Monday, September 21, 2009

Day 7 Society's Child - Where Do We Go From Here?

This is likely to be the seventh and final episode of the Society's Child blog series unless there are further vital developments on the issues and events. Because of the court records we have had a unique inside look at one dramatic instance about how not to serve the best interests of a child at risk. We have see what happens when indifference and process predominates to override mandated public policy principles and purposes.

The public would never get this kind of access to detailed information and background about the government's conduct of a child welfare file. That is because it deals with the rights of a minor child in care and the overarching privacy issues will keep the facts from the public eye. But with a series of court appearances all the way up to the Appeal Court, we have seen a window of hard evidence open up to Albertans and we got to see into some of the inner workings of department of CYSA.


We have seen an anonymous foster mother show enormous and admirable determination and courage in the face of a very powerful and determined state system. She has been the reason we have had this unique opportunity to see what can happen when a system goes arrogant and even a bit indifferent to public accountability. We have seen the state exercise its enormous power and influence in this matter. They have the means and resources to thwart, frustrate, intimidate and break the spirit and bank account of a citizen in such circumstances. I think the system used all of those powers in this case against the foster mother but she persevered and prevailed. Well done foster mother. And thank you also to her legal counsel. She also stayed the course and showed the best qualities and capabilities of the legal profession in her conduct of this matter.

I also feel sorry for the child at the centre of all this wrangling. He was not well served by the system and those in government authority who are entrusted to ensure his best interests. I also have some sympathy for Richard Ouellet, the departmental Director who personally took the hit for the departmental ineptness. His personal actions and inactions contributed significantly to his fate and are not excused or absolved from responsibility. But he is not likely the only one who was directly involved in the file who is a possible contemptuous contributor to this fiasco. The court noted that and I hope the Ministers involved are seriously looking into this as well.

So let me end on a positive note. I have been provided some links to other high profile child welfare cases. One that is worth noting is the famous Klassen case out of Saskatchewan. There the politically correct presumption in these complex and high-risk situations that "children never lie" was seriously tested. In this case the Alberta child welfare staff are praised by the Saskatchewan courts for how they handled their portion of a a file that was seriously bungled by Saskatchewan authorities. Go to page 59 to read some complimentary commentary about some of Alberta's child welfare officials doing a great job.


Finally, I see hopeful signs that concerns raised in this blog series that reviewed in the court action and the concerns of the court are being addressed. Following is copy of a copy of the September 18, 2009 edition of the GOA "Connector" publication to provincial government staff. In it Fay Orr, the Deputy Minister of CYSA obviously starts an internal education process. She outlines the duties, role, relationships and background of Statutory Directors, like Mr. Ouellet, in the department.

This is a step in the right direction and one that I think readers of this blog will appreciate. I think this is a genuine effort to deal with the accountability (and cultural?) problems in the department that this court case uncovered. It is but one of many steps that need to be taken to fix some fundamental problems that seem to pervade too much of the systems in this department - and others in the social services sector including Seniors and Health. I have outlined in blue the most salient part of this commentary that I think shows some hopeful signs of positive change. This clarity of accountability in management relationships was clearly missing as evidenced in the court documents around this case.

Here is the Connector piece that is hopefully some evidence of a new day in Children and Youth Services Alberta:

Statutory Directors
ACYS has three statutory directors – one under the Child, Youth and Family Enhancement Act; one under the Family Support for Children with Disabilities Act; and one under the Child Care Licensing Act.

These directors entrust or delegate the authorities they are given under their respective pieces of legislation to fellow staff, so these staff can do their day-to-day work for children, youth and families. However, the directors do not and can not delegate the legal responsibility they have under legislation. That means these directors are ultimately responsible and accountable for the activities taken under the legislation.

Here’s an example of how this works within child intervention: When a caseworker is delegated by the director with the authority to seek a temporary guardianship order from the court, the caseworker is responsible for implementing the court order and ensuring the well-being of the child. The director is responsible for ensuring there are mechanisms in place by which he or she can be assured that the caseworker is exercising appropriately the delegated authority they have been given.

Approximately 9,000 children and youth are involved in our child intervention system, hundreds of families receive support for raising their child with a disability, and many families count on us to ensure quality and affordable child care. Having mechanisms to monitor the proper use of delegated authority and ensure clear, timely communication between and among the frontlines, support staff and management is crucial to improving outcomes for kids and fulfilling our legislated duties. That’s one of the reasons why we, as a ministry, are always looking at ways to enhance our processes and practices. Recently completed reviews in
Foster Care and Child and Youth Advocacy and the current Child Intervention review are prime examples.

With more than 3,100 employees, ours is one of the largest ministries in the provincial government. Whether we work directly with children and families or support those who do, each one of us has an important role to play ensuring that our policies, procedures and legislative responsibilities are followed and that Albertans receive quality services that make a lasting and positive difference in their lives. We are in this together, and continue to rely on and support one another in our daily work for children, youth and families.


The department has a lot going on and will face even more severe pressures with the new fiscal realities of the province. The problems will not go away, in fact there will likely be more at risk kids with worsening situations given the stresses of the recession. I hope the political leadership, departmental management and staff will take this case to heart and learn from it. We need them to become even more effective and capable at fulfilling one of societies most difficult function, taking care of kids at risk. That means serious commitment to sustained and substantial change and with the expectation of fewer resources. Not an easy row to hoe but it can't just be measured by merely tracking and cutting the amount of tax dollars dedicated to the area. That does not reflect the values and obligations we as a society owe to these children.


As for this blog series, Society's Child, I think it is time to move on. I am very much into giving the benefit of the doubt to all those in this department who are mandated to serve the best interests of our society's at risk children. The essential reality is these are our kids. Albertans are also responsible for their well being, not just "the government." We are the government in a democracy.

I will continue to watch for positive and negative trends and will comment as best I can and post on them from time to time. Thank you for your dedicated regular reading this blog series. You came out in record numbers and I hope you come back and become regular readers. I will be continuing the regular blog posts on matters that continue to capture my attention and imagination. I will also be doing a new series on something completely different issues that are also critical to the best interests of the citizens of Alberta. Stay tuned for that.