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We have already enlightened you concerning the multi-party Nova Scotia Human Resources Committee and shown proof from the government hansards what a shoddy job this committe is doing concerning their business of overseeing the appointments to the Advisory committee to Minister of Community Services.
Now , we wish to educate you concerning the multi-party Standing Committeee on Community Services. Again we invite you to read the exerts of the verbatim government hansards of this committee. And we continue to encourage you to contact your MLA and the MLAs cited and make them aware of the fact that we are watching them and we do care. - Please feel free to cut and paste from this article in e-mails to the various MLAs. Find the contact info here: NDP , Liberals, PC .
Also check out the schedule for the Standing Committee on Comunity Services and make your physical presence known . Location: 3rd Floor, Dennis Building1740 Granville Street.
We will begin posting of exerts from this committee with one of the most recent meetings. (Watch for more postings) It is a good example of how the Nova Scotia government bureaucrats twist the facts, with lie rolling so smoothly off their tongues. It is also a good example of how the government controls its committees. Are they so afraid that the committee might actually say something against them that they do not let the committee speak for themselves? Pathetic!
On this day, Tuesday, April 1, 2008, the Minister's Advisory Committee (or so we thought) was to give a presentation to the the multi-party Standing Committeee on Community Services.
This advisory committee is mandated by law to be an annual committee and is suppose to report on the Children and Family Services Act and its implementation. Because this committee had not existed since 1996, 2 advocates took the Minister to court to force him to follow the law (Section 88 of the Children and Family Serives Act) It has been more than 2 years now (NOT the legally mandated 1 year) and NO report has been made ! The appointments to this committee have been a sham and we have already established that it has functioned illegally for months on end when the full mandated appointments were not made !
So now we're thinking, this Advisory Committee is going to make a presentation to the multi-party Standing Committeee on Community Services. Imagine our surprise when we realize that not one member of the Advisory Committee is making the presentation ! - It is the usual government bureaucRATSs : Judith Ferguson and George Savoury (very unsavory! ) - the very people the committee should be critical against if it was indeed doing its job !
And then, we got the inside scoop ! The chair of the Minister's Advisory Committee, Cheryl Harowitz, was not even aware, before hand, from this government, that these bureaucRATS were making this presentation on behalf of the committee. Well you could have knocked me over with a feather !
So listen up - comments are in square brackets :
Committee Room 1
United Way of Halifax, Re: Provincial 211 Information Line
Printed and Published by Nova Scotia Hansard Reporting Services
COMMUNITY SERVICES COMMITTEE
Ms. Marilyn More [NDP] (Chairman)Hon. Ronald Chisholm
Hon. Leonard Goucher Mr. Patrick Dunn
Mr. Gordon Gosse [NDP]
Mr. Trevor Zinck [NDP] Mr. Keith Colwell [LIB]
Mr. Leo Glavine [LIB] other e-mail addressMr. Manning MacDonald [LIB - former CB Childre's Aid worker] other e-mail address[ Hon. Ron Chisholm was replaced by Mr. Keith Bain. ]
Ms. Charlene Rice -Legislative Committee Clerk
Department of Community Services:
Mr. George Savoury, Executive Director - Family and Community Supports
United Way of Halifax Region:
Ms. Catherine Woodman, President & CEO
Mr. Terry Norman, Chair, 211 Nova Scotia Steering Committee
Mr. Robert Wright [NOT the Robert Wright of Advisory Committee infamay ! ]
Program Manager, 211 Nova Scotia
Mr. Chris Keevill, Chair, United Way of Halifax Region Board of Directors
HALIFAX, TUESDAY, APRIL 1, 2008
STANDING COMMITTEE ON COMMUNITY SERVICES
Ms. Marilyn More
MADAM CHAIRMAN [Marilyn More] : If I could have your attention, please. We understand our fifth member is on his way so, rather than lose any more time, I'm going to suggest that we start the meeting and have the presentation and we can start questions. You only really need a quorum for any motions or votes. We have a lot of witnesses and resource people here today and I don't want to waste any more of your time, so thank you for your patience.
I'll now call the Standing Committee on Community Services to order. My name is Marilyn More and I'm the committee chairman. We'll start with introductions and you may realize it's unusual, but what we've done is we've piggy-backed two topics together today, so each group will have approximately 50 minutes to present and answer questions.
The committee has a little business to do at the end, so we want to finish before 3:00 p.m. to allow us that time.
The first topic is on the Children and Family Services Act Advisory Committee and our second topic is the Provincial 211 Information Line. So we'll start with introductions.
[The committee members introduced themselves.]
MADAM CHAIRMAN: So, Deputy, we're very pleased to have you here today, and Mr. Savoury, so perhaps you could give us the presentation. I just want to remind committee members that the latest presentation is the one that was on your desk in front of you when you arrived. The one that was sent out by e-mail, you may want to just discard it - this is the revised version.
MS. JUDITH FERGUSON [government bureaucrat]: Thanks, Madam Chairman. As we spoke briefly before the meeting, I'm going to give some very preliminary opening comments and then George has a few minutes just to give a very brief slide presentation, an overview, just to set the legislative framework and to talk briefly about what we're going to discuss this afternoon.
I believe that I know most of you. I'm Judith Ferguson and I have the privilege of being the Deputy Minister of Community Services. I'm pleased to be here today. I have a number of representatives from the department here, both to provide assistance if necessary and, as I've said before, I'm extremely fortunate to work with an exceptional team of people.
