out of our look at poverty and all those things. There are so many issues that interrelate and need to be interrelated.
I just wanted to know if there was a change or what you're overall focus is, whether this is dealing with healthy families — you know, strengthening average typical families, how we can make everybody healthier and deal with the 30 percent of children who are not ready for kindergarten. Those are not just from some of the poorer, more low-income families. There are all sorts of issues related to immigrant families and just the mainstream British Columbian family that need to be dealt with.
Are you taking a look at that whole thing and how those nine areas affect families in general and where child care and things like that fit in?
Sorry. That's a big, long question.
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S. Brown: No, no. That's good point, because I've heard that loud and clear from staff that the ministry is broader than child protection. So some of the areas that I've emphasized in this briefing to you are simply because, in terms of getting involved in the role, we've just been trying to focus on some key areas where there's higher risk to children and that we need to actually make sure we're paying attention to making sure we're mitigating those risks as best we can.
That said, the whole area of the prevention and early intervention and the linkage of that into child care, being one example, is an absolutely critical area. In terms of focusing in on, in terms of shaping the whole area, which I've had a lot of engagement with — which I haven't actually told you about, but I've certainly met a lot of families — is the whole area of CYSN and how to support and strengthen families when they're caring for their child or youth.
So those are areas that are significant areas that we'll focus in on. It's not that this is going to drift over into child welfare. The six service lines of the service lines…. We're trying to give equal weight.
The other thing we're trying to understand is the distribution of resources and access across those service lines. There are a number of pieces where that's trying to go on. So really my presentation is a bit more skewed to some of the high-risk areas that we're just having to focus in on in the shorter term.
But the point you're making about the overall objective — which is: at a population level what contribution do we make to strengthening families? — is a key part of the mandate at the ministry.
When I said earlier about trying to understand the resource base we've got across the prevention, early intervention areas — including child care in there, understanding the capacity and access and appropriateness, etc. — that is an area where there will be significant work going on over the year. It's already a significant piece of the work that the ministry does.
J. McIntyre (Chair): Okay. I just wanted to make sure that was an important part of that, because certainly from the work I've done and the people in my office it seems that there's an opportunity…. I know you said you didn't like the word "integration" and whatever we want to call it.
There seems to be a lot of work that could be done with all the delivery services that government does from prenatal, going back to public health and the arrangement we now have through Health on public health nurses reaching high-risk families….
It seems that from prenatal to at least till children get to kindergarten there are a whole lot of services, a lot of them done by MCFD, like the family resource programs. It seems like we really need to take a look at all the delivery of services to families, to the most vulnerable. Make sure that we're targeting and addressing the most vulnerable, but there seems to be hopefully, I think, a path to integrate a lot of those services that perhaps come from more than just MCFD.
We could do a better and more efficient job of serving family and children and doing some of that early work and prevention, intervention that certainly will have a better result for families — we talk about outcomes — and making sure that kids are better prepared for school and all those kinds of things. Anyway, I just hope that's all being kept in mind.
Then my more specific question, if you'll bear with me here, sort of relates to this a little, too, in terms of this interface. I have an interest in mental health and addictions and was involved a little bit in the background in Health with the ten-year plan that was announced, I guess, a year or so ago.
It seems that there is an interface, and some of the feedback I got, and I say this respectfully…. It seems that a lot of the expertise really rests in Health, and especially now that they're looking at that plan and they're looking at much earlier intervention with children at younger ages because they've found the research has pointed in the direction of the success with earlier intervention. Some of the health signs and everything can be revealed earlier in life, and we can do a lot more and be more efficient with our dollars before the problems get worse.
I have heard, to be candid, some criticism of some of those services from MCFD. In terms of the fact that some of the people there or some of the situations…. Some of the people, I guess, are not acutely trained to deal with that interface. Can you comment on any look you might have, just to make sure that children are getting the best possible service?
S. Brown: Can you elaborate a little bit more? For the interface issue, the problem that you're picking up is what?
J. McIntyre (Chair): Well, I guess, to be candid, it's that really those services probably better belong in Health. Especially since we have this new mental health and addictions plan, it may be better delivered by Health than MCFD. I'll put it as candidly as I can.
S. Brown: Okay, and I would never ever criticize Health, having just come from….
I think the dilemma for child and family services — and I saw this in the U.K., and I saw it in Alberta — is this tremendous attraction sometimes to getting close to Health and, also, this tremendous fear of getting close to Health because Health has its own challenges on a given day — prioritize and focus on the most acute. Just as we've talked about in the context of child and family, you
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can focus on the children most at risk all the time and look at the bigger….
