Legislative Session: Fourth Session, 39th Parliament
COMMITTEE A BLUES
This is a DRAFT TRANSCRIPT ONLY of debate in one sitting of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia. This transcript is subject to corrections, and will be replaced by the final, official Hansard report. Use of this transcript, other than in the legislative precinct, is not protected by parliamentary privilege, and public attribution of any of the debate as transcribed here could entail legal liability.
PROCEEDINGS IN THE
DOUGLAS FIR ROOM
Committee of Supply
ESTIMATES: MINISTRY OF
CHILDREN AND FAMILY DEVELOPMENT
The House in Committee of Supply (Section A); J. McIntyre in the chair.
The committee met at 2:40 p.m.
On Vote 16: ministry operations, $1,333,291,000.
The Chair: This afternoon we're beginning consideration of the estimates of the Ministry of Children and Family Development.
Minister, do you have opening remarks?
Hon. M. McNeil: Yes, I do. Before we start, I'd like to introduce the ministry staff that I have accompanying me today. On my right I have Stephen Brown, deputy minister; on my left, Anne Sandbu, ADM finance and corporate services. Behind me I have Craig Wilkinson, chief financial officer; Beverly Dicks, ADM Vancouver Coastal; Doug Hughes, provincial director of child welfare and ADM for the Interior. In the audience I do have Randi Mjolsness, ADM policy and provincial services, who will be joining us throughout the debate.
I'd like to start off by just saying how tremendously honoured I am to have such an important portfolio, to hold a responsibility for a ministry that continues to carry out critically important work for the protection and the support of children and youth and families. I'm touched by the dedication, compassion and vision of so many staff, agencies, community partners who work together to create and maintain services.
I especially want to thank Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, the Representative for Children and Youth, who advocates for improvements to the child's system. It is an extremely important role, and we thank Ms. Turpel-Lafond for her tireless work.
I also want to thank the member for North Island for bringing up important topics for discussion throughout the year. With such a diverse sector, it's no secret that there definitely is a diversity of interests and viewpoints, and they're all important. The diversity is based upon a passion for doing what's best for children and youth in this province.
It's not always easy to resolve which direction to take, especially when we look at the competing demands for funding within a finite budget in a challenging fiscal environment. But within that, the collaboration with and between community agencies is key to our collective ability to improve the outcomes for children and families.
We're committed to working not only with these agencies but also with other ministries in a cross-government approach as well as the federal government, other provinces and territories, community partners to provide the very best that we can for children and youth.
We're adapting so that we can move forward and take action on key priorities outlined in our service plan and in our new three-year MCFD operational and strategic directional plan. The plan puts a focus on improving and strengthening services to children and youth and brings open, new and innovative ways for us to design and deliver services.
We have several key priorities within the ministry, including the announcement of the provincial office of domestic violence, the help to support aboriginal children and youth to live in healthy families and communities where they are connected to their cultures and traditions, the improvement of residential services for children and youth in care, focusing on early childhood development programs, strengthening our services for those with mental health issues, and the implementation of an integrated case management system this year to replace outdated technology but also to improve our ability to share information.
The MCFD budget is status quo at just over $1.3 billion. There is a small lift of $2.6 million as a result of the municipal pension plan funding for members of the Community Social Services Employers Association, but essentially, our budget stays steady. We're focusing our resources on the areas that will need the funding the most, due to increasing demand.
That is why the children and youth with special needs budget has been increased considerably by $8.6 million. The money will be put into autism services, medical benefits and nursing supports where we have seen rising cost pressures.
This year's budget for MCFD is a simple, straightforward and transparent structure that aligns the financial information with six key service lines: early childhood development and child care services; services for children and youth with special needs; services for children and youth with mental health issues; child safety, family support and children in care services; adoption services; and finally, youth justice services. The ministry has already received many positive comments on the new straightforward description of its services.
With this reorganization, one item that stands out that was in last year's budget but is not here this year is the budget line called "Aboriginal approach." It still remains a very important strategic and operational focus for the ministry, however. It's important to clarify that there are no reductions to aboriginal services.
The overall aboriginal budget this year is the same as last year at $19.8 million. The ministry continues to put a strong focus on supporting quality services that are focused on strengthening aboriginal families and reducing the number of aboriginal children coming into care.
However, we must remain fiscally prudent to ensure we're not leaving a massive deficit for our children and grandchildren. That's why we have a delicate balance with this budget. Within the current fiscal climate, it is critical for us to optimize our resources and find innovative ways to ensure services better meet the needs of B.C. families.
I am very supportive of the excellent work the ministry is doing and continues to do. This ministry is taking innovative approaches to work within available resources efficiently and effectively through optimizing resources and contract management.
In order to successfully manage cost pressures and increasing demands for services within the status quo budget, we have made some internal reallocations, moving moneys into areas where they are needed the most, such as services for children and youth with special needs. I do have confidence that within our available budget we will continue to be able to provide the best services and supports to children and youth.
As mentioned, the new operational and strategic directional plan outlines our direction over the next three years to improve and strengthen the services we deliver. In fact, the representative recently reported to the Select Standing Committee on Children and Youth that she is confident this plan will lead to a more seamless and comprehensive system. I echo this sentiment.
I want to speak just for a quick moment on the big picture for all British Columbians: jobs and the economy, especially critical during the worldwide economic downturn. The best thing we can do for families is create jobs and provide skills training, strengthening the economy, but at the same time provide targeted supports, protecting vital services.
As I announced last week, community poverty reduction strategies will be piloted in seven communities in partnership with the Union of B.C. Municipalities. Successes from the pilot communities will provide insight into strategic approaches for other B.C. communities. One of those communities, Port Hardy, is in the member's North Island constituency, and I would invite her to become involved in the process, as I have. Hopefully, she will do so.
In closing, I'm very, very proud of the work done by the Ministry of Children and Family Development. I've had the opportunity in my role to go around the province and meet not only ministry staff but also many of the agencies that provide work. The dedication and the passion they show in times that aren't necessarily that easy, both for families and for all of us, really is remarkable. Again, I'm very proud of all the work they do, and I didn't want to let this opportunity go without saying that, and to recognize all of their hard work.
C. Trevena: I thank the minister for her opening remarks. I will keep mine very brief because, although we have ten hours, it does seem to the critic to be only ten hours.
I'd like to thank the minister for her opening remarks and also acknowledge — I think we're all agreed, anybody who works in this sort of area — the hard work of the front-line workers. Whether they are Ministry of Children and Family workers or whether they are part of the agencies that are contracted out, they have an extraordinarily difficult task, I think. It's really very pressured. I think that we should all just take off our hats and say thank you very much for their work.
I have provided the minister's office with a broad range of areas that are being focused on. I'm going to be looking at the overall service plan and strategic report and break down some of the numbers, some of the global numbers, and also look at various areas: poverty reduction, the domestic violence office, the integrated case management areas that the minister has noted.
I would like to at this point, though, just raise, I guess it is, the political flag that while the minister says it's a status quo budget and that we have to, you know, try and make things work, I think what is acknowledged is that this is a very difficult budget where they have a huge amount of need.
Front-line workers report that back. As raised in question period this afternoon, whether it is children with special needs who are facing very disturbing caseloads, whether it is people who are working in contracted agencies who are having long wait-lists, there is a huge amount of needs. The sense is: are the resources being used the best?
There is the added concern that while the minister is very proud to have the domestic violence office and the poverty reduction area within her ministry, that these were announced after a flatline budget. Obviously, I'm going to be asking: "Where's the money going to come from? How are we going to pay for it?" If we want to achieve anything, we've got to make sure that we are resourcing it properly — not just with words — and that partnerships actually mean something.
Just a final note before we move on. The minister did acknowledge that Port Hardy is one of the communities in her poverty reduction pilot project. I'd just like to get it on the record. I will be talking about poverty reduction. I will be talking about Port Hardy's experiences.
But I'd just like to get it on the record that Port Hardy, while it's there as a pilot, isn't particularly happy being basically brushed with the notion that it might be the poverty capital of the Island. So I think this this is something that you have to be very cautious of when you're approaching communities and ways of dealing with them.
I would like to move straight on, really, if I might. I've been going through…. The papers I will be referring to in the first part of my questions do relate to the service plan, the report from last year and the strategic plan for the coming three years.
One of the things that I would like to ask the minister as opening remarks — before we get into some of the nitty-gritty about breaking down figures and who is doing what and how many people you've got working in different areas — is the reorganization.