I have one of those with me, and that's George Savoury, who I think is no stranger to all of you. Rather than go through his extensive bio, given that we were recently here - as you know, George is the Executive Director of Family and Community Supports but he also brings an additional piece to the table today in that he actually has been a member of some past advisory committees. He actually has experience from sitting on a committee, which I think will be helpful as we go through our discussions today.
While we are talking about the advisory committee this afternoon, I would like to take the opportunity to start off by talking a bit about the complex nature of child welfare and child protection. As all of you know, child welfare staff are exceptional people who work in what is probably one of the most difficult fields that we have. I would personally like to acknowledge and thank them for the challenging and stressful nature of the work they do. We serve approximately 16,000 children and families at any given time in Nova Scotia and there are approximately 2,000 children in the care of the province. This includes a number of care arrangements: temporary care, temporary care and custody, and permanent care and custody. Approximately 70 per cent of the children in permanent care and custody are under the age of 10.
The management of child protection in this province is very much child focused, and I think that's important and I think as we have an opportunity to answer questions today from you, we'll have an opportunity to look into that in a little more detail. While we recognize how difficult and stressful that is for parents and families to have child welfare intervention, ultimately our number-one priority and responsibility is to ensure the safety and well-being of children and youth in this province. Sometimes, under 8 per cent of the time, that means removing a child or children from the home.
Under the Children and Family Services Act, the minister is required to establish an advisory committee to review the provisions of the Act and related services. The Act calls for annual appointments to the committee and annual reporting to the minister concerning the operation of the Act and whether the principles and purpose of the Act are being achieved. [Too bad the government ignored this for a decade and had to be forced by court action to get this committee going again ! ] The committee is responsible to review the Act and make recommendations to the minister in areas of adoption, child welfare, foster care and other related services under the Act.
The expectation of this committee is to maintain a high level of integrity [integrity? Hah ! ] due to the very sensitive nature of the information that the committee may hear. For example, often members hear guest speakers who may have had direct experience with child welfare so there is the need to be respectful and highly confidential of that information.
Appointments to the committee include - and George will get into this in a bit more detail, because this is regulated by Statute - two people whose children have been or are or may be in need of protective services; a representative from a child welfare agency; a representative of the minister; a legal aid lawyer; two people drawn from the cultural, racial or linguistic minority communities; and three other representatives as determined by the minister. [Looks pretty loaded to me - where is the balance for people who are critical of this government ? ]
I certainly acknowledge - and I'm sure we'll have an opportunity to discuss in more detail today - the fact that there have been challenges with the appointment process and the preparation of annual reports to the minister. In regard to the appointment process there have been recruitment issues. The membership of the committee is defined in the Act and is intended to reflect the community we serve. The requirements of the Act attempt to ensure that the committee is diverse and reflective of the interests of stakeholders [ in actuality this term means the people making money from the operation of CS, or the people protecting the people making the money] in the community at large. It has proven to be challenging on occasion to find appropriate candidates.
Secondly, the Act is a highly regulated piece of legislation to protect the safety and security of Nova Scotia children and youth. So the review of the Act should not be in a piecemeal approach, but rather it should be in a holistic manner as to not compromise the intent of any given piece or part of the Act.
To date, the minister has received four advisory committee reports [ this is NOT correct- We have done the research - There are only two : 1993 and 1996 ] and will receive a fifth report in the very near future. While government has not made changes to the legislation since we've received these reports, I'm very pleased to say that we have made a number of policy and regulatory changes that have been recommended by the various committees. I also feel I should say that a number of [not all] the recommendations that have been made in the past by the various committees have not required legislative change, so they are things we can do by policy, or by regulation. Certainly those are easier to make and we can make them on a far quicker basis.
A few examples of this are: we have built recognition of cultural, racial and linguistic factors into case planning training and policy, [We are aware of home access visitations that were denied because of cultural insensitivity ] that was from the 1993 report; we implemented secure treatment by opening the Wood Street Centre, which was raised in the 1993 and 1996 reports. In the 1996 report, it was recommended to offer services to promote the integrity of the family [First of all this is IN the ACT - This is the SERVICES in the Children and Family SERVICES Act . This is LAW ! The problem is this part of the act has always been ignored and is habitually ignored to this day - We are aware of families that had to arrange their own services, even after they were court ordered and the CS was expected to provide these services] and we hired a new category of staff, called family support workers, and placed them in all agencies and offices.
We eliminated fees associated with the Adoption Disclosure Program [Nova Scotia has been cited by the United Nations for our lack of disclosure and our secretiveness in regards to adoptions] that came from 1999, and we fund multiple community-based prevention programs across the province. That also was a recommendation from the 1999 report.
We look forward to working with members of the current Advisory Committee and I should say very much that the department values very much the work, dedication and commitment that all of the members of the advisory committees over the years have brought to the department. Obviously sometimes these are difficult discussions - people donate their time to us, they've taken the process extremely seriously and we know have done their best to come up with recommendations that will benefit children and families. That's certainly an encouraging and important thing.
In closing, Madam Chairman, I'd like to thank you and the committee for the opportunity to discuss the committee and also the very important work that's done in our child welfare sector. I would like to thank, as I have all of the members of the committee past and present, and certainly all members of the department and the child welfare agencies who deliver child welfare work on a daily basis. We are always looking for ways to improve our services and programs in the department and both George and I look forward to speaking with you today and to providing you with more specific information in relation to your questions. Thank you very much.
With that, Madam Chairman, I'll turn it over to George for a few minutes just to go through his presentation.
