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Time to give teeth to B.C.'s Representative for Children and Youth

Now that Kootenay West MLA Katrine Conroy is the Minister for Children and Family Development, it is time to deliver services to foster children in alignment with B.C. policies and recommendations from the Representative for Children and Youth.

B.C. is fortunate to have a formal office to advocate for children, but its mandate is only to monitor and report, which is weak and ineffectual.

As a former foster child, an adoptee, a former foster parent, and an adoptive parent of a B.C. child I am horrified how the rights of children in care have been systematically ignored.

My wife and I adopted a B.C. child about 10 years ago. Our adopted child now has three younger siblings in care, and at least two of them are with the Vancouver Aboriginal Child and Family Services Society.

The Ministry of Children and Family Development and the Vancouver Aboriginal Child and Family Services Society never attempted to connect the siblings, and we only connected them with the help of the birth family.

Since 2015 we have actively engaged with the ministry and the society about potentially adopting the oldest sibling.

It is illuminating to share a few facts from the process, although identifying details must remain confidential due to privacy requirements. Unrequested, the society provided copies of the official Comprehensive Plan of Care documents which stated these children (well under 10 years of age) would “age out of care.”

The society expressed such low interest in adoption that we formally appealed to the Representative for Children and Youth to advocate for the children’s legal adoption rights. In spite of the Representative’s advocacy, society management visited our home and told us that adoption was not possible due to the history of the residential schools. They also stated their disagreement with ministry policies and expressed disapproval that the Representative had been contacted.

Under pressure from the Representative, the society did eventually recant. However, the reality is that our child’s siblings have been trapped for roughly 10 years in an agency which found adoption to be unacceptable. It was acceptable that the children remain in multiple, non-Aboriginal foster homes under an “age out of care” Comprehensive Plan of Care, but adoption into a permanent family was off limits.

The ministry has publicly claimed it has been doing everything to meet the Representative’s recommendations to increase adoptions of all eligible foster children, especially Aboriginal children. However, the Vancouver Aboriginal Child and Family Services Society – which receives over $30 million a year in public funding – has not adopted out a single child over the past decade. On average, one child ages out of care from the society every two weeks, yet their adoption rate remains at zero.

Another relevant fact reported by the Representative, is that an average of 88 children in care have died annually over the past decade.

When Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal foster children under society care are more likely to have their name appear on a death certificate than an adoption order, something is wrong.

When the official Comprehensive Plan of Care for children under the age of 10 is to “age out of care,” something is wrong.

Has the ministry responded appropriately to well-publicized tragedies such as Paige Gauchier, Carly Fraser, and Alex Gervais?

What is needed is real change, quickly.

So here is one proposal: why not require the society to facilitate the adoption of one child for every $1 million in funding they receive? This would produce a non-zero adoption rate, combined with an age-out rate of nearly zero – a better outcome for foster kids.

Here is a second proposal: change the Representative’s legal mandate to provide them sign-off authority on foster children’s Comprehensive Plan of Care.

The cost of business as usual is too high for foster kids. Giving the representative some teeth might create checks and balances to ensure children’s rights are enhanced and protected.

By Eric Mazzi

8 August 2017

http://vancouversun.com/opinion/op-ed/opinion-time-to-give-teeth-to-b-c-s-representative-for-children-and-youth

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