Conroy promises overhaul of contracted residential agencies

Minister of Children and Family Development Katrine Conroy.
Minister of Children and Family Development Katrine Conroy.

Children and Family Development Minister Katrine Conroy is promising a complete overhaul of how the ministry uses contracted residential agencies following stiff rebuke of current practices by the Representative for Children and Youth, Bernard Richard.

Richard highlighted the last month’s closure of a Lower Mainland facility, displacing 18 youth in care, following the disclosure by a youth that “that a staff member was gang-affiliated, took youth on drug drops, had smoked marijuana with the youth and offered him cocaine.”

A subsequent investigation, according to Richard, revealed that only 10 of 33 staff and caregivers had completed criminal record and other security-screening criteria. The investigation resulted in nine of these employees – who had all been caring for children prior to the investigation – being barred permanently from further such work and 13 others being further screened due to concerning information.

“Sadly, this is not an isolated incident when it comes to some residential agencies contracted by MCFD,” wrote Richard in a letter to Conroy.

In July 2016, the provincial Director of Child Welfare investigated allegations of inappropriate care being provided by yet another contracted Lower Mainland residential agency, he wrote. This investigation also found poor qualifications and lack of completed background checks and resulted in more than 20 children in care being moved to other placements.

“Screening and suitability of staff and caregivers are not the only concerns that I have with respect to contracted residential agencies,” he wrote. “Among other issues are inadequate training and lack of support for staff who often deal with complex care and behaviour management; lack of evidence-based, therapeutic approaches in these facilities; inappropriate matching of the needs of the children and youth with the capacity of the caregivers; issues arising with poor matching of children and youth residing in the same placement; and undue reliance on police intervention for behaviour management and crisis response.”

The ministry did create a centralized screening hub as a way to deal with some of the issues. However, nearly half (46 of 96) of B.C.’s residential agencies have yet to screen their staff through this hub.

“The representative rightly outlines a number of flaws in the system of contracted residential care for children and youth in care,” said Conroy in a statement issued today. “This is a problem the previous government grappled with, and it’s one that I, as minister, have been concerned with and will not allow to continue. Previously, change was aimed at simply improving the status quo system. What we need to do is completely overhaul that system.”

She said, effective immediately, no new contracted, residential agencies will be opened without the approval of a senior ministry official.

Conroy said the ministry will review the circumstances of each of the more than 800 children and youth currently placed in contracted, residential agency homes, to determine the most appropriate placement to meet their needs.

“I hope, and expect, this will result in moving some of those children and youth back to family-based foster homes,” she said. “… The ministry has started to exercise more oversight and auditing controls over contracted, residential agencies. Action hasn’t been fast enough and I’ve told my deputy minister that has to change. We’ve brought more people in to verify that all contracted, residential agencies have completed criminal record checks on their staff. Auditing can’t just be administrative or financial; it needs to consider quality of care matters as well. Social workers must regularly visit the kids they are responsible for, to ensure their safety and well-being. Agencies need to be accountable for upholding the same.”