MR. GEORGE SAVOURY [government bureaucrat]: : Thank you, Judith. I'll probably skip over some things that I think may have been covered. Basically the authority for the Act comes out of Section 88(1) and it's to really advise on the operations of the Act and services related to it.
Judith has already covered the makeup of the committee and there is a screening selection process and there's a departmental screening committee and they screen only for qualifications. Then candidates are presented to Executive Council for approval.
As you know, there's an all-Party Standing Committee on Human Resources, which is the committee for final approval. We place advertisements twice a year in various newspapers and on Eastlink Channel 8 for members. That's for all the different committees, as you know within government. [Blaa-blaa-blaa-blaa-blaa- These bureaucRATS are just filling up the time with basic nothingness ! They are NOT saying anything of value - like the presentations made - what did they learn ? etc etc ]
I thought I'd just put up this slide because a perennial recommendation of the committees thus far has been that one year is inadequate for them to really do their job, for someone to get on a committee, get familiar with the Act, seek input and then try and get a report done within a 12-month period. If you ever had a chance to read previous reports, they will tell you that that is really an unrealistic expectation.
I thought I'd just show you a few others, if you see the Law Reform Commission of Nova Scotia, it's three years and the Board of Examiners in Psychology it's three and the Gaming Corporation it's five.
The other thing about the business we're in is that it really can't be looked at in isolation of other developments and committees will frequently spend time discussing child poverty and the impact of poverty on children and families. So the work of the social prosperity framework, the Nunn Commission Report, of course, is solely focused on children and youth and needing supports for children and families. You had the pleasure of Robert Wright [This is the Robert Wright who was actually appointed to the Minister's Advisory Committee in the parent category, until it was exposed by advocates and the media that his appointment was another inappropriate appointment to this committee because he was a "government man" not a parent as determined by the act - See Stephen Kimers article: Wright the Wrong man for the Job . After he was exposed, he jumped ship and resigned BUT was then appointed to head the Youth strategy committee -proving the point that he was indeed a government man ] being at one of your committees where he talked about the strategy and the pilots that are being rolled out as part of that, and of course the report, Our Kids Are Worth It, and also one of Commissioner Nunn's recommendations was that there be a greater focus in government on prevention services and that led to the creation of the Family and Youth Services section in the Department of Community Services.
Most of the committee's recommendations have been more on service improvements, if you had a chance to look at previous reports, rather than legislative changes. There probably would be something wrong with a piece of legislation that should be annually revised - someone would probably tell you that it's not a very good piece of legislation if you've got to be annually revising it.
All Acts at some point require tweaking or amendments and I'm sure at some point government will make some changes to the Act as part of its legislative agenda. As Judith said, we see children and we see families and youth at their best and we see families going through the most difficult times, when children are abused physically, sexually or emotionally. Unfortunately there are times we have to bring children into care to protect them, which leads obviously to criticisms of the agencies and staff. Unfortunately it's part of their job that we expect them to do under the Act.
The other thing I should point out, of course, is that our Act is very stringent in that if we do take a child into care we have to be in court within five days to have our decision sanctioned and a very tight review process as part of the court process. So thank you, Madam Chairman, and members of the committee.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Thank you. So we'll start our first round of questions on this topic. Who would like to go first? Trevor.
MR. TREVOR ZINCK: I'll open up. Thank you, Madam Chairman. You can cut me off when you feel I've had too much time and then I'll continue on after.
I want to thank the staff for coming out and I also want to take the time to recognize the efforts of all staff who come in contact with children who are either at risk or are in our care. It's a huge responsibility. I know that currently there's probably a crisis right now
within the system of qualified social workers who aren't under stress, dealing with some issues that they have to. So I want to commend them for their efforts.
That being said, it's a huge responsibility that we're taking on. I know for the last two years this committee has been of some concern of mine, and my Party's as well. Deputy, you stated that the last report that actually came out of this, you quoted several years - 1993, 1996 and 1999. In 2005 Graham Steele had actually taken the department to court to have this committee re-instituted. [NO-NO-NO-NO-NO-Would someone like to look up the court documents ! - 2 advocates: Linda Youngson and Marilyn Dey approached Graham Steele to take this to court - He was their lawyer ONLY - It is NOT that these women want Kudos for this. BUT it is important that people understand that there are knowledgable, well educated and credible grassroots advocates fighting for a better system for our families and children - Both of these ladies are well educated, with 3 and 4 university degrees each] It has been, but I know for a fact that the last number of years - and I know the minister does as well and the lines of questioning through budgetary processes - that I am concerned that this has been an inactive committee.
So I guess my first question would be, has there actually been a report come from this committee, of recommendations for change, since 2005, or in the last year and a half?
MR. SAVOURY [government bureaucrat]: There has been a committee operating. The judge basically required that our minister have the committee up and running as a result of the court action by that December, which we met. [That is NOT correct - All members were not appointed until February and then there has been a merry-go round of people jumping off then long periods without the legally required members being appointed]
I should say that despite the advertisements that go out in the newspapers, not everyone watches these advertisements. We probably see them but not everybody is looking to be a member of this committee. In fact it's not uncommon that even for the positions on the committee that you'd think someone might apply for, I could pick a lawyer from Nova Scotia Legal Aid as one of the requirements. Well, it often means us having to phone Legal Aid and probably make a number of calls to see if there's someone who could be prevailed upon to make themselves available to serve on the committee.