We've just had a reorganization this year, had a reorganization last year, and there was a reorganization the year before. If I might, because I actually find this very telling, in 2010-2011 the resource summary said…. On page 19 of the service plan it lists that "children and family development, early childhood development, child care and supports to children with special needs, provincial services and executive support services are the core business areas."
The subsequent year we have, in the same document, on page 19, 2011-2012, we have listed "prevention, early intervention, intervention and support, aboriginal approach, quality assurance, support to practice, and executive and support services" as the core business areas.
Now this year, we have on page 20, so it's moved on a page, "early childhood development; child care services; service for children and youth; special needs; child and youth mental health services; child safety, family support and children in care services; adoption services; youth justice services; service delivery support; and executive support services" as the core business areas.
Three years and three substantially different core business service areas. so my first question to the minister is: how much did it cost to change the ministry's management structure and service delivery structure three times in three years?
Hon. M. McNeil: Really, what I think we're talking about here…. Although you say there's one, two and three, different years, No. 3, which is where we are at now, is very similar to No. 1. There is no cost to it. It's really more of a presentation issue in the chart of accounts.
As you know, it has been 14 months that the new deputy and I have been in the ministry, and what we've heard from the staff was that they had trouble understanding where they fit, where they could find their items within the budget. It was more or less in the middle year based on strategic themes. It's not that they've gone; it's just a matter of presentation of the chart of accounts.
It does make more sense, people can understand it, and it's a little easier to read. This was, more or less, a move this year to make sure that the budget is understandable, that it's a little clearer for the end users.
C. Trevena: I'm surprised, though, that there has been no cost in the change. We had the whole transformative change process, where we know a huge investment was put in. It wasn't just people sort of doing this off the back of an envelope, quietly in a corner in their spare time.
There was a cost to this, and we now see two other iterations of a management structure. People have to work on this. They are getting billed for time; they get paid for this. There must be some cost for that redesign. We know we had a massive redesign three years ago. There was a cost for that. Then we've had two more redesigns.
I'd just like to find out if we can get some figures on that. If we can't get actual financial figures, I'd like to know staff hours, please.
Hon. M. McNeil: What you're talking about within the chart of accounts literally is a presentation issue. What we have taken…. Certainly, you talk about transformation. That is work that was done, and continuing to do. It's their day-to-day operations.
What we have done is we have just taken that work and are implementing it, if you will. It's a reframing of the work that had already been done. It wasn't done for naught. It is just a reframing. I guess more bottom line is the clarity of the work that had been done. It's put in a presentation style that's easier for the user to understand.
Certainly, there has been no significant change in the management structure and really no additional cost. It's strictly a matter of taking the work that had been done, implementing it but also reframing the work in a better and more easier, understandable way.
C. Trevena: The minister is telling me that the transformative change process actually costs nothing and that the subsequent two years is costing nothing. It is just moving figures around in the budget.
Hon. M. McNeil: I guess it's a little bit of trying to figure out how best to word this. If you looked at it, then you would say: "Is there a cost?" Well, there is a cost in the fact that we are using staff time, but they would be used anyways in the day-to-day delivery of their job. So there's no additional cost, and I guess that's what you're trying to say.
What we have done is the clarity and the focus on the key actions that we have been working on that were outlined way back in Strong, Safe and Supported. We're constantly moving and bettering what we do, if you will.
So it's continuation of staff time, but it's being done so that no work is gone for naught. It's all continuing. We're continuing to improve what we're doing, but it's staff time being used doing their day to day, just looking at quality assurance and what's the best way we can deliver the service. So it's not any additional cost. I guess that's the best way to put it.
C. Trevena: So the minister says there was no additional cost to the service redesign three years ago that brought us Strong, Safe and Supported and that we are now just continuing with the work as is. It's just implementation rather than working on things extraneous to the delivery of the services that are expected by the ministry.
Hon. M. McNeil: I guess where the difficulty is, is that what has been done in the past and certainly the work on transformation — it's all developmental work that has been done. Now over the last year we've sort of been implementing it.
We've reframed how we present it, but it's all work that is based on the developmental work that has been done in the past. Over this last year we've been implementing it. I guess that's where it….
There is no additional cost. It's work that staff has done. I'm hoping that we will continue to better so that next year we'll continue to move along and be even clearer and be implementing the things that we feel are priorities.
That's what's happened. We've basically…. Developmental work had been done in the past. That work is still there, and we're still benefiting from the work. But we're just moving forward on it. We're implementing it, and we're actually implementing it, in some ways, in a different format so that it's clearer and actions and accountabilities are much clearer for the staff to understand.
C. Trevena: Then, when the minister is talking in her report — this year's report on last year's service plan…. The minister says she's very "proud of the accomplishments over the last years. We continue to move forward along the path laid out in our action plan Strong, Safe and Supported. Real progress has been made under each of the five pillars" — and then quoting the pillars. There is no contradiction with that and the fact that now we have six service lines.
Hon. M. McNeil: I'm thinking maybe it might be a good idea for us to have a further chat at another time to work through this.
The five themes from within Strong, Safe and Supported are still there. But they're just, I guess, laid out within the new service plan, aligned to six service delivery lines along…. But it's still all there. It's just that where it has been framed and where it has been put within the delivery is different.
C. Trevena: I wonder if the minister could just briefly outline, then, how we have seen the shift and how we've gotten from the five to the six. They are actually quite significant. For instance, in the present model there is an area solely for adoption, which is, I think, quite a significant shift. We haven't seen anything of that before, it being incorporated in other areas. So I wonder if the minister could just run through some of that for us.
Hon. M. McNeil: Within the service plan we identify eight objectives, as you've seen — and I mentioned earlier the early childhood development and child care services and down through — reflecting the six lines of service delivery and then one for service excellence and learning and growth.
I think one of the things that…. We've almost turned it on its side, if you will. So the five that were in the Strong, Safe and Supported — i.e., in prevention, early intervention service and that way — are still there, but they're embedded within each one so that the early childhood development and child care services still have those lines within, but it's just formatted in a different way, which for staff is a lot clearer. It's a lot clearer to understand.
But it is there. It's just embedded, and it's a presentation issue more than it is a real change in how we actually do the job.
C. Trevena: Will this be the last time that we see a change? I mean, there have been three different ways of reporting in three years. Will this be the last year for the foreseeable future?
Hon. M. McNeil: I look at my deputy, and he's smiling: "Yes."
Actually, yes. What's happened over the last year is we've also produced, as you know, the strategic and operational plan, and it is based on this model. As the representative said to me one night when we were having dinner, it's a lot clearer to her as well.
We've literally taken those five lines, turned them on their side and done them for each one of the six lines of service delivery. It will remain like this.
C. Trevena: I wondered if the minister…. As I say, I wanted to go into a little detail on just some of these at the moment. One of the ones that I find, as I say….
While we're looking at it in a different way, I find it quite significant that we are looking specifically at adoption services as a whole, whether it's a pillar or a stream or whatever you'd like to call it — that out of the six, one of those is specifically adoption. I wondered if the minister could just give me the rationale for why just adoption — not fostering, not anything else.
Hon. M. McNeil: It's my understanding that this actually comes out of an ask from the staff, where they really feel it's…. Adoption is an important step. It's where a child in care then goes into a permanent family, their forever family. It's part of the permanency plan. Before it had been there, but it had been put in with the children in care, along with the foster families and things.
They felt that this was…. The sense from the staff is that we needed to refocus on it, give it a profile, make it a distinct line, so it really shows that it's no longer part of children in care but is part of the permanency plan. It was a way to give it a profile on its own, because it's a big step within the life of a child in care.
C. Trevena: Is this being done, basically, at the cost of fostering? Is there more emphasis going to be put on that than on fostering at the moment?
Hon. M. McNeil: No.
C. Trevena: How many children or what percentage of children from foster families are subsequently adopted at the moment?
Hon. M. McNeil: As of February 29, 2012, there were 4,655 children in continuing care. Of those children, 31 percent — that's 1,437 — have adoption as their plan, and 86 percent of the children in continuing care with adoption as the plan — that's 1,231 — are registered for adoption. As of February 29, there were 277 approved adoption homes. The goal in 2011-2012 is for the adoption program to place 17 percent of the children in an adoptive home.
C. Trevena: Has the minister got a breakdown of age range of the young people? Is it children or youth?
Hon. M. McNeil: I don't have the number here with us, but we can certainly get it for you, and we will.