Health has done a lot over the last four or five years, I think, in both primary care and begun to shape up a broader range of services. I don't have an answer to where it belongs. The collaboration that I've been told is going on, in terms of the mental health agenda, between MCFD and Health is good. I think sometimes we're smaller — as in MCFD is smaller — and you've just got all this dynamic stuff, drama going on in Health on a big scale. So it's how you make that interface work.
I thought where you were going, and an issue that I'll just raise, which was put off, is the issue of the separation of mental health and addictions. We need to work harder on that piece, it appears to me, in terms of both the addictions, as in youth, linking.
We need to work harder as a partner, and I'm going to be having some more of that dialogue with some of my former colleagues about how we can make sure we really strengthen that and we don't allow…. We really are working effectively together, and where they have got a level of expertise and resources that they absolutely should be the lead in developing and delivering.
The other piece that's been raised unique is the issue of access to addictions for adults and how we work on that more effectively, particularly in the family context. But I haven't got a strong opinion on….
You know, it's the organizational issue about where you have stuff situated. I think the way they've done the mental health piece is they've said that Health would be the kind of lead and that there are a number of ministries that are partnering. The feedback I've had from my own ADM is that that works pretty good, and there's good leadership in Health on that in terms of a very collaborative approach. So I haven't picked up the critique that you're picking up on.
J. McIntyre (Chair): Well, I mean it was anecdotal, and I guess I draw attention to it. I certainly don't want to take away…. The Auditor General, actually, did a very good review of the youth mental health plan that MCFD has done. We've done very good work, actually, on that, including a Friends program, which I know is in grade 7 — I think it's coming to grade 4 — all those things. I don't mean to take away in any way from the work that MCFD is doing in that area.
I guess I just want to make sure or maybe draw to your attention that that interface, especially since Health has now rolled out the ten-year plan and is looking at doing more work with youth and prevention and intervention…. We just really want to make sure that that those mesh in the most efficient and best way possible. I guess that's all I'm really saying.
S. Brown: Yeah, that's a key point — absolutely.
M. Elmore: Thank you, Stephen. Just to follow up on Joan's questions a little bit, in terms of the realm of child care. I'm interested in that.
If you could talk a little bit more specifically, if you've had a chance to look at the child care services that are delivered, and if you had any thoughts on that or plans for the future — if that's being discussed. Certainly, that's one of the areas in need of…. Certainly, I hear from parents on wait-lists and support for families with young children. There's a need of that.
The other area I'm interested in — you mentioned it briefly in your report — is the IT support of the ministry. I'm just interested in that, in terms of the status of where that is, and development.
S. Brown: Okay, on the child care front. I haven't had, in all honesty, a lot of engagement to date on the child care front, just in terms of the sequencing, even though I've had a couple of briefings. Certainly, we've had some discussion at the estimates on that. That will be an area that….
The two areas that I've had least engagement in: there has been child care, and also the other one is youth justice. So those are two areas of priority for me over the summer and into late summer, in terms of getting out and meeting with and understanding some of the issues.
Even though I know and you know that there's quite a strong team of people there — tomorrow I'm actually going out to meet with the child care teams; I think I've got two different meetings tomorrow — I'm just moving into that area to begin to start trying to understand some of the issues and challenges that are being faced. I could probably have a bit of dialogue with you in a couple of months' time on that.
On the IT front. It's a pretty complex and big agenda there that's going on. There's quite a significant amount of resources that's going into it. It seems to me — I'm actually getting an update tomorrow night — that there was a level of turmoil about: what exactly do you want on it? It was more focused, I think, in terms of the case planning piece of: exactly what tools do you want? What are the screens going…? It was a very practical range of issues that they were wrestling with.
I have got the strong impression, in terms of the briefings I've had, that the teams have now settled down. They've got a level of clarity. They're moving ahead on that now, and that has been a stress, I think, for a number of people, in terms of trying to land that.
On a number of the other areas it's more straightforward, because it's more the transactional business pieces, which can easily be mapped and logged. It's on track. That's the understanding I have. It has to be delivered. We've got…. This is just phase 2 of five phases. This phase finishes at the end of March and then goes live.
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We will be focused heavily on the training and support to staff in making the transition. The feedback I'm getting from staff — I hope it gets delivered — has been that the various systems right now are quite disaggregated and don't allow ease of being able to track. A key deliverable here should be that we're seeing improvements in that.
