North Island NDP MLA Claire Trevena toured the B.C. Interior recently, visiting communities between Prince George and Kelowna.
“It’s a bit of a sweep, but I’m trying to get a good sense of the different communities, different interests, and how to make the province a better place for our children,” the opposition critic for children and family development told the Tribune.
Trevena said she overwhelmingly heard concerns about child poverty, and the fact the province is rated so low.
“In every community you can see that need, and people are asking how we can deal with that in a serious way because in the last eight, nine years we’ve seen that low level maintained.”
Critical of the recent plan by the provincial government to identify seven communities where poverty plans are to be developed, Trevena said the plans are to be developed within the Ministry of Children and Family Development, yet there are no additional resources to ensure there will be any coherent plan.
“It’s being left to communities to develop their own thinking. While it’s very important for communities to develop their own thinking, we’re looking at a serious issue for our whole province. It shouldn’t just be up to communities to come up with a plan with the only dollars they already have.”
As the Opposition, Trevena says if the NDP forms government it will develop a province-wide anti-poverty plan, with specific targets and timelines.
“It’s time that we as a province and a society took this seriously and really did something about it.”
Trevena also heard from a number of organizations providing front-line community services in the community that having to apply for funding each year for each program is onerous.
“They’re trying to do planning for community development and for servicing community needs. They can see what is needed and want to be able to plan for three to five years in the future, but they can only apply for funding year by year. It creates huge instability and makes it very difficult.”
She advocates a more stable, steady approach to funding.
“Everyone would love more money and we know there isn’t anymore, but let’s look at priorities, and how we can fund in a responsible way.”
She’s also hearing concerns about the MCFD’s new computer program, Integrated Case Management (ICM).
“It’s now a $194 million program on case management that simply does not work. The community social services agencies aren’t using this at the moment, but they are very worried about how it’s going to impact client confidentiality, how it’s going to impact resources because the government has already spent $194 million.”
Responding the MCFD says the overall budget for the ICM is $182 million and that remains unchanged, and the budget has not impacted government services.
“No funding is being diverted from front-line services,” wrote communications officer Jeremy Uppenborn in a written response to questions from the Tribune.
“ICM is a much-needed new computer system that is replacing a 30-year-old, obsolete system that can no longer be updated or modified. There have been repeated calls by independent authorities, including in the Hughes review, for a better system of information sharing to protect vulnerable citizens.”
Although some challenges were anticipated and steps were taken to address them as they arose, the extent of the issues in the MCFD related to the child protection component of the system has been more significant than expected.
“As a result of these concerns, the ministry has developed an action plan — supported by up to $12 million in new funding to support staff and hire up to 150 additional protection staff.”
The ministry also argues that B.C.’s poverty rate is at its second-lowest rate since 1980 and since 2003 has dropped by 45 per cent, a higher rate of decline than the national average.
“We know that one of the best ways to help people out of poverty is to ensure they have a job. That’s why we are focussed on a job-creation plan to strengthen the economy and create and protect jobs for families in every region of B.C. Since February 2011, B.C. has added 61,700 jobs to the economy.
We are providing targeted supports to low-income families to ensure they have the supports and services they need,” the ministry says.
When it comes to annually funded projects, the ministry says it has a significant number of contracts with varying amounts of periods, some for longer terms than one year.
“We are currently working with our community agencies to standardize contracting practices across the province, including, where appropriate, ways to support longer term planning.”