What we learned from the court action that was initiated was that we really need people in all of the categories. [ This is mandated by LAW ! ] We strive for that, sometimes it can take a period of time to have a fully functioning committee. But anyway, the committee has been up and running since that order [Not legally when the mandated members are NOT ALL appointed ! ] and they've been meeting regularly [illegally] and we're expecting a final report any day now from that committee.
MR. ZINCK: How many vacancies are on the committee as of to date?
MR. SAVOURY [government bureaucrat]: : There are three vacancies [He then goes on to cite 4 vacancies - But to clarify: 3 cited are mandatory while the 4th , referred to as "general" is NOT mandatory. This one member is 1 of 3 who can be appointed by the Minister and is used to stack the committee even more for the government ] .
MR. ZINCK: What positions would they fall under, as far as the membership requirements?
MR. SAVOURY [government bureaucrat]: One would be a general member, in terms of which the minister can determine; there's a provision for three members at the end of the list, as you saw. We have one vacancy from a parent and two from the cultural-racial-linguistic - however, one
of the members who served a term has reapplied to be on that committee. So we have two going through the process now to be reappointed.
MR. ZINCK: Okay, we obviously know there's a problem with recruitment for this committee and, again, I want to compliment those who have come out and sat. Some of the stories that you do hear, it's very difficult. However, we know that there is an issue, so I think one of the things we have to do is maybe readdress or try to figure out how we can get into a better form of advertising to those parents, those two positions that are filled by parents.
It is so crucial that the minister have feedback coming from parents. Maybe it's somebody in the foster care system who has benefited and maybe wants to tell their story, so we can learn from that. What it seems like is that we haven't really actively gone out and sought out people to hear their stories. I know when the committee was first struck a year and a half ago, there were people who were actually turned down because they weren't allowed to present. They were allowed to make a written submission, but they weren't allowed to present. I think we have to do a much better job at that.
Now, the other problem with this, as well, is that parents who have been affected, whether positively or negatively, don't know when these committees are meeting. How does that get advertised? How do they know that there is a voice, other than the MLA's office, that is willing to listen to their cases and take their concerns forward to the department? How does that happen? [And Mr Zinck has done a lot of work - not only listening to people but rollong up his sleeves and helping in a really practical way ! Great work Tevor! ]
MR. SAVOURY [government bureaucrat]: Well, we give the committee - as you could see in the terms of reference, they have tremendous scope. They invite organizations to present, they've often done surveys, they've advertised in the newspapers that they're open to feedback. We've had committees that have travelled to different parts of the province . . .
MR. ZINCK: This particular committee?
MR. SAVOURY: We've never placed - not that there's an inordinate amount of money where we live, but we've never said there aren't funds to go to different places or for advertising. So the committee has considerable discretion and always the committee, when it makes its report, we're always struck by the large number of submissions and how they reached out.
Like any committee, there's always room for improvement, but we basically let the chairman and the members shape how they're going to get information. They have full and open discourse in what they're going to recommend. [ Number one: - this is a pro-government stacked committee. Number 2: The committee chair did not even know the bureaucRATS were making this presentation - This does not sound like a government that trusts this committee to give it discretion !]
But it is a challenge to fill, as you point out, some of the positions on the committee. We've actually tried different things over the years. We've approached family resource centres and said, well, maybe if two parents from the ones who are involved with the centre, maybe where they know each other, they feel more comfortable, it's not so intimidating. At our level we wouldn't have known who the parents were, which was great. We said, could we call the agency and said, could you approach the centre and see if families would apply?
There's a further issue, as well, that I should mention. The names, when they go before the Human Resources Committee, become public and we've had folks - actually parents - who have decided to withdraw when we notified them and said, by the way, this afternoon your name may become public and your resumé.
[This is the VAN Zoost debacle: See the Hansard for Human Resources Committee: Tuesday, October 25, 2005, November 29, 2005, December 13, 2005, February 28, 2006, - This was the government attempting to appoint a personal friend of the Minister (David Morse) and a government man that ran for the party into the parent category - Tell the whole truth Mr Un-Savoury ! ]
With the professional folks, I don't really think it's an issue, like the lawyers with legal aid. But when we let parents know that, they've said, please remove my application. [That was Van Zoost . He resigned when the shame of his appointment was exposed by advocates and the media - Tell the whole truth Mr Un-Savoury !]
MR. ZINCK: That's because it's public knowledge who they are?
MR. SAVOURY: That's correct, when it goes before the Human Resources Committee.
MR. ZINCK: Okay, I can submit two names right now who are willing to go and they have full qualifications. Who would I submit that to - would it be the standing committee?
MR. SAVOURY [government bureaucrat]: There's a Web site and they can apply on-line or in writing to the Office of Executive Council and it's all there.
MS. FERGUSON [government bureaucrat]: It's the same process for all non-adjudicative boards, so it's the exact same process. So the application process is there, it's all on-line for people to apply.
MR. ZINCK: So this committee is up and running, fully functional, meeting on a regular basis?
MR. SAVOURY [government bureaucrat]: That's correct, yes. They probably meet every three to four weeks, and in some cases they meet as frequently as weekly to get their report done.
[BUT, without the full legally mandated members - this is not a legal committee ! ! ! ! ! ]
MR. ZINCK: I'll end on this, if I can. I actually had the opportunity to sit in, as you're probably aware, on some of the most recent presentations. Part of the problem that I had with what had taken place was the fact that the only members on the committee who were there were representing the minister or the department. As a presenter coming in - actually two of the ladies who were presenting had their former social workers there, so you can imagine the frustration with them feeling that they had nobody else who would or could support them, knowing what their social workers had said in the past. It's crucial - I don't know what we have to do but we have to do a better job.