C. Trevena: I'm not going to spend too long on this section, but it was one of interest.
One of the areas…. I've been talking to a number of foster families, and there's concern of their being treated with respect if they're trying to adopt their foster children. I wondered how many children and youth who are adopted have been adopted by their foster families.
While we're looking up figures.… The minister gave me a list of figures there. How many of those…? We have 277 adoptive homes. How many young people actually have been adopted, out of those figures that the minister just gave me in the previous answer?
Hon. M. McNeil: We're just looking to get the number of the percentage of children in care that have been adopted by their actual foster parents. I have a number in my head, but I want to make sure it's absolutely correct before I say it.
As to the second part of your question on adoption, actual placements for 2011-12 as of February 29, 2012, was 205.
C. Trevena: While the minister searches out the other figures, I am going to move on, because I am aware of quite limited time.
I just wanted to go back to the previous questions I was asking and then move on to some more specific financial breakdowns of how the budget was working, and staffing.
The minister was saying, when we were talking previously about the redesign — then, unfortunately, I got sidetracked and started looking at the redesign — that there was really no cost. But on the service plan report there's a mention that there is a variance of 13.3 percent of the annual budget due to the realignment of expenses, the result of changes in the organizational structure and due to corporate charges not anticipated.
I would like to ask the minister how much this is. Is this not a result of changing the structure of the ministries?
Hon. M. McNeil: Can I clarify the numbers you're looking at? Are those 2010-11 numbers?
C. Trevena: I'm reading from page 24 of the annual service plan report, the explanation resource summary. It would be an explanation of the '10-11 figures.
Hon. M. McNeil: Unfortunately, we don't have those figures with us. We'll have to get them for you.
C. Trevena: I appreciate that. As I say, I was asking for an explanation not just for the figures but whether that was actually paying for the transformation. Does the minister have that awareness or not?
Hon. M. McNeil: We'll get the figures.
C. Trevena: I thank the minister and await with anticipation and explanation.
I wanted to go a little bit more in-depth about some of the staffing at the ministry more globally. I know there has been some reorganization. One of the questions that I have is literally the makeup of, I guess, the executive — how many ADMs there are now, their location and how they're related to the regions and to the program areas.
Hon. M. McNeil: We still have the four regions, so we still have the four regional ADMs. What we have got is…. Deputy minister — we have one, down from two last year. We have the one, quality not quantity. Assistant deputy ministers — we have eight, up from seven from last year. But the regions are still the same, and there are four regions with four ADMs.
C. Trevena: Eight, up from seven. If the minister could explain why you've got the one extra.
Hon. M. McNeil: As the member opposite will recall, we've implemented a new provincial office for domestic violence, and we've just hired an ADM in that role, Cory Heavener.
C. Trevena: So effectively, while we're losing one, we're gaining one, so it balances out in the budget, is what the minister is saying. I take that nod as a yes. She doesn't have to get on her feet.
Hon. M. McNeil: Yes.
C. Trevena: Just generally on the senior staffing level, I notice that we've got now the director of child welfare, who is in the room, and thank you very much. I understand that he's still working as an ADM for…. The minister mentioned the Interior. I thought it was Vancouver Island now, but I may be mistaken there.
I wondered whether the minister was going to be looking at having the specific role, because we talked about this last year. There was the consideration of having a specific role for that without being regional ADM as well.
Hon. M. McNeil: As I believe I mentioned the last time the member and I were discussing this, it was a consideration. We have a movement of him — the provincial director of child welfare moving to Vancouver Island — to assume that role. We're still having discussions. We said we would review to see how it is going, and we're still in those discussions.
[R. Hawes in the chair.]
C. Trevena: There could be a perception of the priority given to the role of the provincial director of child welfare by having that person doing two jobs. Is this a consideration?
Hon. M. McNeil: It's my understanding that, yes, that is still something we are considering, and it is my understanding that they're still discussing the role and how it will work out. I will receive a report in June, and we'll go from there.
C. Trevena: One of the reasons I asked this is the priority and the weight put on it, but that would be another ADM job that would need to be created and the money found for it, and where would the money be found for it in a flatline budget, which is one of the problems being faced.
I ask the minister whether overall there has been…. Is it possible to say whether there has been an increase or decrease in the executive staff levels for ADM executive director levels and so on over this last year?
Hon. M. McNeil: As I mentioned, the deputy minister and chief operating officer went from two positions to one. Assistant deputy ministers, from seven to eight. The additional eighth was the domestic violence unit.
In the executive directors it has gone from 22 in April 2011 to 27 in March 2012. It's no additional FTEs; it's simply a reclassification within the regions.
C. Trevena: That means basically upgrading five jobs within the regions to executive director level?
Hon. M. McNeil: Yes, that's correct.
C. Trevena: While we're talking about the ministry….
The Chair: Maybe I don't need to be here. You can just have a chat.
C. Trevena: Apologies, Chair.
While we're talking about the ministry overall…. I would like to stay on the ministry overall and then come back. I have some more specifics about the minister's office on staffing.
I did raise the issue in question period about the caseloads for social workers — a staffing issue. I wondered if the minister could tell me where there has been…. We've got five extra executive directors through reclassification. What is the status of the on-the-ground social work staff — MCFD regional office staff, social work staff?
Hon. M. McNeil: What we have now…. Child welfare social workers — a year ago, on January 1, 2011, it was 2,090. Employee count at the end of that year was 2,092 — up two. Probation — we have gone from 147 to 146. Supervisors — we have gone from 373 in January 2011 to 396, end of December. Other direct child welfare service providers are the same number — 335 to 335. In total, direct child welfare service providers have gone from 2,945 within the year to 2,969, an increase of 24.
C. Trevena: Could the minister explain the increase in supervisors?
Hon. M. McNeil: There are two reasons in here, and one is the practice consultants, in the supervisions. Where the extras came in were new practice consultants to strengthen clinical supervision and practice support to workers with complex cases. Then the second, we found that the ratio between team leaders and social workers was pretty high, so we have increased the number of team leaders so that we can improve the clinical supervision with social workers.
C. Trevena: The question I asked in question period about children and youth with special needs was about caseload. I think that reflects on the number of people working, the fact that you have got very heavy caseloads.
I have an e-mail that went to some staff in Surrey earlier this year saying basically: "…serious challenges currently facing with regards to staffing in our service delivery area…been hearing increasingly that teams throughout the area are experiencing considerable pressure due to uncovered vacancies." Obviously, some offices are being impacted more than others. "It isn't a new problem, but it has grown over several months due to a number of factors that contribute into a perfect storm, including significant pressures that have curtailed our ability to hire externally, as well as a number of other issues."
I wondered if the minister could comment on the perfect storm scenario, the fact that an office such as Surrey, which has — I know, again, from at least the CYSN side, but others — a significant caseload…. Whether the minister could comment on what is being done to deal with staffing pressures in Surrey and other urban areas….
Hon. M. McNeil: Unfortunately, we don't have the information here on that one, but we do have…. They have done an analysis, so we've got some good information. We just don't have it with us. I'll make sure that we can get that.
I do want to go back, though, to your question about the ages for adoption. As of April 1, under age two we had placed 94, but we had an additional 89 available. Ages two to five, we placed 78; available, there were 194. Ages five to 12, there were 558 available for adoption, and 71 were placed. Over 12 years old, there were 387 available for adoption, and 23 were placed.
So of these numbers, 1,228 were available, and 266 placed. That was in the years 2010-2011. In the past five years there have been 1,403 children and youth placed in adoption.
C. Trevena: I thank the minister for that. Hopefully, we'll get the opportunity to come back a little bit to that later on. Thank you very much for getting those figures to me.
Going back to the staffing issue, I look forward to getting a more detailed response. However, the memo does note that "significant fiscal pressures have curtailed our ability to hire externally." I'd like to ask the minister: if offices aren't able to hire staff externally, where are they hiring their social workers?
Hon. M. McNeil: I have been advised that we do external hiring. What happened in that particular office was indeed a perfect storm in that there was mat leave, sicknesses and various things that just made a really challenging situation for that office. But there is certainly not a policy in place. We do external hiring.
What we do have here, with respect to social worker numbers at the reporting period at the end of the calendar year…. I'll read these out, but we'll be able to make them available to you. In regular social workers, from 2008 there were 2,447, and as of 2011, there were 2,490. In auxiliary, in 2008 there were 122 and in 2011 up to 144. That was the number of social workers. The hires, actually, had gone from an additional 313 in 2008 — and that's a mix of regular and auxiliary — and up to 2011, additional hires of 212. That again is a mix of regular and auxiliary.
