November 22, 2005
Right now, there are 9,000 children in the care of
government. Every day, we are working to protect each and
every one of those children, and give them an opportunity for
a safe, quality life. And every day, we receive new reports of
possible abuse or neglect that we investigate thoroughly.
The reality is that protecting children may be the most
challenging work in government. Our obligation to protect
children from abuse or neglect demands that we continually
review what we do and how we do it, and that we continually
strive to build the most effective child protection approach
What happens when there is a report of child neglect or
abuse? First, a Ministry child protection social worker -
supported by experienced supervisors - assesses the report to
determine the best course of action. Sometimes that means
bringing in the police, physicians or other officials. Other
times it involves working with a family and providing them
with parenting education, home support, counselling, or
Over the last few years, we have made a deliberate attempt
to keep more families together, if that is at all possible. We
looked at the mounting evidence from across the globe that
children do better when they're kept safe in their families
and communities. Since 2001, we've moved from an intrusive and
adversarial child protection philosophy - which was much more
likely to result in the immediate apprehension of children
from their family - to a less intrusive and more collaborative
approach. Our goal: to take the least disruptive action that
ensures the child's safety.
One of these possible actions is to enter into a
"kith-and-kin" agreement where a child who needs to be removed
from his or her home is placed with a relative or close family
friend, instead of being placed in the home of a stranger.
This approach is based on a very successful model long in
place in New Zealand. Today, nearly all North American
jurisdictions have or are working toward kinship care as a
best practice. Early evidence indicates that overall it can be
better for children than a foster placement.
If there is a disagreement between family members and a
social worker on how to best meet a child's needs, the
ministry may involve a trained, impartial mediator in working
toward a mutually acceptable solution. This mediator works at
no cost to the family.
The overall emphasis is on collaboration - involving
extended family, community and others in planning and
decision-making for children. For example, we have increased
parental involvement in planning for their children through
family group conferencing. This shift to collaboration and
respect for the child's long-term interests has resulted in a
15 per cent decrease in the number of children in care, from
about 10,500 in 2001 to about 9,000 today.
Rarely, and despite the best efforts of social workers and
other professionals, a tragedy does occur and a child dies. It
is important to point out that in the vast majority of cases,
these deaths are accidental or result from ongoing complex
medical issues. Every child death in B.C., no matter the
cause, is now reviewed by the Coroner's Office; every sudden,
unnatural or unexpected death is fully investigated. When a
child dies while in care of the government, the ministry
examines the circumstances and, if warranted, the Director of
Child Protection conducts an internal inquiry to examine
whether proper procedures were followed and to ensure lessons
are learned. And the independent Child and Youth Officer has
the power to investigate any child death, and provide
observations and advice to government on child protection
We must also strive to be as open and transparent as
possible. This past summer, I instructed staff to review how
we can provide more public information while continuing to
respect personal privacy. And I have committed to regularly
posting child fatality statistics for children in care or
children who have received child welfare services.
I'm proud of the work that's been done over the past five
years to improve the system. But we can always do better.
That's why the provincial government has appointed Ted Hughes
to look at all the issues around child protection - including
the system around how we review child deaths.
Child protection is among the most challenging work in
government - but it can also be among the most rewarding.
Every year, there are hundreds - even thousands - of success
stories. Every day, there are children thriving because of the
hard work put in by social workers, foster parents, families,
and the many other dedicated individuals in the child
protection system. And every day, we will keep working to make
the system even better.