VICTORIA — British Columbia’s finance minister says the Children and Family Development Ministry will get a financial boost in next week’s budget, but the Opposition New Democrats accused the Liberal government of playing catch up Wednesday after cutting funding since the party came to power in 2001.
Mike de Jong said the government has received two major reports that recommend more funding for the children’s ministry.
“We are anxious to address that,” he said.
But NDP Leader John Horgan said the provincial government has made similar promises before.
“The first thing the Liberals did when they came to power was cut resources to this ministry and they’ve been playing catch up ever since,” he added.
Former premier Gordon Campbell slashed programs across the government shortly after he was first elected. Years later, after hundreds of incomplete child death reports were found in a government warehouse, he said he might have cut too deeply into child welfare programs.
Horgan said details of the latest tragedy connected to the ministry are contained in a report by B.C.’s representative for children and youth into the death of Metis teen Alex Gervais, who jumped from a hotel room window in September 2015.
The report by Bernard Richard said Gervais was abandoned by B.C.’s child welfare system and took his own life as an act of desperation.
The report concluded the government failed to find the 18-year-old a permanent home or family. The government opted instead for care arrangements with strangers that ended with Gervais staying in a hotel in Abbotsford for 49 days.
A report in December 2015 by Bob Plecas, a former deputy minister, called for an overhaul of the ministry. Eleven months later, the government’s indigenous child welfare adviser, Grand Chief Ed John, made 85 recommendations including increasing services to keep families together.
Last year, the government increased the ministry’s budget by $217 million over three years, including strengthening child protection and family support programs. The money was also earmarked to hire 100 additional frontline social workers.
But Michael Prince, a social policy expert at the University of Victoria, said the government has a problem keeping the social workers it hires because many leave due to burn out.
Prince said he would like to see the budget help the most vulnerable people.
“This is a government that says we’re not ideological, we’re practical, we’re principled,” said Prince. “Fine. There’s very little in terms of principles of helping those most in need.”
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