C. Trevena: I'd like to go a little bit to the minister's office and find out about the staffing in the minister's own office. I wondered if the minister could tell me how many political staff she has in her office and whether they have received any salary increases over the last year.
Hon. M. McNeil: The minister's office has remained the same at 5.5 FTEs. Of those, from last year to this year there has been no change — although a change in people and a delay in some of the changes. But there is certainly not any change in the numbers. It's still 5.5 FTEs, and the budget remained the same from last year to this year at $596,000. Of those, there are three political staff — two MAs and an EA.
C. Trevena: I wondered if the minister could just tell me what sort of level there is in the budget for her and her staff — or her and, then separately, her staff — for travel for the coming year.
Hon. M. McNeil: We don't have those actual numbers here. We will get them for you. But again, there are no real plans for any extreme travel. It's just when I'm invited, when the staff, or when various organizations around the province…. If they were to invite, what we would do is to agree to a trip but also build meetings around with all the various service providers and MCFD offices at the same time.
We try and keep it reduced. There are certainly no additional plans, and I think it'll probably be the same as over this past year.
C. Trevena: I appreciate that. Going back to, more generally now….. We're still working through figures. I want to go back to the resource summary and start working a little bit on the strategic plan for the ministry, rather than the service plan.
Under the resource summary we've got…. Executive and support services are up. The others, I think, are all explanatory. In fact, the youth justice services have decreased, which we understand why, and children with special needs is up.
I wondered if the minister could explain what the increase is in executive and support services, looking at the resource summary on the service plan.
Hon. M. McNeil: In discussions with staff, I think what we will commit to is that we'll give you a detailed breakdown of this to make it more understandable. Right now we're looking at the different numbers, but we'd prefer to be able to walk you through it and give you the details at a later time.
C. Trevena: Thank you, Minister. Actually, I don't think it's that hard to find the figures, Minister. It is on the service plan, 2012-13 to '14-15, which was on the website. It did come with the budget. It is the executive and support services, and my math is that it does go up.
If the minister is going to provide the figures later, I would urge that they are sooner rather than later. There have been times when, after estimates, it's taken at least ten months to get information. When we're talking about getting them later, I would hope that it would be within the next couple of weeks.
Hon. M. McNeil: I've been assured that it will be shortly.
C. Trevena: I appreciate that. Going still, the minister did mention very proudly that an extra $8 million is going into children and youth with special needs. We are talking about a flat budget. Where has the money come from?
Hon. M. McNeil: It's my understanding that the increase in funding, which is an $8.26 million increase, comes from a variety of sources. One is from CIHR, Child in the Home of a Relative, the aging out of that. As you know, that is slowly winding down as the extended family program picks up. So that's CIHR.
Youth justice. As you know, we did a realignment and were able to realize savings from…. It was only running at 64 percent occupancy, so the realignment of services was a benefit. I think it was around $1.6 million into the services for CYSN. Then in the area of child care, where it's the implementation of full-day kindergarten. Those five-year-olds that were requiring full-day kindergarten now only require before- and after-school care.
C. Trevena: I wonder if the minister has a specific figure for youth justice. Does she have the figure for the wind-down of CIHR and for the child care aspect?
Hon. M. McNeil: From CIHR it's $7.7 million. Child care is around $800,000. In youth justice — I stand corrected — it's $1.2 million. I've been told to bear in mind that there are numerous other small offsetting amounts in addition to those, but those are the three main ones.
C. Trevena: I thank the minister for that breakdown.
Just one further comment on the flatline budget and an explanation as I move into a couple of other areas — the strategic plan and then going to move on to aboriginal services.
Just after the budget…. I'd like to quote. This is from the Vancouver Sun, Craig McInnes, and I just would like the minister to comment on this, working out about the freeze and the flatline budget.
He says: "Looking at the Ministry of Children and Family Development, one of the flatlined ministries…." He's talking about how it's going to be trying to do the same level of service when inflation is going to be effectively 3 percent, assuming a 3 percent increase.
I'd like the minister's explanation, assuming there's a 3 percent increase in inflation, which I think is very feasible. "Three percent of the $1.33 billion budget is $40 million. So in the first year employees have to find $40 million in services to cut; in the second year, $80 million; and in the third year the cost of providing the same level of services for children is $120 million more." He goes on to say $120 million they won't have for children in need.
So $120 million is a significant amount of the budget. We've just been looking at playing around with a few bits here and there, just to make $8 million. I'd like to ask the minister how she's going to make it work with, effectively, $120 million less.
Hon. M. McNeil: I guess the best way to answer is that, in reality, we have not seen that reflected in our budget's rate of increase. Normally, as you say, the rate of inflation is based more on goods. Our budget is made up predominantly of contracts, which are labour-based. We don't see the same rate of inflation that you are talking about with respect to our budget.
There's no doubt there is a challenging fiscal climate out there. But it makes it even more critical for us to optimize our resources and find, as we have with children and youth with special needs, when we can do some movement around, to put it where the most needs are. That's what we're going to be able to do.
But like other ministries, we have to prioritize. Children and youth remain our top priority. We'll be committed to delivering the critical services we need, and we will continue to do so.
Will it be easy? It's always a challenge when the fiscal climate is what it is. Certainly for us, the rate of inflation is not as impactful as it is with other ministries. We are, basically, predominantly labour-based.
C. Trevena: I thank the minister for that. I'm going to be going on, I hope, later on in this series of questions — not today but later on in the session — to talk about the contractors and the agencies that the minister is obviously working with and their concerns about enough resources to do their job that has devolved to them.
I'm glad to hear that the minister is putting children and youth as a top priority, because that is the role of the ministry. So that is an important one.
I think that with the added work that is involved in the ministry.… As I say, I'm going to be going on with that later today and into next week. I think it's going to be very troubling to see how the service can be provided for the vulnerable when we are having flatline budgets and no sign of an increase.
I would like to move on, briefly, to the strategic plan, and I say "briefly" because I haven't actually seen a copy of it. I've seen the executive summary. I've seen an iteration on a strategy and operational plan, and I'm going to be referring to that at the moment.
I really wanted to get a sense…. I know it's a new direction; it's a new way of working. It is working with the lean management style, as I understand. My first question is: what other jurisdictions are using this sort of approach for delivering services to children and youth?
Hon. M. McNeil: The question was: are there other jurisdictions? I think probably the best one would be Saskatchewan. The government uses the lean approach governmentwide. But also, the Ministry of Health uses this same approach.
I'll just describe…. I don't know how much you know about the lean process.
Hon. M. McNeil: Enough. Okay.
Well, that's the one where we really…. It's a process that engages staff on the front line in examining and improving their daily work. It encourages staff to look for effectiveness and efficiency in their work. It's an approach that I think has proven itself to be very, very effective. It's one that we are really using a lot of within our Ministry of Children and Family Development.
C. Trevena: I'm wondering if the minister can explain to me how the front-line staff who are already pretty stressed….
I know that while we have talked about figures, we haven't talked about the number of staff on sick leave, the number of staff positions that aren't being filled, which hopefully we'll be coming back to. How are you expecting those staff to be involved in the work that this sort of approach really takes?
Hon. M. McNeil: One of the things that I've been able to do over the last year is actually get out to the regions and really talk to the front-line staff and work with them, through listening to some of their issues, listening to their pressures and listening to what it is and how they feel about their jobs.
What I've really found is that there is a real high level not only of devotion to the job but also a real feeling of teamwork — more so, I almost find, within the smaller communities, where they really all work together, and they do a really good job.
One of the things that management is trying to do with respect to giving social workers the strength and resilience to do the tough work that they do each and every day is through training, supervision and teamwork.
I understand that a small portion of the training dollars that we do have goes towards doing what are called mapping exercises. This is what they do: they bring in small groups of staff from around the province to get together to look at issues, common issues, to look at how they're looking at certain tough situations and how they work through them. I think it allows them, then, to take this…. And it's more worker-driven than policy-driven.
It really is effective, because what happens is the workers themselves, the folks themselves, are able to streamline their approaches. It helps because they're able to clarify the processes and really have a better understanding of how they can approach some of the challenging situations that they do.
The staff then go back to their communities and slowly and gradually work with the staff within the community so that they really benefit from the work that they have done. It seems to be working very well.
