The fallout for the Ministry of Children and Family Development continues with the opposition calling for Minister Stephanie Cadieux to resign.
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The ministry has been under fire after the death of a teen who fell from a hotel balcony in Abbotsford last week while in government care. He was reportedly placed in the hotel after the province shut down his group home. Meanwhile, B.C.’s Representative for Children and Youth Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond said, she had been assured by the ministry that none of the young people moved out of the group homes that were shut down would go to a hotel.
Minister of Children and Family Development Stephanie Cadieux explained that hotels are used to house children in care only in extreme circumstances, and policy requires the ministry be notified whenever this takes place.
The ministry does not seem to have been notified in this case.
“What we learned when the tragedy happened in Abbotsford was that notification had not occurred, and that’s not OK,” said Cadieux. “We weren’t informed.”
After the news of Gervais’ death, B.C. New Democrat Leader John Horgan called for the resignation of Cadieux.
“I’m absolutely horrified that the government seems to have yet again left our most vulnerable in a situation that’s led to a fatality,” he said. “We need to stop defending the ministry and start defending children.”
Horgan says he was surprised Cadieux kept her job through the summer.
“Minister Cadieux, I am sorry. I don’t know how many swings at the plate you get,” said Horgan.
When asked, Cadieux said she was not willing to comment on whether she would consider resigning.
“Mr. Horgan is certainly welcome to his opinions,” said Cadieux. “My job as the minister, as it has been for three years, is to focus on the needs of vulnerable children in this province and how we can best serve them. My job is to get to the bottom of what happened and look at what we need to do differently to prevent it from happening again.”
Today, Horgan has released an open letter to B.C. Premier Christy Clark, calling on her to fire Cadieux, because the public’s confidence in the ministry has been shaken.
“You and your colleagues have presided over 14 years of cuts, chronic underfunding and neglect of the ministry charged with this work,” said Horgan in the statement. “Your minister is clearly unable to demand from her senior staff and to give the public confidence in government’s ability to discharge its responsibility to the most vulnerable.”
Premier Christy Clark was asked why Cadieux still has her job at the annual Union of BC Municipalities convention in Vancouver today.
“She and I see eye-to-eye on this,” said Clark. “The delegated agency made a real mistake or it appears that they did. They did not follow policy. It was wrong. It had tragic outcomes and there are going to be consequences for that.”
But Global BC Legislative Bureau Chief Keith Baldrey says the Ministry of Children and Family Development is a tough ministry and Cadieux’s job is not easy.
The ministry’s budget is set to increase by only $17 million in the next two years, going up from the current $1.379 billion to $1.396 billion in 2017/18.
“There’s no question it’s the toughest portfolio in cabinet,” says Baldrey. “As minister, you are only heard from if there is terrible news to report or respond to. Cadieux has served in that post longer than anyone previously, and it’s legitimate to wonder whether it’s time for her to move on.”
However, Baldrey says he would be very surprised if the premier were to move Cadieux out of the portfolio unless it was part of a general, more broadly-based cabinet shuffle, so it would not look like she was giving in to pressure from Horgan and the opposition.
The timeline of recent cases involving the Ministry of Children and Family Development:
September 2015: 18-year-old Alex Gervais dies after falling from a fourth-floor window of an Abbotsford hotel while in government care. Questions are now being raised about why the teen was placed at the hotel for about two months while in distress after the province shut down his group home.
July 2015: A judge rules the ministry showed “reckless disregard” when it falsely accused a mother, identified only as J.P., of being mentally ill and removed four children from her care in 2009. The ruling claims social workers failed to investigate the kids’ claims that their father had sexually abused them and knowingly violated a court order banning unsupervised visits.
May 2015: The death of 21-month-old Isabella Wiens, whose badly bruised and fractured body was found in her Burnaby foster home in March 2013. Her mother launched a lawsuit against the Ministry of Children and Family Development earlier this year, alleging the government failed to properly supervise her daughter or adequately consider returning her home. The children’s ministry says it will review the case.
May 2015: British Columbia’s representative for children and youth issues a report into the death of 19-year-old Paige, a legally blind aboriginal girl who overdosed in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, saying the teen was failed by the ministry and indifference from front-line government workers.
With files from Justin McElroy