With a terse, “I’m done,” Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond left the B.C. legislature Monday with a month still to go on her tumultuous 10-year term as B.C.’s independent Representative for Children and Youth.
Turpel-Lafond gave her final report to an all-party committee of MLAs, highlighting successes and tragedies in the B.C. government’s struggles with children in provincial government care. Her term ends Nov. 27, and staff in B.C.’s first-ever independent child and youth watchdog office are carrying on their investigations until a replacement is appointed by the legislature.
Turpel-Lafond said Children and Family Development Minister Stephanie Cadieux has refused to meet with her in the past year, and she has had little communication with legislature Speaker Linda Reid on the issue of her replacement.
Turpel-Lafond’s final report shows improvement, with the number of children and youth in care down from more than 9,000 in 2007 to about 7,200 this year. But the number of aboriginal youth in care has come down by only about 100 from 4,551 in 2007.
A key to the dispute between the B.C. Liberal government and Turpel-Lafond was a report by former deputy minister Bob Plecas last year on the ministry’s handling of a child protection case where the father was accused of sexually abusing his children.
Turpel-Lafond told the committee Monday that Plecas not only made errors in his report, he turned it from a case review into a performance review of the independent office. Plecas recommended that the independent office be phased out and replaced by internal “contrarian” to investigate ministry response to deaths and serious injuries.
Turpel-Lafond has issued detailed investigation reports on cases such as that of Alex Gervais, an 18-year-old who fell to his death in September 2015 from a fourth-floor hotel room in Abbotsford. The ministry had moved him there after the group home he was in, run by a delegated aboriginal child welfare agency, was shut down due to inadequate conditions.
Plecas argued that Turpel-Lafond’s continuing focus on high-profile individual tragedies eroded morale in a ministry already struggling to hire and retain child protection workers.
Turpel-Lafond said there are 10 child protection offices that continue to operate with emergency staff, allowing little continuity. She said the waiting time for youth mental health treatment continues to be up to two years, and the delays have meant more severe cases that end in injury or death.
She said she was pleased that the government took Plecas’ advice to increase the ministry budget, adding that child protection workers need to be paid more and youth mental health services must be bolstered.
Cadieux issued a statement thanking Turpel-Lafond for her service and praising her support for the ministry’s program to find more permanent adoptive homes for young people living with foster parents or in group homes.