I certainly know, in my discussions with staff around the province, that there are certainly some challenges with respect to the family situations they're dealing with and the various things. But there is an incredible amount of teamwork, where these folks really feel supported. They feel that they're part of a team that is really making a difference, and I think that's something we're trying to really build from the bottom up.
C. Trevena: Well, the minister has painted this rosy picture of these great offices. I apologize for jumping around on this, but it has sparked my question that I just touched on when I was doing my previous preamble.
I wonder if the minister could provide me with the number of staff vacancies there are on the front lines and the number — if we have a breakdown of those — who are on both short- and long-term sick leave.
Hon. M. McNeil: On the turnover rate, it's 6.03 percent. Vacancy rate — I don't have that number, but I've just asked them to get it for me right now.
I just want to go back to one of the questions you had asked earlier about the number of children adopted by foster parents. For '11-12 it was 40, out of a total number of adoptions of 226 for '11-12.
C. Trevena: This is going to be, I think, an ongoing theme throughout the debate, because each time you come up with another answer on the adoption-fostering, it raises another question. I'll make a note of that. I'd like to come back to that later.
Going back to the staffing and the strategic plan, I've got to say I'm rather disappointed, or maybe confused, why we're having the strategic plan not released. I'm disappointed at not being able to see it. I've seen, as I say, the executive summary and one draft version without a date on it. I'm puzzled why it's not coming out until May when we have the whole budget process in March. But going back to the staffing issue, part of the executive summary that I have seen says: "develop a comprehensive recruitment and retention strategy."
I'm wondering what approach the minister is going to use to both recruit and, particularly, retain staff, when we are talking about both the pressures and the economic realities under which they'll be working.
Hon. M. McNeil: Before I get into some of the things that we're doing…. This is an interesting one. I have, as I said, gone around many regions in the province and spoken with folks. And a lot of them…. It's very hard to recruit in sort of rural areas or areas where there are great distances that have to be travelled. It's not a matter that they don't have the…. They have the space — but to try and find the folks we need to recruit.
[J. Thornthwaite in the chair.]
Actually, Darryl Walker of the BCGEU came to visit my office, and we chatted about it — about what are the strategies we can do. So it's something that we certainly recognize and that the ministry is working on with various strategies.
What we're actually doing is looking at it with a regional approach, because each region is different. There are different needs and different sorts of recruitment challenges, if you will, regionally around the province.
They do have a proactive program, where they work with the universities and colleges on practicums. They offer practicums, programs, advertising and outreach. Work with the community agencies — the same. There is a real effort to get out and try and see, but I think this is one that is not just specific to MCFD. Certainly, it's an issue we have in other ministries, as well, and in other jurisdictions across the country. It is a challenge.
Retention-wise, we look very closely at the work engagement surveys that are done, to take a look at what some of the areas are where they are doing very well, what we can learn from that, but also the areas where there might be some challenges. There are certainly staff recognition programs that they have but also a lot of the clinical supervision and training programs and various things, working with the actual regional offices to see what some of the challenges are that we can help with.
I went up to 100 Mile and went into one of the youth zones, and they gathered…. What's called the youth zone. It's for youth, a drop-in centre for youth. A lot of the MCFD staff came there and a lot of the agencies that also provide a lot of the great services out there. They were saying what they learned, just amongst each other, and the number…. We actually presented one of the staff recognition framed certificates, if you will — the real pride they have in that they are able to keep themselves engaged and recognize the great work they do do each and every day.
So there are a lot of different things we are looking at doing and we are doing. But I think it is, again, one of those things that is common across other ministries and across other jurisdictions — recruitment and retention.
C. Trevena: I thank the minister for that. It is an issue, I think, particularly when we are talking about rural communities, as well, and staff turnover — to get young people into a rural community, into a rural office. They are there a couple of years, and then they're gone — so how to keep them there.
Also, how to keep more senior people there, who have got the authority and the respect among the community. Oftentimes people, unfortunately, look at younger ones as not able to do the job as well, and sometimes they don't have the experience and so can't do it as well.
There are big challenges there, so the fact that there is a concerted effort to have that, I think, is going to be very healthy.
I'm not going to stay too long on the strategic reports, because it seems to be going through what is in the service plan. As I say, I'm looking forward to seeing the full one. As I say, I would have liked that it could have come out at the same time as everything else. I think that's problematic. But we have other things that also still haven't come out, and we'll go on to that later.
I just wondered if the minister could tell me where in the strategic plan…. As I say, I've only seen the executive summary. Does it address the issue of delays in court hearings with a child in protection?
Hon. M. McNeil: In answer to this question: no, it's not actually in the strategic and operational plan, because the work is actually already underway.
We're working with JAG on this, looking at various ways that we can enhance family group conferencing, mediation and various other things so that we can actually keep out of the court system. As you know, JAG is also doing a review of the justice system in there, but MCFD has been involved with JAG, certainly when it comes to family issues where there are children involved.
Obviously, it's very important to us, and it's a cost to us, because as you know, if a child has to be apprehended and put in foster care while a case is on, any delay is a cost. And it's not just a financial cost. It's also a cost to the child, so it's something that we feel is very important. We are working with JAG on it as we speak, and seeing if there are ways that we can actually keep these types of situation out of the courts to begin with.
I also just want to quickly…. You made a comment about the strategic and operational plan. I had the opportunity to ask when it might be available. We're hoping within a couple of weeks. What we did say to the Representative for Children and Youth is that we would…. We gave her a draft and asked her for input into the plan, which we have received last week. So we have that now, and we're just doing some of the changes, but it will be ready, hopefully, within a couple of weeks.
Then I do want to go back to one other, if you don't mind me bouncing around. You did ask, and I want to make sure I can give you as much information as I can right now. You asked about the travel budget for the minister's office. The actual budget in 2011-12 was $63,000. That was the budget line — $63,000 — but the actual use was $42,634. For the year 2012, this fiscal year, we've budgeted it at $64,000, but hopefully, we'll come under as much as we did the last time.
C. Trevena: I'm so eager I'm bouncing in my seat, Minister. Thank you very much for that, and thanks for giving me those figures. I'm assuming on JAG we're talking Justice and Attorney General here — just to clarify that.
I wondered, Minister, whether…. This might not be your ministry; maybe it is the Ministry of Justice. I'm hearing stories of long delays in child protection hearings, and I'm wondering if the minister can tell me how many children are waiting for a court hearing, and what the average time of the wait is?
Hon. M. McNeil: We don't have those figures, but what we do know is that we are doing an analysis right now in the work that we are doing with the Justice Minister and Attorney General. So it is a work in progress, but it is one that we do monitor because obviously it impacts children and youth.
C. Trevena: I'd appreciate it if the minister can try and find the figures. I'll also ask the Ministry of Justice, during her estimates, whether she has got figures. If nobody has got figures, it is very troubling. We have got all of these kids stuck somewhere in the limbo of the court system. I think that is very worrying if that is the case — if nobody is tracking this. I'm hoping that the minister isn't saying that it's not being tracked.
I'm going to shift gears. I'm very mindful of the time. It is really going on, and we are still in the early stages here and have got a lot to cover. I'm going to move over to a little more specifically about what the ministry is doing with First Nations and the aboriginal approach.
I know that there is no longer an aboriginal approach section now — that it is covered in all of the various areas. While we don't have the aboriginal approach section, and while we no longer have the aboriginal authorities, as I understand it…. Or do we have the aboriginal authorities?
I'd like a bit of clarification on what still exists for First Nations, aboriginal people — whether we have aboriginal authorities. We still have got the designated aboriginal agencies. We don't have the aboriginal approach. So just a bit of a clarification there.
Also, the amount of money…. The minister mentioned $19.8 million for services for aboriginal people. I wondered if the minister could tell me how much was actually spent on the aboriginal authorities as an institution, whether they are there now or not.
Hon. M. McNeil: We've got lots of numbers — almost too many numbers. What I will say is: in answer to your question, there are no aboriginal authorities anymore. But there are currently 22 delegated aboriginal child and family service agencies that are operational. So 19 are First Nations agencies, two are urban aboriginal agencies and one Métis agency.
Delegated agencies currently serve 2,030, or 44 percent, of the 4,613 aboriginal children in care in the province. Delegated aboriginal agencies are accountable to their communities, the ministry and, for First Nations agencies, to the federal government.
