Tuesday, July 21, 2009

What they have here is a failure to communicate

It’s finger pointing time when it comes to who has the real story with recent service changes with the Minister for Children and Family services.

As we outlined last week, the Ministry is transferring some of its service delivery resources to First Nations organizations in the Northwest, a move that may see current employees transferred, or as events might require in some circumstances laid off.

While the Minister may be technically right in her interpretation of the current change, the handling of the issue by the government certainly could have been explained much better, as it turned out the news cycle was dominated by the union position that cuts had been made.

And in the end they may have the final say, if in fact any of the current staff members should be laid off, then the concerns expressed last week would be validated.

As it is, the situation is a rather confusing little mess, something that could have been avoided with a bit more thought and attention to the proper procedures and flow of information.

At the moment however, it would appear that it’s turf protection time, as we learn from the latest developments as relayed in the Daily News.

Lost in all of the confusion it seems is the mandate of the Ministry of properly serving the families and children of the province, considering the way that this change has been handled, the lack of information regarding the coming changes and the impact that they could have on many lives, those families didn’t get very good service from the government last week.

By George T. Baker
The Daily News
Monday, July 20, 2009
Page two

How much child poverty services will be affected by recent job transfers depends on who you talk to.

According the BC Government and Services Employee Union (BCGEU), the Ministry for Children and Family Development has cut six full time child protection positions in Prince Rupert, Kitimat and Terrace.

The BCGEU are upset that they were not told about the cuts before they implemented.

Darryl Walker, president of the BCGEU, said he's concerned by the news.

"Poverty is at the root of most child protection cases." said Walker in a press release. "With rising unemployment and more people on welfare, the economic downturn has put even more pressure on families-particularly in northern communities like Terrace."

Minister Mary Polak said that she is upset, too. She is angered at what she calls BCGEU spin doctoring.

"To say that somehow services have been cut is absolutely ridiculous," said Polak.

There are 90 employees working for the Ministry of Children and Families in the northwest.

Polak, said that her ministry has not cut the jobs.

She said that they have merely transferred them to aboriginal agencies that would take the responsibility because she felt they would be best suited in that role in communities with high First Nation populations.

In fact, the ministry argues that they have increased the positions in Prince Rupert to 24 from 19.

The Nisga' a Child and Family Services agency will get five positions - four in Prince Rupert and one in Terrace - while the Northwestern Inter-Nation Family and Community Services Society received three positions, two in Terrace and one in Prince Rupert.

"There are no layoffs taking place, there are no positions being eliminated," said Polak. "What is happening is the delegated agencies are taking over increasing responsibility for aboriginal children in the area, And as they do that, and this isn't the first time and won't be the last, naturally we transfer the funding."

Polak said it would be up to the Aboriginal agencies to decide who works under them to fulfill the child poverty worker roles. That could mean that current employees could lose their jobs if the agencies feel that another candidate, especially one of Aboriginal ancestry, fits more in-line with where they believe they need to be heading.

However, this does not always mean lay-offs, the minister said they have the option of transferring to another region.

The BCGEU staff said they were told efforts will be made to implement layoffs through attrition and leaving vacancies unfilled, but they were warned layoffs may occur. They were also encouraged to apply for vacant positions in Dease Lake - 600 kilometres to the north.

The disquiet over the changes reflects a concern about how B. C. deals with child poverty.

Though the child poverty rate has declined over the last three years, according First Call: B.C. Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition, B.C. still ranks as the province with the worst child poverty rate in the country.

The BCNDP reacted with anger that the cuts were coming.

North Coast MLA Gary Coons and Skeena MLA Robin Austin say that child-protection workers in the northwest are the latest victims of Gordon Campbell's pre-election budget deception.

"Gordon Campbell didn't campaign on cutting services for vulnerable children," said Coons. "This is more proof of the B.C. Liberals pre-election budget deception," said Coons.

The BCGEU says that six full time child protection worker positions will be eliminated from the region that includes Terrace, Kitimat and Prince Rupert because of budget shortfalls.

Coons worried that the provincial government was not putting the best interests of children ahead of budgetary concerns.

"Instead of protecting vital social services the premier puts children's lives at risk," said Coons.

"With poverty deepening due to deteriorating economic conditions we can expect an increase in children needing the services of the ministry," said Austin. "This is a cruel and senseless cut that puts children at risk."

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