Video: MLA Rice presses for a rapid response to protect children in care

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D. Donaldson: This spring the Representative for Children and Youth put forward an extremely troubling report into the abuse, addiction and neglect suffered by an aboriginal girl named Paige. The report showed how the Ministry of Children and Family Development failed Paige over and over during her short and tragic life, a life which ended in a drug overdose after she was cut off from care by this government.

The day after the report was released the minister acknowledged there are many other youth in Paige’s situation right now at extreme risk and promised a rapid response team for the Downtown Eastside to help these children. Two months later the rapid response team is not in place and has no start date. Why not?

Hon. S. Cadieux: Following the release of the representative’s report, the ministry immediately began work on a number of initiatives in response to the report — the development of a rapid response unit model with input from the current service providers in the area, the city of Vancouver, health services and police. Those discussions have begun and are being guided by the key principles that the model must address.

The provincial director of child welfare is conducting a review of all of the youth in care receiving services who reside in or frequent the Downtown Eastside to ensure that they are both accessing and in contact with all of the services that they need to be.

And, Madame Speaker, for your and the member opposite’s information, we are also developing a duty-to-report awareness campaign that will target service providers as well as health professionals, police and school staff in the Downtown Eastside and across the province, and we’re conducting a review of the CFCSA to identify what amendments may be required to ensure that the director has the necessary authority to conduct case reviews of injuries or deaths for youth over the age of 19.

Madame Speaker: The member for Stikine on a supplemental.

D. Donaldson: Discussions begun but no rapid response team in place two months later. The Premier said in response to Paige’s death: “We’re beginning with this rapid response team in the Downtown Eastside.” The minister said she was implementing “a rapid response team model for youth.” More than two months have elapsed since those promises, and we still see no action from this government. Youth are at risk right now.

Was the minister wrong when she said “rapid response,” knowing that it would take months to get a team in place, or is she so out of touch with the front line of her ministry that she didn’t know? Either way, why should we or vulnerable youth or the public believe anything the minister or the Premier says on kids at risk?

Hon. S. Cadieux: The member opposite continues in his misunderstanding of both the ministry and its work in the Downtown Eastside as well as areas around the province. We have a team around the province of incredibly dedicated social workers in the Downtown Eastside that have collectively over 150 years of experience working with vulnerable youth. They are on the ground every day.

We are working to improve upon that system even further with a rapid response team model. The member may not like the language used to describe that, but in fact it does require conversations with team members beyond MCFD, including the health authorities, police, the city of Vancouver and service providers in the Downtown Eastside, looking at how better to coordinate all of the efforts of all of those people to ensure that the most vulnerable youth have access to immediate services whenever and wherever they present.

J. Rice: According to the children’s representative, there are 150 cases of children at risk like Paige was at risk, yet the government has refused to work with the representative to ensure these children get help immediately, not months from now. As the representative said: “Leaving kids in danger for months and months is not a child protection response.” So what is this minister waiting for? When will she get these children the help they need and deserve?

Hon. S. Cadieux: This member, as well, is showing the lack of understanding of the work that is underway. In fact, our office met with the representative’s office yesterday, the provincial director, to outline the work that is underway to this point, and that meeting was very successful. In fact, we are in ongoing conversations with the representative’s office to ensure that we are, in fact, addressing all of the issues raised in the report.

Madame Speaker: The member for North Coast on a supplemental.

J. Rice: This is what the Representative for Children and Youth said about this government’s timelines. “I don’t know where the concept of time comes from in the Ministry of Children and Families, but it’s not rapid to respond to something five months later.”

The B.C. Liberals know how to act quickly when it matters to them, so why is it taking so long for the B.C. Liberals to act to protect other children like Paige?

Hon. S. Cadieux: The member is wrong. The response received by children or youth in the Downtown Eastside by our social work team is immediate. The work we are doing to develop a rapid response unit model is beyond the current service. It is a new addition to what we do. It is to expand upon the work we do with our partners.

As I have outlined, the work and discussions on how that will work are underway, and we expect it will be implemented in the fall.