I have cases coming from the U.S., people contacting me now, who have been affected by our system here. How do they get their stories heard? Who do they reach out to? We're less than one million in this province and we have 2,000 kids in care - that's more than the Province of Ontario. It's important that we take the steps to get this committee up and running.[properly and legally] It has been a frustration of mine for the last year and a half and I'll continue to question it until we get a full committee, until we actually get a report that would have been useful in adopting and looking at it for the Child and Youth Strategy. That would have been an important piece to see, but when we see a report that we haven't - well, since 1999, [ 1996 ! ]I guess. This committee is part of the Act and it is important that we have regular reports.I think the term thing has to be frustrating for the chairman to coordinate all of this and feel like they can reach out and do all these things and use the monies necessary to go hear the people. But if we don't have the commitment of actually putting the effort forward to have this important committee put together, we're not going to really get the true answers.
MS. FERGUSON [government bureaucrat]: : You're right but I think some of the challenges that you've raised, which are very legitimate concerns, are pieces that we need to look at in terms of the bigger picture about what is the best way to provide input into the Act. The term issue is clearly - I mean, I think they're symptoms of a bigger piece and I think now, because of the work we have going on, it's not just good enough for us to look in terms of the Act. We need to look at it in terms of the youth strategy and the work that we're doing more collaboratively across government [what is being said here is pushing out the importance of this Advisory committee that is suppose to include parents as members and presenters and focusing on inside government-only committees] to say, what does that mean for child welfare and how do we look at that as a system.
I think there are a couple of wonderful things that have happened in terms of that work, that we now have an opportunity to say okay, this is an opportunity, so how do we look at the role of that committee? What does it mean in terms of the Act, what is the way to get the best input into change, the most meaningful input that helps everybody really move forward? I'm hopeful that if we're able to take on some of those bigger pieces, that some of those challenges you've mentioned should be addressed. That would be my hope.
MR. ZINCK: Thank you.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Manning.
MR. MANNING MACDONALD [LIB - former Childre's Aid worker ] : Thank you, Madam Chairman. I've been scribbling some comments down here. First of all I'd like to echo the comments of my friend in the NDP and welcome you here today. There are some comments I would like to make and perhaps, if you want to react to them, that's fine and if not, that's fine too.
I believe the term issue is one that should be of concern to all of us. I believe, as you do, that terms are too short for an important committee like this.
[Did anyone ever think that this short term may have been deliberately implemented to attempt to safeguard the proper appointment of members to this committee - Perhaps the writers of this legislation, foresaw the possibility of the shananigans we are seeing with this government - not appointing people who have a voice and view different than this government's and NOT properly appointing people in the parent category etc etc etc, - The appointments are annual. So every year the whole appointment system, including the multi-party Human Resources Committee ( link HERE to see how they have continually bungled their responsibility ) have another chance to make it right - and every year the public has a chance to try to make this system accountable - We do not want to see this committee, which is so import, continue for years with only inside government supporting appointments, and people who do not truely represent the parent category with no recourse to attempt to have correct and have proper appointments. ]
If the people who would aspire to be on that committee have any hope of making any meaningful changes or making
any legislation changes that might be appropriate, they simply don't have the time to do that with their mandate. I would also tell you that it would probably be fair to say there is not a stampede of people out there wanting to get on this committee and the reasons for that are many, I guess.
[Yes there is ! We are aware of qualified people who have applied . The government just will not allow anyone who is qualified but critical to be on this committee - Including this writer who has been told the qualifications are met , has applied several times and is contunually/deliberatley overlooked ! - If this government has nothing to hide, why does this government work so hard keeping these people off the committee - For one thing , they are afraid that these people will glean more evidence of the corruption of this committe and this government - Hang your head in shame all you members who know this to be true but take up membership on this committee because this government has proactively sought you out and you take up the position because you think it will look good on your CV/ résumé. ]
One of the things is the whole idea of liability issues when it comes to children's welfare in this province and the legal issues surrounding that.
I believe that people get scared away when they figure they might be in the firing line of some intrepid lawyers who are trying to make a case for a particular situation and are aiming their guns at board members about, it's their fault this is not working because of policies. [ Excellent idea ! Someone should be doing this ! - Any takers? ] I think a lot of people may be scared off by that. They are certainly not wanting to get on that committee for the money, I can tell you that. So those who do want to get on it, I suggest to you, are very dedicated people in the first place. [Read insert in previous paragraph - Hang your head in shame . . . ] It is of less concern to me who appoints them than it is to have people who are actually wanting to get on the committee because of their sincere interest in what's going on surrounding the whole question of the Children and Family Services Act.
I'm sure Nova Scotians, not unlike any other place, unless a problem concerns you personally with your own children and that, you tend not to want to know what is going on with somebody else's children. You have some people who like to feel they're engaged but most people are saying, I have enough problems in my own household, I don't need to know about somebody else's. Therein lies a lot of the problems that you deal with in Children and Family Services.
The people on the front lines, and I speak from some experience having spent 10 years in Community Services at the municipal level - Social Services it was called in the grand old days of the 1970s - I found that one of the hardest things I had to do as a municipal social service worker was to report activity in a family to the Children's Aid Society, in those days. That was really heart-wrenching because of the fact that you knew what was going to happen after that. The social workers would then take an active role in the family's day-to-day matters and would then become involved in the family directly and then it was a consultative process between myself and our other workers, in this case, in the City of Sydney and the CAS regarding a particular family. That is very traumatic for a family when you have agencies sitting down discussing the future of your children, really. So it was very difficult.
