Protecting vulnerable children is a basic moral issue

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John Horgan Leader of the B.C. New Democrats
John Horgan Leader of the B.C. New Democrats
John Horgan
Leader of the B.C. New Democrats

Victoria: Nick Lang was bright, creative, and kind. He wanted to help people. His father Peter will tell you that Nick was the type of kid would who grow up to be a social worker.
Instead, Nick died in Campbell River in June, at age 15. He was in the legal care of the Ministry of Children and Families.
Alex Gervais was 18 when he died in September. He had been living alone in a Super 8 motel room in Abbotsford for three months before he either fell or jumped from a fourth-floor window.
Carly Fraser was 19 when she took her own life in Vancouver, less than a day after she “aged out” of the child welfare system and was thrown into the world alone and completely unprepared.
Carly’s mother told me the ministry had housed Carly in a basement apartment, alone, at age 16.
Isabella Wiens was only 21 months old when she died of unexplained injuries while in government care in Burnaby.
The ministry bounced “Paige” from one horrific and abusive situation to another, including downtown Vancouver SROs, until she died at age 19.
Alex Malamalatabua died in August in Vancouver, age 17. Danny Francis died in December in Port Alberni, age 18. Both were in government care.
In July, the B.C. Supreme Court blasted the ministry for sending four young children back into the custody of their sexually abusive father, who went on to molest them again. The ministry continues to re-victimize this family with endless court appeals.
In November, RCMP officers found several children, some as young as 12 and in government care, staying in a drug house in Prince George. Police estimated there were roughly 10,000 dirty needles in the house.
All of these young British Columbians had a right to go to school, to play with their friends, and to grow up into adulthood. But their legal guardian, the Province of British Columbia, utterly failed to keep them safe.
There is no doubt that the minister responsible, Stephanie Cadieux, must resign. But Premier Clark is far more interested in protecting her minister’s political career than protecting B.C.’s most vulnerable children. Instead of finding new leadership for the ministry or listening to advice from the independent children’s representative, the premier appointed former deputy minister Bob Plecas to review how the ministry handles children in care.
In his report this week, Mr. Plecas concluded that the ministry requires another $50 million in funding, and another 120 full-time staff. These are good ideas, but not new ideas. We have known for many years that the ministry is disastrously underfunded and understaffed. Hard-working and well-meaning workers simply cannot keep up with the sheer volume of complex cases.
When a “case” falls through the cracks, another child tragically becomes a gut-wrenching headline alongside Nick and Alex and Carly and Paige and Isabella and Danny.
But when Premier Clark was asked about increasing the ministry’s budget, she said that would only be possible if the economy grows.
As a parent, I am appalled at this attitude. In her most recent budget, earlier this year, the premier chose to spend $236 million to hand a generous tax break to the highest paid two per cent of British Columbians. The money is there – it’s just a question of priorities.
For me, a tax break for millionaires can wait. Saving the lives of our children must come first. I’m confident the millionaires would agree with me. But Premier Clark made a different choice.
In his report, Mr. Plecas also saved some space to criticize Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, the Representative for Children and Youth. Mr. Plecas claims that Ms. Turpel-Lafond’s tireless advocacy for vulnerable children is somehow part of the problem. Without Ms. Turpel-Lafond shining a light on this problem, there would have been no Plecas review in the first place. Without her commitment to holding the ministry to account, many of these young people’s stories would have been quietly forgotten.
Only in Christy Clark’s world can you try to fix a problem by refusing to look at it.
I challenge Premier Christy Clark to commit immediately to providing the $50 million and 120 staff members that the review she commissioned calls for.
I believe that every child in British Columbia should grow up in safety. Those are my values. I challenge Premier Clark to show us what her values are.