Of the approximately 199 First Nations bands in B.C., 145 are represented by aboriginal agencies that either have or are actively planning toward delegation agreements to manage their own child and family services.
In addition, we have indigenous approaches contracts in this fiscal year of $9.2 million — $8.2 million of that to regions, mostly to regions, and $1 million to reconciliation.
Then in operations we have $550,000 to support delivery support. In ECD we have $5 million; another $3 million to aboriginal supports to the regions for the DAAs; and an additional $2 million for the DAAs — a total of $19.8 million.
I think probably what would be best is if we put something together that combines a lot of these, because it's an awful lot of information from various different areas. It would be better laid out in answer to your specific question.
C. Trevena: Yes, I thank the minister. It would be very useful to get the breakdown. So the $19.8 million is not money within the overall budget for services to aboriginal youth through the ministry. It's money going to the DAAs and to the indigenous approaches?
Maybe I'll step back a bit. How much money goes to the DAAs? How much money went to the aboriginal authorities? And how much money is just part of the service that just goes to indigenous service through MCFD?
Hon. M. McNeil: As I mentioned a little earlier, what we would like to do is put it — the numbers that we have — a little more coherently, exactly along your question line. We can do that by Monday, which we'll do.
Having said that, as I said, there are no aboriginal authorities. In fact, that process goes back three years, so we don't have those numbers. That would be something we'd have to do.
But for the current numbers, for the DAAs it's approximately $92 million. In addition to that, to the indigenous approaches, it's another $9.2 million.
C. Trevena: I appreciate the offer to break down the figures and look forward to seeing that, particularly if we can have it by Monday. If there's anything subsequent on Monday, we can come back to it.
Are the DAAs accredited? Are they expected to be accredited, and secondly, are they expected to comply with provincial standards?
Hon. M. McNeil: No, they are not accredited. Having said that, they are guided by the Aboriginal Operational and Practice Standards and Indicators — it's called AOPSI — which was developed in 1999, and it's signed off by the provincial director. They're also guided by, obviously, the CFCSA as well.
C. Trevena: There is an expectation for all of the agencies within a certain size that have contracts with the ministry to be accredited now. In fact, I often hear from those agencies, and I'm sure the minister's heard it herself: "Why can't the ministry be accredited?" Why are the DAAs not accredited or not expected to be accredited?
Hon. M. McNeil: The delegated aboriginal agencies are not contracted agencies. Their relationship with MCFD is through the delegation enabling agreement, which is in full compliance with CFCSA. That's been in effect since, actually, 1987.
C. Trevena: What sort of oversight does the ministry have to ensure that the agencies are complying with the standards that are laid out?
If I might just put a couple of questions together…. The oversight: what sort of oversight does the ministry have? What sort of training and support does the ministry provide for the DAAs. And thirdly, as a package, if there's a critical incident at a DAA, how is that reported out?
Hon. M. McNeil: There were three questions that the member opposite put forward. One is the oversight of the delegated aboriginal agencies. They actually report through to the office of the provincial director of child welfare. He actually has a director of aboriginal agencies that does do the oversight of the DAAs.
With respect to training and support, practice audits of delegated aboriginal agencies are conducted for the purpose of strengthening and promoting best practice. The practice audits were implemented on 2003-04 by the aboriginal program and service support division of MCFD.
The practice component of the audit program evaluates compliance by delegated social workers at the DAAs to the practice standards of the aboriginal operational and practice standards and indicators, as I mentioned earlier — the AOPSI.
Secondly, I think you also then mentioned about the reporting out of a critical incident. Depending on the circumstances, the director may conduct a case file review. The director actually has the authority to conduct a more formal, comprehensive review as necessary.
In 2005 the ministry, in collaboration with the agencies and federal government, implemented the common audit to audit compliance to the operational standards. The ministry, through aboriginal program and service support branch, provides practice, consultation and support to each agency for complex, unusual and difficult cases and makes a complete analysis of the incident.
I think it's also important for the members opposite, for their information, that the Caring for First Nations Children Society, CFNCS, is jointly funded by MCFD and Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada. This Caring for First Nations Children Society works in support of delegated First Nations, aboriginal and Métis child and family service agencies to develop and deliver delegation training. The CFNCS also provides coordination, research, policy analysis and secretariat support to the DAAs, MCFD and Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada.
C. Trevena: Ultimately, however, the minister is responsible for the DAAs and how they operate. Is that correct?
Hon. M. McNeil: That would be correct.
C. Trevena: I don't know whether the minister can help me on this one, but this would be the opportunity to get some facts and to put some rumours to bed. One of the rumours I have heard — I don't know whether the minister has any willingness to comment on whether or not she has heard it or if there is any truth to it — is the previous deputy minister is now working for a delegated aboriginal agency. I wondered if that was known and if that would come through the minister's office at any stage.
Hon. M. McNeil: Not working with a delegated agency. It was commented here that they believe it was through a federal contract with the Stikine. Again, these are just things that we've heard.
C. Trevena: I appreciate that, Minister. Thank you very much. Thank you, staff. I'm going to switch gears now. I could spend a lot of time on each of these sections, but again, very aware of the time.
[J. McIntyre in the chair.]
I'm going to move on to the new poverty reduction plan. My first question for the minister is…. In her opening remarks, she mentioned it was going to be a partnership, working with UBCM, working with the communities. She's also mentioned in public comments that there will not be any money for this. I'm wondering how the minister is looking into partnership without money.
Hon. M. McNeil: As the member is aware, we did launch last week — although the work had been going on for quite a few months — what we call now the community poverty reduction strategies initiative. We did launch it up in Prince George, because it is one of the seven pilot municipalities that we are going to start with.
It is a partnership with the Union of B.C. Municipalities' healthy communities committee. As the member opposite is aware, we did have a discussion back in September at UBCM, a forum where I spoke alongside the Representative for Children and Youth. We spoke about poverty.
As the member opposite knows — and she and I totally agree on this — no one wants to see any child or family living in poverty. It is a very difficult issue. There are a lot of reasons why people may find themselves in that situation. It's an extremely challenging issue, not just for the provincial government but also for municipal governments, agencies that provide services, non-profits that are out there and some of our agencies that provide the service.
One thing we did discover in our chats with UBCM was that we all do some great work, including other ministries across government, but it is not as coordinated as it should be. So in a discussion with UBCM we actually were talking…. It was one of the smaller communities that approached us and said: "You know, we're very grateful for the province's support with respect to programs for ages zero to 6. But we're not that big of a community, and we have many of them."
That really got us all to thinking about: you know, there's great stuff going out there, but have we actually chatted with the communities that are involved to understand what their needs are? Rather than for us to go in and do a one-size-fits-all and let's take it out to the province, let's take a look at community to community — what they need. Communities are different, and families are different within these communities.
That's how this whole idea evolved. I'm actually very excited about it, being able to be up in Prince George and announce it with the mayor, with the executive director of United Way up in the northern region, the chamber of commerce. We were all excited because, again, it's a coordination. It's a partnership where we're actually going to get together and see what we're all doing.
Oftentimes there is some great work going out there. But when you get together, you can sort of build on each other's and you can produce something that you can leverage off each other and do a much better job of helping the families that are in need. So that's what the plan behind it is. What shape it's actually going to take for each community, we won't know until they get the work done.
We're asking them. We're asking for very specific time frames. By September we want to be able to have an action plan for each one of these seven regions. Again, the member opposite mentioned about the dollars. We don't know. We may find that there are enough dollars already out there and being spent on some great initiatives but there's some duplication, or maybe there are some gaps.
What we want to do is let the work be done within each one of these communities. Since our announcement last week we've actually been approached by the Big Brothers and Sisters of the Lower Mainland saying they want in. They want to help. We've actually been approached by another organization in Kamloops that said: "I don't know how we get involved, but we want to be involved."
There is a great appetite out there for this initiative. I think we can do some great things with it. But we have to take a look at: what are we all doing now? Then let's figure out a plan of action. We're hoping from these pilots to really see and develop some really great initiatives that we can then work with other communities to expand it and grow it.
Right now we are in the position where we're just taking a look at what's all being done out there, see what the partnerships are going to come out with. We're working with a lot of the different businesses. The business community is anxious to be involved as well. There is no dollar figure, because we have to see how each one of these regions develops a plan and then take a look at it from there.
C. Trevena: To be honest, Minister, I think we're coming from very different approaches on this. I have some specific questions, and then I think, through my questions, my concerns will be expressed. Fundamentally, I think that the minister is aware that our side of the House is very concerned about a piecemeal approach.