I figured at that time burnout was around 10 years - for me, it lasted nine and then I went on to much easier jobs like the Mayor of Sydney and a provincial Cabinet Minister. I tell you, it was very much an experience that I wouldn't want to go through again. The reason I'm saying that, deputy minister, is that I have a great deal of respect for child protection workers and those who work in the community services field, particularly those who are out there because there are liability issues, there are judgment calls and the social workers have to, in this day and age, balance that off with their desire to see the best possible outcome for the children that they're serving. That is a very delicate line and I am not one who is going
to heap criticism on the department in that regard at all because I know people who have been there. I have siblings who are social workers and one of them is working for the CAS right now in Ontario and she's having some difficulties up there with her role to the point that she's thinking about retiring because it is just getting to her. So I have a great deal of respect for them and from that point of view, you're in the public eye all the time.
I can recall particularly the CAS in Cape Breton with the recent publicity surrounding some cases in the Children's Aid Society in Cape Breton and what a traumatic experience that has been for everybody involved, not the least of which are the social workers who have been involved in those cases. I say cases because there has been more than one and that is inevitably going to happen in this kind of business that we're in.
I just want to say that I wish your social workers well as they continue to do their job on behalf of Nova Scotians and certainly any support that I can give the department in that regard I will certainly try to do my best on that. There aren't any people, Deputy, knocking down my door wanting me to support them to get on this committee, [this is NOT correct - we are aware of 2 women - the 2 women who took this government to court to get this committee up and running because the government had been ignoring the law to do so - these woman e-mailed ALL MLAs concerning their wish to be on this committee and how they were continually being overlooked despite the fact that they had been informed through their lawyer that the executive committee had verified to their lawyer that they were qualifies] I'll tell you that, and that's unfortunate but that's exactly the way it is. With those few comments, if you want to comment back to me, fine, but I don't really have any questions other than that.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Do you want to respond in any way?
MR. SAVOURY [government bureaucrat]: I think I would concur with the comments - it is a very difficult business, as we've said earlier. We're fortunate in our province in terms of the calibre of staff we have working. The other thing I should point out is that of the reports we've received, the recommendations have not been ignored by any means. The 1996 report [This was the LAST report because this was the last time there had been a Advisory committee, despite the fact this committee was to be, BY LAW, an annual committee ] recommended secure care, which is now a reality. There were recommendations for a child advocate and, instead of doing that, we engaged in discussions with the Ombudsman's Office and, in 1999, set up a specific section dealing with children and youth whereby the Ombudsman visits Wood Street regularly and gives us a report and their staff meet independently with youth there to hear their issues and concerns. [ click HERE , HERE and HERE to see what a poor job the Ombudsman's office is doing informing our children of their rights and protecting our children]
The whole issue of 16 to 18 years of age is one of great debate right across the country as to what should be the age of a child. [the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states under 18] Most of the reports have struggled with that and if you go across the country you'll find some provinces, like Ontario, where it's 16 and if you go to B.C. it's 19, so we're no different. But we have done things that make a big difference - we can extend care up to age 19 and actually to 21 for health and education reasons. We now go up to 24 to cover all the tuition, books and accommodations for a child in care to complete their post-secondary. [ VERY-VERY- VERY - VERY - VERY few children in "CARE" go to university of college - most age out without finishing highschool with no skills to financially support themselves ] We have the best program in the country in that we're the only province in the country that set a workload standard for social workers and we believe our staff are pretty much at that level pretty consistently or below. We've added additional staff, so we have made improvements.
One of the reports recommended that we make legislative amendments around the rights of children and youth in care. While we didn't put it in the Act, we did develop a booklet for youth when they come into care - and I'll leave copies for the members - which we require all youth in care to get a copy of so they know their rights and responsibilities. [Note: the word is "youth" - there is NO mention of CHILDREN being informed of their rights ] I could keep going but we do study the reports carefully and look at what we can do to act on them.
I think we're fortunate that the committee has been up and running and I know Trevor's earlier comments about people [NOT] showing up and you don't see the full committee is a concern. I'm sure the chair of the committee would always make sure members know when they met for presentations I'm sure the chair of the committee would always make sure members know when meetings are taking place, but I would suspect many of these people could have other jobs, or they're parents or volunteers. They're not always able to show up at the meetings, which is unfortunate. We cover travel costs - the committee has money to cover travel. They get a small per diem for the days they sit as a member [WAY below the average $100 per diam ], but I'm sure it is not for the $45 a day that they choose to join this committee. We've covered babysitting if there are child care issues, but it's still a struggle.