The sense I get, Mable, is that we're going to get the basics in place this year in terms of the IT system as it applies to MCFD, and then we'll see incremental add-ons over the next three phases, which are also well interfaced. What a number of the agencies were raising with me last week was about their interface with this system and how they'd get access.
I think it has had its challenges in terms of the scale, just like any IT project — right? — but I believe that it's on track and that it's making the kind of progress it needs to do at this stage of the year.
M. Elmore: I just have one quick follow-up. Thanks, Stephen. I presume…. You referenced that it was the ability for integrated case management, primarily — for the IT system to serve that. Is that also…? In terms of the cross-ministry coordination, will there be an opportunity for that? Is that the progression of the IT development?
S. Brown: No, I don't know the answer to that. I mean, I do understand the SD-MCFD interface, in terms of working together more closely. In terms of the other ministries, I actually do not know the answer to that. I can get the answer for you. I'm sure it's being done right now. Somebody will be listening to this and will be sending an e-mail, so I'll get it to you another time.
M. Elmore: I just have an interest in that because often that technical support is the basis in terms of being able to move forward around the efficiency….
S. Brown: I understand the platform is going to be used in that way, and I'm sure Derek will have a note to me shortly, too, and I can give you an answer to that.
K. Krueger: It's been a real pleasure getting to know your thoughts. I'm glad that you're the deputy. When you first started to talk and were talking about choosing priorities and organization and so on, frankly, my heart sunk, because I thought: "How often do staff hear this from new ministers and new deputies?"
You know, organizations are taken apart and put back together in another way. It takes a while to form relationships and become as productive as you were. But I've been heartened considerably by what you had to say.
The priority that's always in my mind with children and families is First Nations, and my colleagues have raised a number of those issues with you. It's horrific — the blunders of 150 years of government being imposed upon the societies that were doing very well on their own for thousands of years before we showed up.
The results, we all know, are terrible. We've talked about 54 percent of the children in care being aboriginal. The report on the fatalities of little ones…. It was almost all aboriginal children. It's so obvious to everyone that there has to be a gigantic emphasis on what's happening to First Nations children and this complication of on reserve and off reserve and where the federal government spends its money. It spends a lot of money.
It seems to me so obvious that there has to be a safe place for First Nations children on reserve to be taken into care whenever something happens that requires that sort of involvement.
I know teachers in the educational system who tell me sometimes that they learn the grade 1 they are teaching is unable to pay attention in class because the grade 1 was looking after siblings over the weekend. Situations like that are not that uncommon. I know that it's not just aboriginal population. But these awful results in terms of mortality and the things that happen….
Surely we've got to have a better collaboration with the federal government, and they perhaps need to accept provincial leadership in the service delivery and contract with us in some way on reserve. They don't have the staffing resources to deal with these issues.
I have a follow-up, but I just wonder what you think about that. Are we making any strong effort, or are we planning an initiative where we genuinely, in a really meaningful way, partner with the federal government for protection of children on reserves?
S. Brown: I think, to be honest with you, I'd have a better answer for you in about three or four months' time, because it's very…. That was identified, but equally I think we haven't — we as in me — made contact with the feds in terms of getting together and having a discussion. So it is a key agenda item for me to actually make contact. That was one of the objectives for July — to go through the right processes, to meet and discuss.
Having said that, there are a number of areas which we do seem to be working on. For example, the feds have their own program from reserve extended family. I had a briefing just a couple of days ago of how we're going to be working together over the coming months to actually get a single program delivered by us paid for by the feds in terms of the extended family program so that there's consistency for…. I haven't got a good sense to be able to say plus or minus on it. I should get a better sense over the summer once we engage in terms of the….
What is clear is the point you're making, and that's been made to me abundantly, and several of you have made it here. It is a critical partnership that we need to actually focus in on and begin to make sure that it's
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working in the interests of the children and families — right?
The sense I get is that that is the same I'm hearing from colleagues — that we're working, at least at the B.C. level. Obviously, I haven't heard anything at the federal level, but federal employees who are working locally in B.C. see that agenda and have a pretty good working relationship. That's the understanding I've got.
I think with some elections out of the way and some of the pieces on the federal side, I think we can settle down and get some good dialogue going here.
K. Krueger: When you were talking about how if a child is receiving services from different streams of service that we have in government, there is this risk that they can, as you put it, fall through the cracks. A person can easily see how that could happen because each stream of service wouldn't know about the other one's involvement and perhaps assume that the child's safety is being monitored by the other service.
