Six months ago, Canada learned that British Columbia’s Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) spent about $66 million on “discussions and engagement” for indigenous organizations without taking strategic action. The questionable spending was highlighted in a November 2013 report titled “When Talk Trumped Service.” Produced by B.C’s child and youth representative Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, the report analyzed what must be improved in B.C.’s indigenous communities. Basically, it concluded, the government spent a lot of money on talk but no money went towards the walk. Apparently, not much has changed.
“The various activities and initiatives undertaken by MCFD during the past decade have created only an illusion of action and progress,” Turpel-Lafond wrote. “There has been no concrete resulting change in the aboriginal child welfare service-delivery system or demonstrable improvements in outcomes for aboriginal children, youth and their families.” She says she understands the money was given to the agencies with sound intent, but adds that many of the child and family reps have no clear spending strategy and no understanding of their roles in the community.
The report concluded with recommendations for the government: develop a comprehensive plan to transfer control of child and welfare services to aboriginal organizations; suspend “open-ended initiatives” that don’t benefit aboriginal self-governance; and create ways to close the gap of education and health between aboriginal and non aboriginal youth—on or off reserve
The deadline for these government drafts were February, March, and April. As of today, nothing has been submitted.
The only change came in January—when the provincial government “cut funding to 18 indigenous-run projects” two months after Turpel-Lafond’s report. It has not yet addressed what may be the next steps (or any steps) to help aboriginal kids in foster care, who made up more than half —almost 4,500 of 8,106 —of B.C.’s kids in the system.
“The ministry has been overly focused on transferring the responsibility to provide services instead of ensuring aboriginal children and youth are getting the help they desperately need,” Turpel-Lafond told CBC. Which sums up her opinion of throwing money around without knowledge of the outcome.
Ministry officials have said they generally appreciated the report, but also criticized it for being one-sided. Much of the $66 million, says the government, helped give aboriginal peoples a public voice.
“I don’t want it to be misinterpreted that government spent $66 million to have these discussions around governance and jurisdictional issues without receiving some benefit,” Minister Stephanie Cadieux told the Tyee. “There are better working relationships with indigenous communities. First Nations, in many cases, have increased capacity to provide culturally relevant care for their own children, including child protection mediation.”
The child and youth watch dog is aware that her report’s guidelines are complex. Since November, Turpel-Lafond has seen more money donated to indigenous agencies that were “crippled by underfunding”. Yet, these organizations need government coordination along with the money allotted them. As the report states, “the ministry needs to re-focus, and dedicate the time and effort required.”
The lesson here is to start fresh, start planning, but start.