[We did hear from some committee members that they had been waiting months for their out-of-pocket expenses for being on this committee to be reimbursed - We also witnessed their lunch being canceled, behind their backs, without the chair being informed before hand - And what about this low per diem? - When members are treated with such disrespect, why should they show up? We have to ask, is this a deliberate move on the part of the government, to discourage participation? ]
We will keep the committee going, it meets even when they don't have a quorum and they haven't defined what is a quorum , which is probably good in many respects or maybe they would even cancel more meetings.[ Yes they have a quoraum ! ! - We asked what the quorum for this committee was and we were told by the chair of the Advisory Committee, herself, Cheryl Harawitz, that the quorum was 8 ! - how convenient that the chair did not even know these beaurocRATS were even making this presentation on behalf of her committee - so she could not be there to correct deliberate inaccuracies ! ! ! ! ! ! WE demand that the quorum be honored and applied! ]
MS. FERGUSON [government bureaucrat]: Madam Chairman, if I could just add one quick one for a second. I just wanted to thank the member for his comments because I think, again, it speaks to the fact that the challenge is to ensure that we get meaningful input into the legislation from the people we need to hear from in a way that makes sure the department is hearing everything it needs to hear. [ No records were made of the many presentations that were critical of Children Services and the government - So where are these voices? - These are voices that are "needed"] While we're doing our best under these current circumstances, it's something that we are considering, appointment times and the rotation of that obviously is part of that. But I think his comments reflect the fact that it's something we need to be thinking about and I just want to assure people that we are thinking about it. The other thing is, I appreciate his comments very much about our staff. Unfortunately, in terms of child welfare, what most members of the public hear about child welfare are the most difficult cases. Obviously the department can't comment on those cases.
Our staff do incredible work on a daily basis and there are lots of wonderful, good, positive things every day that happen in child welfare that obviously we hear about but obviously those aren't the things, unfortunately, that people hear about on a daily basis. I do just want to say that our staff work incredibly hard and go above and beyond every day to do everything they can to make sure that children stay with their families. [We know this NOT to be true!] Now unfortunately, that's not always possible, but certainly that is where their best efforts are made and there are very positive things going on in child welfare every day right across the province. Thank you, Madam Chairman.
MADAM CHAIRMAN [ Marilyn More -NDP]: Thank you. I do want to speak on this. Keith, do you want to ask any questions? No. Would you mind taking the Chair then please?
[1:48 p.m. Mr. Keith Colwell took the Chair.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: How long have you got? (Laughter)
MS. MARILYN MORE [NDP] : If I need it, 10 minutes, and then we probably should wrap up and go on to the next topic.
I'm glad you're here, and welcome. I think one of the reasons that this topic was added to our agenda is not because we want to criticize staff or programming or whatever. We realize that this advisory committee has an important function in our province. I know certainly our caucus [NDP] feels that it has to have a much higher priority in terms of functioning well and openly.
I don't think there's one MLA in this province who wouldn't say that the most heart-rending issues that ever face them, in terms of their workload, are the child welfare stories and issues that come into our offices and through our critic areas. Some of the stories, you lose sleep over them because they're such dilemmas that there's no right answer. I think we all understand how complex these issues are, how emotional and personal they are, and there are many sides to every issue. I mean, you hear one story and you sort of peel away the layers and you get more and more information and you have absolutely no idea what to recommend as next steps to the people involved.
I think that's one reason this advisory committee is so important, because it's the symbol, I think, to a lot of families in this province that the department is open to changes and improvements based on the best interests of the children in their care. Unless we have a fully functioning, operational committee that is sort of user-friendly for the people on it and user-friendly for the people who want to be heard by it, we're missing out, I think, on an opportunity to make things better for children in care in particular, and also other people covered under this Act.
I'm not going to lecture you on how to make a committee more welcoming. I mean there are people in this province with experience who, I think, can help with that process. We have to make that process work. I don't think there's anyone involved with child welfare who doesn't admit that there have to be some significant systemic changes and improvements.
The Nunn inquiry report, I mean it listed all sorts of gaps in services and failures along the way. When you read the HRM reports on homelessness, they talk a lot about how many of the homeless on the streets of HRM are previously youth who used to be in the care of the department. Now, I'm not saying the department has caused this, but these are youth with extreme challenges and they obviously need more help than they are currently getting.
Now, I sometimes wonder, too, about to what extent we've taken seriously the recommendations from earlier committees because I know when I first got elected, one of the first topics in front of this committee was the Wood Street Centre. It seemed that the original recommendation was for secure treatment there and it has turned into a facility that's providing emergency care, not treatment. So I think there are some serious gaps that the department officials have to be looking at, that all relate back to this advisory committee.
How much of a priority is it? Actually, we're regulated to have it so where is the accountability in terms of how well it's functioning and this lost opportunity not to be using it to improve things? I mean, how can we rationalize the spotty existence it's had over the last 10, 13 years?
MS. FERGUSON [government bureaucrat]: I'll start and then maybe George can jump in. There's no question that there have been challenges around the committee. I think, though, the fact now and certainly since my time in the department, the amount of effort that has been put into appointments, reappointments, advertising, finding people to sit on the committee, has certainly been at the level - at that point I was the assistant deputy minister - that I was well aware of it. I was involved, the deputy minister was aware of it, and George's staff and other staff in our department have made great efforts. Now, not always perfect and you can always say that we could have done more, but certainly it's been a priority and there have been significant efforts, I would say.
George had the advertising up earlier, I mean we've tried to advertise in newspapers and other places, like Street Feat, like the Mi'kmaq community. We've really tried to make some inroads to try to get some candidates specifically to the areas that we're looking at and we've tried to advertise in a way and get the word out in a way, and though our network, too, in the department, that will hopefully attract candidates. So that's a challenge.
We've made some steps forward, I think, and we can look at that again. There's no question that things like the yearly appointment process - and all of you are certainly aware that the appointment process in and of itself, in terms of just getting people through, we're working on that, as well, in terms of just making sure from a timeline perspective that we're there. But if we didn't have to go through that on a yearly basis, certainly I think that would be an advantage.