It has struck me a number of times that, if I were in your shoes, I would want to appoint a person on staff to have a sort of a backup role to make sure that the children can never fall through the cracks. This may seem like a totally impractical suggestion, but I think I would want to ask staff to take on the responsibility to monitor, to touch base with the family, make sure that the child is okay, that nobody is falling through the cracks.
An experienced staff member might have a couple of hundred children who are on his or her watch list to just keep touching base and making sure nothing's going off the rails and that the child is as safe as government thinks that he or she is and takes on that responsibility as long as that person is in the career and that child is a child that might be at risk.
I was the minister who signed for the next big tranche of expense on ICM, and integrated case management I think is great. I really think it's great, but it's somewhat impersonal too.
When we go to these efficient and effective systems, if we take out the personal care, almost a mentorship, that actually goes on in the relationship between a committed civil servant and the clients and if somehow we get to be just this big organization that makes a note — and it might be hundreds of different people who deal with the same client over the course of that person's involvement with government — we lose something that we shouldn't lose.
A lot of these children haven't really had an adult that personally takes an interest in them long-term, faithfully and constantly, and I think we should try that. What do you think of that approach?
S. Brown: The principle I agree with. There are a couple of areas we're going to work through under this collaboration, so I'll give you an observation. I think the reality is that once you get into a small rural community, you actually have effective collaboration going on. Everybody knows each other, and they know the teacher, and they know….
So the challenge, in my observation, both in Health and I'm seeing it here in MCFD, isn't in the…. You might have issues of access to services, but in terms of the team of people who are providing it, they know each other, they work together and they know the families because they're of a certain size. The challenge becomes — particularly in the bigger urban centres through the corridor and into….
You've got the Kelownas and Prince Georges, where you've got a level of anonymity. You've also got a higher number of staff. That's where, I think, some of the ideas that were being explored around…. What is the role of some of the team leaders to be aware of a child who is receiving services for multi-lines, and then how do we actually keep an eye on that and manage that effectively?
There's the idea that has been put forward by staff of having a designate key worker, and the key worker may not even be MCFD. He could be a key person, a significant person who's from an agency. So the key worker idea of where you've got multi-use of different service lines for continuity. Then to the bigger issue…. I know just coming off the residential review, that's going to…. I know it hasn't been posted yet, but it's just about to be posted, I think.
Permanency, continuity, was a key issue identified by the youth that were consulted through that program. So this is your permanency, and a significant adult in your life who cares for you is a key idea. Different ways of doing that would be…. I think that's part of the challenge, but the idea, he's saying, is a key idea. That's there in the field in terms of an area.
I think the practicality is: how do we do that in the larger…? Not that that's a problem, but that's where we have to really focus to make sure that's where it works. My observation…. I've been to some of the smaller offices. I mean, they all know each other. They trust each other. They've got a professional relationship. They know the teachers. They know the principal at the school. You know, they know the local doctor. So there it's working. It's more in the bigger centres where you've got such a range of…. That's where I think there are dangers of fragmentation.
J. McIntyre (Chair): Gordie Hogg, are you on the line?
We do have to end at 10:30 promptly, so mindful of that, Claire and Doug and we'll wind down.
G. Hogg: Yes, I am on the line.
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J. McIntyre (Chair): Everyone has had a question. Do you have a question? We're just down to the last eight, ten minutes here. I just wanted to give you the opportunity if you had a question.
G. Hogg: Well, I've been on for the last 25 minutes, and I missed the initial presentation, so I will go back and read that and become conversant with it and pick it up from there.
J. McIntyre (Chair): Okay. Thank you. I just wanted to give you an opportunity.
C. Trevena (Deputy Chair): Just picking up, Stephen, on what you've been saying and a couple of other issues that we've been talking about broadly here, you mentioned that in small communities children are less likely to fall through the cracks, yet we do see tragedies occur in small communities. Partly it's capacity, and partly it's resources.
I've got to say that we're having this discussion where, once again, whether we have to quibble or not, you know, we've got the highest rate of child poverty again for eight years in B.C., and we've been talking very clearly in this committee about how we can help the most vulnerable children.
You mentioned the fact that you're looking at distribution of resources to ensure that, you know, you can do what you want to do properly, and obviously, as the person who's running the organization, you could say you never can have adequate resources to do it. There could be really as much as was there.