We have a desperate record of poverty in this province. We do still have the worst child poverty record. That's been going for a number of years. We have systemic problems that will not be dealt with through philanthropy, through the good will of agencies, no matter what good will there is.
It's not going to be assisted just by communities and trying to squeeze maybe some dollars from here and some dollars from there. We need to have a systemic approach to dealing with poverty in our province.
On that note, I wondered if the minister could tell me just specifically what targets, what specific sorts of targets, she will be expecting. What benchmarks will she be using to see the improvement in the levels of poverty?
Hon. M. McNeil: In answer to the member opposite's question…. I think probably she and I agree with the outcome that we want to get to; it is how we get there. One of the things that's been very clear in talking with the various communities already…. As you know, UBCM has helped us choose the seven. They were chosen for a variety of different reasons, not because they necessarily have a worse problem than anyone else, but they seem to reflect the best of the province. We're hoping to expand it by 20 communities by the end of the year.
Some of the things that we have been chatting with them and talking about…. I have also spoken with some folks who still say: "I think we need a one-size-fits-all poverty reduction plan for the province."
One of the things I have been saying to them is that I'm very aware each community is different, each region is different. When we go in and say, "This is what we're going to do, and we'll do the one-size-fits-all," it's not necessarily going to work.
After we work with the seven communities, after we expand it to 20 communities, there may be some common themes that then form part of the plan — a more provincial plan. But one of the things we have been looking at, as we have been looking across other jurisdictions and internationally, is that many of the plans that provinces have, do have action items in them. Many of those actions we are already doing.
What is more important to me is the actions rather than just a plan. Although B.C.'s poverty rate is the second lowest it's been in the last 20 years, it's still not acceptable, and we know that. That's why we have to….
In fact, since 2003, even though it has dropped by almost 38 percent, it's still not acceptable. That's why we have to look bigger and broader and on the broader picture.
I do want to mention some of the actions that we have been doing at the same time, while we're doing this other. We have increased minimum wage, which will make a difference for many folks. The creation of 17,000 new affordable housing units, and we have another 3,000 planned or under construction. The provincial subsidized housing and rental supplements that we do for 26,000 families makes a huge difference. Child care support, with over 100,000 licensed spaces funded.
Again, one of the biggest things that a lot of people say is that the best poverty reduction strategy is a job. So the job creation plan that we do have is vitally important.
I think one of the things I've learned most in looking around the various jurisdictions that are doing community work like this is that they say the best thing you can do for the family is not just give them the net to land in but also give them the springboards to get out.
That's exactly what this community poverty reduction strategy initiative is planning to do, working with businesses that aren't just going to be there with philanthropic dollars but are going to be there to say: "We can hire. We can do things. Let's get involved. What can we do to make it easier for some of these families?"
Although we may disagree with how we're getting there, I think we all agree that we want to get to the same spot.
C. Trevena: The minister didn't answer my question. I asked about targets. Every other jurisdiction that has a poverty reduction plan has specific targets, they have timelines, they have a specific percentage of how much they want to reduce poverty by, because they've got a specific awareness of how much poverty is impacting. So I would like the minister to answer my question.
The minister also does contradict herself. She talks about the best way out is providing a job, but many of those people who are below the poverty line are working poor. Increasing the minimum wage…. It's going up again; it's still not enough. I think we have to be aware of that.
Working with families, will the minister be ensuring that child care will be provided, bus tickets, food, stipends to ensure that if we are trying to plan out of poverty, that there would be those assistances?
But my first question, which I'd like a response to, is targets and timelines on the plan.
Hon. M. McNeil: Yes, you're correct. I got carried away. It's an exciting project. I think this is one of the initiatives in MCFD and cross-government that really is going to make a difference. So I'm very, very excited about it.
What we've asked each one of the seven communities that are involved — and we will be working with them; we have a coordinator that will be actually working with the various components within — is to have a work and action plan with meaningful targets. It's not about MCFD coming in and saying this is the target we want.
It's about UBCM, healthy communities committee, the various municipalities and the province and the agencies involved to be able to come together. It is: what is realistic? What can we achieve?
We want to have measurable targets, and we want to have them delivered. We want to make sure that we move forward on this.
As you know, we have asked each one of these communities to come back with an action plan in September so that we can actually start implementing and working with families within each one of these communities. Then there'll be individual plans for the families moving from then on.
There will be an action plan. There will be meaningful targets. But it's not anything that the provincial government is going to come in and say: "This is what you should do." This is a partnership, working with each one of the communities, and they will be putting together their action plans and setting their meaningful targets.
C. Trevena: So the minister isn't looking at the poverty rate in B.C. and saying that "within five years, through this plan, in our X number of communities we will be reducing the poverty rate by this," as other jurisdictions are doing. I'd like a clarification on that and, secondly, whether the minister even has regional and local poverty rates to be applying against these communities.
Hon. M. McNeil: Part of the process that each community is being asked to do over the spring is to take a look at what actually are the LICO after-tax numbers for each of these regions. They're going to be taking a look at not just provincewide again. It's going to be what is their region. That will be what they'll start with, and they will set their individual targets, as I've said, per community, based on those.
C. Trevena: Will there be a target for measurable reduction? What is expected of this?
Hon. M. McNeil: Yes.
C. Trevena: What will that target be?
Hon. M. McNeil: Again, that will be set by the individual groups — the regions that are participating. It will be set by them, and it will depend on where they're at and where they want to get to. That will all be done as part of the plan.
C. Trevena: Did the minister or any of her staff contact each of these communities, and if so, which organizations or authorities or who within the communities?
Hon. M. McNeil: What we have done since we started this process with UBCM, back in the healthy communities committee back in September, is we've been working with them on the process. We have someone within MCFD who is working on this.
UBCM actually was the one that phoned each one of the mayors, explained what we were doing, explained that we would like to see if they would like to be part of the first seven, the communities, and then gave them background information on the project.
As I mentioned, a UBCM representative told me they were very good conversations. In fact, in the majority of the conversations he had, when he asked the mayors who they would like to be involved and on the committee, the majority of them said they would — the mayor would like to be. So there is some very high-level interest in being involved in this.
Right now in Surrey, Kamloops and Prince George, staff have all begun to connect with community organizations, and we're going to expand this work to other communities as we move forward.
As I mentioned, what I found out today is that we have had organizations that have phoned up the office and said: "I heard that this was happening in my community. Can I be involved?" It's great, and as much as we can get the information out there and invite people to get in, the better.
We are posting a 0.5 community poverty consultant position in each one of the communities. Actually, the postings have now been closed, and we have a pool of interested candidates. Interviews for the consultant positions will occur in the first week of May, and we'll have staff in place and trained by the end of May.
Over the next two months staff will visit each of the communities and work with them to identify and map out the services that already currently exist within the communities, build partnerships with community tables and organizations and jointly create a community profile. The profile will identify community resources and needs. Consultants will then begin working with the families, as I mentioned, in September.
It is an ongoing process. It will be different for each one of the communities. That's what I think is so exciting about this initiative: that we're working in full partnership with the municipality and the various organizations within. We're not just coming in and saying: "This is how it should be." It's: "Here we are together. Let's work together. Let's take a really good look at what we're already doing together and see how we can make it better for these families."
That's what I like about it. It's not pre-set. We're not prejudging anything. We're not going in with any definitive road ahead. We do want, obviously, to have measurable targets, we do want to see results, and we want to be able to be in a position to expand the number of pilots over the next years. We're looking forward to seeing how things move forward, but I'm absolutely very pleased with the interest that we're getting not only with the mayors but also with the communities.
C. Trevena: The community poverty consultants are 0.5. Are they being appointed locally? How much are they getting paid? How long are the appointments going to be for?
Hon. M. McNeil: We don't have the actual number. These are ministry staff, who will be doing 0.5 of their time. But these are ministry staff that work in the region, the actual community — and if not right in the community, very nearby.
C. Trevena: So they are already being paid, and this is just half-time they'll be working on this project to reduce poverty — allegedly reduce poverty in these communities?
Hon. M. McNeil: It is a 0.5 of an already existing position, but their 0.5 will be covered off. So it will be an additional cost, and I'll get it for you.
C. Trevena: She said it will be an additional cost and that she will get it for me? Thank you.
The Chair: Member, I have to recognize you first through the Chair. Thanks.