The other thing that I'm glad you raised is, you brought up the Nunn piece and you brought up some of the bigger challenges in terms of not just this department but I would say that government has or that as Nova Scotians we have, in terms of challenges with our youth. I think it's important that however we move forward, this Act is a piece and child welfare is a piece of a system that includes our colleagues in Justice and Education and Health, and I think when Commissioner Nunn was looking at that what he said is there needs to be much better coordination.
So I think what's also important is to say, what is the child welfare role in that? How do we maximize and leverage all of our other colleagues and our programs across the system to make sure we're doing it in a way that provides a continuum of services for children, that we're maximizing the services available, and that there isn't a navigation problem in terms of being able to access services from a number of different departments? The discussions we've been having - having the social prosperity framework has provided us with the opportunity to have with our staff really exciting discussions of being able to say, okay, what are the kinds of services that child, that family, that community needs? What are the kinds of ways that we, as a government, need to deliver services to that child or to that family? They shouldn't have to worry necessarily which department the services are coming from. They need to ensure that they're able to get the services.
So as we look at reviewing child welfare and the services that are provided under child welfare, I think it's incumbent on me and on us, in Community Services, to say if we're taking the approach that Commissioner Nunn and the social prosperities now provide us with the opportunity to take - to take it on a broader scale. My hope would be that we're actually providing enhanced services, and in a way that's better, and that as civil servants we're doing it with our colleagues in the various departments and we're actually looking at the services.
To quote my colleague from the Department of Education, he would say in government, unfortunately, we all have part of a child. Sometimes they're working with Education, they're working with Justice, they're working with Health, maybe they're working with us. So it's our responsibility to say what the services are that we provide to that child and do it in a way that makes sense for that child and that family.
Now, we are not there yet and that's not going to happen overnight, but we're having some very exciting discussions around how to do that in a much better way. So I think this Act, the committee, the role it plays and it needs to be a priority - I agree with you on that - needs to be put in that context so that when we get feedback from that committee, it's on that broader context.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. You're over your 10 minutes now, if you want to . . .
MS. MORE: Can I just close then?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Sure.
MS. MORE [NDP] : I agree with the big picture issues that you've talked about but I think some of the stated challenges for the committee, the length of term, they're a bit of a red herring in a way because I think you can make this committee welcoming and fully functioning by making it a less intimidating process. If the Children and Family Services Act isn't an important or critical piece of this new vision of where we're going in this[Page 16]
comprehensive range of programming, then there's something seriously wrong. So I think to most Nova Scotians who are interested or involved in these issues, that this advisory committee is seen as a symbol of how well everything else is operating. [ What is important here is that this advisory committee is NOT working well] So I think you have a high responsibility to make sure that it has full membership, that it's listened to seriously, that the agenda covers the issues that it needs to cover, that it actually looks at reviewing and improving the Act.
I think we have an opportunity here to rebuild credibility in our child welfare system and I think this advisory committee could be an important part of it. So thank you very much and thank you, Mr. Chairman.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Just with that, we'll wrap up your part of the meeting with your final comments. If you can answer that question at the same time, it would be great, thank you.
MR. SAVOURY [government bureaucrat]: Thank you. I would just like to say that we do things that we believe are important to make the members feel welcome. We meet with the new committee when they start off [That was 2 1/2 years ago when this current committee was originally appointed - meanwhile people have been hopping on and off this "annual "committee" ] and commend them for applying [Most member of the Advisory Committee did not actually apply - they were proactively sought out by the government,as loyal supporters, while those people who did apply were overlooked !] . We also put a person on the committee, a staff member who can help them in terms of logistics, of booking meetings. We provide meeting space, so we do these things. We also make it a point that they get to present their report to the minister in person and to senior staff, we believe that's extremely important. As soon as there's a vacancy, we start looking to see if there are people applying [There are people who have applied over and over again - always ignored ] . So we do different things. Obviously we haven't been as successful as we'd like, but the committee is up and running and we're committed to keeping it up and running. [ BUT Without the full mandatory membership, this committee is illegal !]
I totally agree with your comments - you probably deal with no more stressful situations. Even when parents lose their children the pain is, I'm sure, phenomenal and it's no easy situation to deal with.
We do increasingly spend more on resources to enable that children and youth and families do better. We spend $7.5 million on preventative services, $2 million to Phoenix House and organizations like the Y and Big Brothers, Big Sisters. We spend a little over $5 million on counselling for children and families, because our Act requires that we have to offer services if we believe they could protect the child and the children could stay with their families. So we believe these are all important.
Finally, I would say in terms of Wood Street, we believe that they do provide treatment. There is a clinical team, there is access to a psychiatrist, we have access to a psychologist and a social worker. Sure, it went through its growing pains as a new facility, but we believe the staff there have done a great job in the short period that they've been
there. But it's only one part of the continuum and it can't be all things to all children and youth, but I appreciate your comments.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Deputy Minister, do you have any wrap-up comments?
MS. FERGUSON [government bureaucrat]: I know we're short for time, but I'd just like to very sincerely thank you for the opportunity and for your interest. It's an extremely important issue and I'm always interested in your thoughts. We've heard some really positive comments and things for us to think about today, so I thank you very much for your insights. I want to assure you that we take your comments very seriously and it's been very helpful for us, so thank you very much.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you.
[2:03 p.m. Ms. Marilyn More resumed the Chair.]
MADAM CHAIRMAN: So we've now been joined by officials from United Way of Halifax Region. We thank you very much for your patience. Our next topic is the Provincial 211 Information Line. . . . .