However, do you think that to effectively deal with the level of poverty and the level of vulnerability that we see in B.C., even particularly at the moment when we don't have the buy-in from the federal government in many areas…? Although they have the responsibility, it ends up falling on our shoulders as families leave reserve and come into the community. We are faced as a province with dealing with many of the most vulnerable. Are the resources adequate in light of what the need is and in light of what we have seen — that at the moment it is a flatline budget for your ministry?
S. Brown: I'm not going to be able to answer that, I don't think, in terms of the detail. I mean, the principle I come with is if I, in terms of the role that I'm in as deputy minister and as associate before…. If you can't articulate that you understand the resources you have and how you optimize the use of those resources in a tough fiscal environment, you're not in a position to make a good case where you need additional resources.
So my absolute focus, which had been done with the ministry, is to try and understand how we are using the capacity we have. I've come across cases where we don't seem to have got the right level of service in, but it's not obvious to me that we don't have access to the services, and so I'm trying to understand what the capacity is that we have. What are the skill sets we have available, and are we optimizing the use of those, and can I describe that in an adequate way?
Earlier on, you know, I couldn't…. You asked some questions for me in estimates that I couldn't adequately answer, not just because we're new but we don't describe our services at a geographical level.
A key thing that I want to focus in on is that you do have an obligation, I think, in the role that I'm in, whoever you're working for, to really look at: Do you understand your resources? Are you optimizing the use of them? Are you really trying to think that through, and can you articulate it?
In all honesty…. I mean, it's partly because I'm new and partly because I don't think we quite have the management system set up, in a way. I couldn't adequately…. I had this problem in Health, when I was responsible for primary care. You can go down the anecdotal, which is real, because they're real people who have not got services, but that doesn't help you in terms of managing if you don't understand your capacity.
I'm really going to try to understand the demand that we're facing from different areas and what the capacity is and the ability we have within the resources we've got to meet that capacity. In that context, I've got no problem, then, going to my minister and talking about some of the challenges, and she's keen to understand those challenges, I know. All that's kind of a two-handled answer, but yeah.
D. Horne: I'll be very, very quick.
One of the points that was made earlier in your speech was the protocol that was signed with the representative that had to do with rights of those that are in care. One of the things that I would hope, as well, as we move forward is not only the rights of those that are in care but also the responsibilities of citizenship…. I think that with what we've seen in the last week, we seem to be worried more about everyone's rights and entitlement and not enough about people's responsibilities as citizens of the province.
I think one of the things that's key to the fundamental moving forward of a society, in general, is people understanding that they have responsibilities as well. The teaching of discipline and the teaching of responsibility broadly, I think, is very, very important. I would just point that out. I'm supposed to be very quick.
The last question I would have. You mentioned the Ombudsperson's office, as well, and obviously the broad mandate that the Ombudsperson's office has across government in dealing with complaints and issues with government. I'm just wondering. I asked the question yesterday. I just wanted to ask you quickly today. Do you see overlap between case files and advocacy on behalf of the
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Ombudsperson's office and on behalf of the representative's office? Is there a lot of duplication there or not?
S. Brown: I would be absolutely speaking from a point of ignorance, so I don't have an observation on it. What I did find actually very useful is that…. I think it's through Mary Ellen. She's facilitated bringing the various oversight leads together, and she invited me to that meeting. I found that really useful, because there is inevitably going to be overlap in terms of the particular cases.
Between the coroner, the Ombudsperson…. Perry Kendall was there and the Public Guardian and Mary Ellen. I think they piece…. You've seen it in a couple of reports, like the one you're referring to where they collaborated together. That collaboration between them I found really quite helpful, being at that meeting, and Mary Ellen said the team said they'd invite me again to be part of that.
Then I think we can look at making sure that we're optimizing and working together in terms of how we deal with particular cases. So in terms of overlap, I don't have an observation on it.
D. Horne: The answer is exactly what I want to hear. More collaboration, I think, and the working together is the way that we need to go.
J. McIntyre (Chair): Okay. Thank you very much. That wraps our meeting this morning.
Thank you very much, Stephen, for sharing your observations and thoughts as you embark on a new chapter of your career. We look forward…. Actually, I think Mary Ellen alluded to being able to come back to us in the fall with some more definitive information. From some of the things you've said to us this morning, it would appear that it may be a good idea to also welcome you back in another three months along the road, to give us a progress report.
S. Brown: It should give a test on my 90-day theory.
J. McIntyre (Chair): Yeah, your 90-day theory, exactly. So thank you.
With that, if I could have a motion to adjourn, please.
J. McIntyre (Chair): Thank you very much. Safe summer.
The committee adjourned at 10:29 a.m.
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