C. Trevena: I apologize, Chair. I'm sorry. Apologies. We've got a lot to get through, and the time is short.
The Chair: I'll go faster.
C. Trevena: I'll go faster too, and the minister will keep her answers more concise to the question.
I see that the minister is saying, in answer to a question on a radio interview, that there's going to be no new money for this, no funding. The minister's response was: "No, with the exception of a provincial steering committee." I'd like to know who will be on this committee. How is it going to function, how much is it going to be costing, and how are the people going to be appointed to it?
Hon. M. McNeil: I think what the member opposite was talking about was the provincial steering committee. There will be a provincial steering committee appointed, including representatives from provincial cabinet, UBCM, the voluntary sector and the business community to help guide the project. They won't be put in place until September, when the project is further along. They'll be there to advise and guide as things move forward.
These are all senior volunteers. These are people that we're asking within the community, and hopefully, those that have profile within the communities, which will help us. They are doing it on a voluntary basis.
C. Trevena: These people from the provincial steering committee are going to be appointed from the communities, as well as having cabinet members on that provincial steering committee? Is what I'm hearing?
I'm also sort of confused. In this interview the minister was asked directly whether they're announcing any new money, and the minister responded, "No, with the exception that we'll be doing this," which implies that there will be money through this provincial steering committee.
Hon. M. McNeil: No, there is no net new money for programming. That's what was mentioned.
The provincial steering committee are senior people within the province that are going to help us advise. They'll be from the business community, from the voluntary sector. Sorry, UBCM will be assigning someone. This will be a very small committee of senior volunteers that will help us with the project.
What I think you were talking about and what I was talking about, the 0.5, are the actual 0.5 consultants that will be working with each one of the seven communities to facilitate the meetings within each one of those communities.
This provincial steering committee is a more senior advisory council, if you will, that will be appointed by us to help us oversee, give advice to the project. It will contain senior members of the business community, the voluntary community, UBCM and a couple of cabinet ministers.
C. Trevena: The minister and I are talking a little bit at cross-purposes, but I'm going to move on. Obviously, they're not going to…. She told on the radio interview that…. It was inferred that there was going to be money for this provincial steering committee. There is no money for the provincial steering committee.
However, it's clearly going to be appointed through the minister, the minister's office. She's been thinking about this. She's very clearly engaged in this. I wondered if she could tell me who she is thinking should be involved, apart from the UBCM and some cabinet ministers. Could she identify which businesses and which people she's approaching?
Hon. M. McNeil: To the member, I'm a little confused as to the interview that you're mentioning, because I haven't really spoken about the provincial steering committee in any interviews.
What we are looking at here, and what I think will really sort of add value to this whole initiative process is some senior folks that can help us advise and guide the project. You know, oftentimes you can be doing projects, government can be focused on projects, and it's very valuable to get that outside advice.
Who the players will be — I have spoken to a few folks that have expressed interest. But we want to wait and see over the summer. What kind of skill sets are required? Where are each of the communities heading? What will we need?
The type of people we'll be looking at for this committee are business leaders who have interests that go province-wide, so someone that's interested with a healthy province, with helping families around. They can be a variety of different businesses.
As I said, I have had a couple of conversations to see if there is any interest out there. There is. But we want to make sure that we understand what kind of folks we do need. What are the skills that we need to make this project better? That's what we're looking at doing.
C. Trevena: For the minister's staff, when they're trying to track down the interview, she was interviewed on the CKNW, World Weekend, on the 15th of April, talking to Sean Leslie. The quote being, as I have quoted a couple of times, Mr. Leslie saying that there is no new funding for this, and the minister saying, "no, with the exception that we will be setting up," which again, implies there is money for these participants. I'm not going to belabour the point.
The minister is talking about working with two specific groups. One is the communities, and one is families. My first question is: will there be any downloading of any costs on the municipalities, and if so, what's that expected to be?
I think maybe I should phrase it slightly differently, if I might. Can the minister guarantee that there will be no downloading of costs on the municipalities?
Hon. M. McNeil: Yes, I can guarantee there will be no downloading of costs on the communities.
C. Trevena: I think the communities will be very pleased to hear that, Minister.
The minister is also talking about working with families, and talking very specifically. Again, it's a very different approach from the approach that this side of the House has actually been putting forward. We have been talking and, in fact, have tabled a bill. There is a bill on the order paper that we could be adopting right now, if the minister was really engaged in trying to deal with poverty, which is a province-wide poverty reduction plan.
It has targets, and it has timelines. It looks at an approach that realizes that we have very different needs in our communities and across our province. We have severe poverty across our province which has been heightened over the last 12 years.
We need to tackle this, and we need to tackle this all together, not just by picking off one or two communities that are deemed by organizations to be in need and then to build up to 47 communities. I don't know why just 47. That just leaves a lot of people without assistance.
The minister has been talking specifically about working with families. I would like to know how she sees this concept of sort of planning your way out of poverty, working specifically with families, rather than working more systemically.
Hon. M. McNeil: I think, you know, many of the actions, as I mentioned…. When you look at other poverty reduction plans across the country…. I did mention that we're already doing many of the actions. So we are taking a systemic approach, if you will, with the increase in minimum wage, with the work we're doing with affordable housing, with all the other initiatives that I mentioned earlier. What this initiative is doing is complementary to that.
Communities are different. Families are different. I think we have to recognize that. We can't go in and…. Clearly, poverty isn't just an issue here in this province. It's all over. We have to do a more innovative and involving…. We have to take an involving approach.
What we have to do is take a look at: what are the services that the families actually need? Rather than just us making assumptions and going in, we need to work with families, and work with families within each one of these communities. The committees within each community will be selecting families to work with and try and pull services around the family to understand: what are those individual families' needs?
You know, families' needs are different from the next. For us to come in with the one-size-fits-all and say, "This is what you need," is not the way to go. We need to involve the families. That's what these pilot strategies are going to do. They're going to work with individual communities. They're going to work with individual families. Out of that we will find that there are some that are working. There are some common themes that we can then start spreading around to the others.
I'm hoping we can move this from seven to 20 and outwards pretty quickly. I'm hoping we can. There is some tremendous work already happening, The North Shore Congress is a perfect example, in the Chair's riding. I mean, they're doing some fabulous work, working with various ministers.
You know, we're not out here to duplicate. We're here to complement and to work with. I think we need to go in and work and listen to the families, listen to what the various needs are, work and see what we can do to pull the services around the family and give them the support they need to springboard out of a situation that no one wants to see them in, in the first place.
C. Trevena: Communities do know what problems they face. They know it isn't just a family facing a problem, that it is a bigger issue than one family that may be working poor. It isn't just the fact….
I mean, the answer to that — and this isn't in the minister's purview, although she does sit at the cabinet table, and has sat at the cabinet table for three years — is to deal with wage levels and ensure that people aren't being working poor, it can be argued.
I think it is, I have to say, almost condescending to say they're going to be working with families to try to deal with this. I can see better working with communities. Again, I think that working with the province is better.
But if we are working with specific families…. Can the minister guarantee that if specific families, for instance, receive a stipend to attend whatever planning session they need to, whatever community session they need to, and they are receiving welfare, that that stipend won't be clawed back? Under the present government rules, that stipend would be clawed back.
We're looking at things like how people are going to afford to get to participate. Will they be provided with bus tickets? Will they be provided with food? Food helps. Food gets people to parent support events and so on.
The minister is looking — sort of, let's plan our way out of poverty. How will the minister ensure that those families aren't going to get caught in more of the system?
The Chair: Recognizing the minister but noting the hour.
Hon. M. McNeil: Yes, hon. Chair, I'll just answer this.
The only comment I can have for that is there are assumptions being made on the other side that they understand what families need. I think that is something that we as government should never do. This is called a partnership. It's working with the Union of B.C. Municipalities. It's working with the municipalities. It's working with the various agencies that actually provide services to these families.
What this is going to be is a collaboration of figuring out: what is it that we already do, what can we do better, and how can we really give meaning to these families? It's about taking one family at a time out of the situation. It's not about us going in there and dictating what has to happen. This is a full partnership. It's something that I think is very exciting.
Again, I've mentioned that one of the regions we are going to is Port Hardy, and I would hope that the member opposite would join us on the committee and see how it works. I think it's going to make a big difference to the lives of children and family that are living in low-income families.
Hon. Chair, noting the hour, I move that the committee rise, report progress and ask leave to sit again.
The committee rose at 5:47 p.m.
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