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Government Communications Office



VANCOUVER - The B.C. government is strengthening the province's child protection system and streamlining child and family services with a new Ministry for Children and Families, Premier Glen Clark announced today.

The premier's action plan is a fundamental restructuring of the way services are provided and includes a new independent children's commissioner.

"The changes I'm announcing will put our children and their safety first by consolidating services and putting more resources into the hands of front-line workers. They are effective immediately," said Clark.

"It became clear to me several weeks ago that our efforts to address this problem risked being too little, and too late. That wasn't acceptable to me, and it isn't acceptable to British Columbians. B.C.'s children can't wait. That's why I asked the Transition Commissioner to accelerate her timetable."

Clark announced that he has appointed Penny Priddy, MLA for Surrey-Newton, to head a new Ministry for Children and Families. Robert Plecas, who has served in a broad range of senior capacities in the public and private sector, will become the new ministry's deputy minister. The ministry will integrate the child and family programs of the ministries of Social Services, Health, Attorney General, Education and WomenÕs Equality.

The premier is directing Priddy to implement a provincewide strategy for early intervention and prevention. As a key element of the changes, the remaining services now provided by the Ministry of Social Services, including its income assistance responsibilities, will go to a new Ministry of Human Resources, headed by Dennis Streifel, MLA for Mission-Kent.

Clark said consolidating programs from five ministries into one will provide for better co-ordination and lead to improved services to those most at risk, and will not cost taxpayers additional dollars. Each program integrated into the Ministry for Children and Families will bring its current resources, and new programs will be funded through administrative and management savings found through the consolidation.

Clark also announced the appointment of Cynthia Morton as the province's new childrenÕs commissioner. Her mandate includes the review of all children's deaths in the province, not just those known to or in the care of the Ministry of Social Services or the new ministry. She will investigate all deaths found to be suspicious or unusual, determine fault, if any, and recommend action to prevent future deaths.

The commissioner will be independent of the new ministry, and accountable directly to the attorney general. All deaths currently before the Child and Family Review Board will become the responsibility of the new commissioner.

"These changes will guarantee that whenever a child in British Columbia dies, the circumstances will be reviewed immediately, and independently," said Clark. "We have one goal: taking the action needed to prevent further deaths."

The children's commissioner will also be responsible for reviewing, streamlining and overseeing all investigative complaint and adjudicative functions provided by government - as they relate to children and their families - to ensure B.C.Õs children are getting the help they need.

The action plan announced by the premier flows from recommendations Morton made as transition commissioner for child and youth services. The B.C. government set up the office of the transition commissioner in February 1996 in response to recommendations from Judge Thomas Gove's 18-month inquiry into B.C.'s child-serving system. The transition commission was given a three-year mandate to design and oversee the implementation of a new system for delivering child and youth services.

Earlier this month, Clark directed the transition commissioner to bring forward her report earlier than originally planned. With the changes announced today, the work of the transition commissioner's office will end ahead of schedule. The new ministry will take full responsibility for implementing the changes required to respond to the Gove report.

The B.C. government appointed Gove in 1994 to conduct an inquiry into the death of Matthew Vaudreuil, a client of the B.C. child protection system. Gove's report contained 118 recommendations on how services for children and youth should be organized and delivered to reduce risk, co-ordinate services and improve quality of service.

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Contact: Geoff Meggs Director of Communications (Vancouver) 660-2701 Office of the Premier (cell) 360-6315

Dale Weston Communications (Victoria) 953-4685 Ministry for Children and Families (cell) 360-7396