–B.C. Auditor General
Overall, the Ministry of Children and Family Development was not providing effective oversight of contracted residential services.
“Children and youth in care may not be receiving services that meet their needs because the ministry hasn’t set sufficient quality standards for contracted residential services and doesn’t adequately monitor the quality of care that contractors provide,” said Carol Bellringer, auditor general.
The ministry is also struggling to match the specific needs of individual children and youth to appropriate contracted service providers. For example, Indigenous children and youth can be in placements without an Indigenous cultural component. This is happening in part because the ministry had not assessed the need for placements in contracted residential services or created a plan to provide the right amount and type of these services.
Bellringer also stated that “the office found that contracted residential services have evolved on an ad hoc basis to respond to individual and emergency situations as opposed to the ministry defining what they should look like or when to use the services.”
Finally, the ministry does not have an effective contract management framework in place. As a result, ministry staff responsible for managing contracts do not have the right training or support. This has led to contracts between the service providers and the ministry that are not focused on outcomes for children or youth; also, the contracts are not appropriately monitored.
The report includes four recommendations to improve the ministry’s oversight of contracted residential services so it can better meet its obligations to children and youth in care. The ministry has accepted all of the recommendations and has begun to take action to improve its oversight.
Contracted residential services provide housing, food, and other supports for some of the most vulnerable children and youth in care, including those with highly complex needs. These services are typically the most intensive and expensive of all care options. In 2018, approximately 1,150 children and youth in care spent time in contracted residential services.
About the Office of the Auditor General of British Columbia
The auditor general is a non-partisan, independent officer of the legislature who reports directly to the legislative assembly. The Auditor General Act empowers the auditor general and staff to conduct audits, report findings and make recommendations.
Katrine Conroy, Minister of Children and Family Development, has issued the following statement in response to the June 19, 2019, report from the Office of the Auditor General of British Columbia on the oversight of contracted residential services for children and youth in care:
“I’d like to thank the Office of the Auditor General for this report. We accept all of the recommendations and will continue working closely with the office to address them.
“Nothing is more important than the safety and well-being of children and youth in care. Our contracted residential agencies are home to some of the most vulnerable young people. I said last summer that we needed to overhaul that system. I welcomed this independent audit as a key part of that process as we pushed forward on making immediate improvements. We’ve done a lot of good work since then – and the auditor general’s report acknowledges this.
“In June 2018, we put a moratorium on the creation of new contracted residential agencies. This remains in place, and none may proceed without the approval of a senior ministry official.
“Last summer, I directed staff to meet with every child or youth placed in a contracted residential agency to review their circumstances and move them to more suitable placements if their placement was not meeting their individual needs. That work was completed and staff continue to monitor their well-being. As of June 2019, social workers have confirmed that each child and youth has been seen and their homes visited within the past three months as required by policy.
“The ministry established local placement and review committees in 2017 to review and make recommendations about new placement requests, planning, practice and improved oversight. And, in August 2018, we implemented a provincial placement process that outlines specific steps that staff must follow when placing a child or youth in a contracted residential resources.
“In the past 12 months, we also completed background and criminal record checks on more than 5,800 existing agency caregivers and new applicants, bringing screening up to date for all caregivers in contracted residential resources.
“The ministry has begun audits of contracted residential agencies that examine their finances and compliance with policy for screening caregivers. And, in December 2018, we hired a private firm to undertake a review of all of the ministry’s contracting and payment processes, including those for contracted residential services.
“Indigenous children and youth in care remain over-represented within contracted residential resources, just as they are in foster care more broadly. That’s why we changed child welfare legislation in October 2018. Additional amendments came into force in April 2019, allowing the ministry to be able to share information earlier and give Indigenous communities greater involvement in child-welfare decisions to help keep their children out of care, safe in their home communities and connected to their cultures.
“Part of strengthening our in-care system means having skilled caregivers who can meet the unique needs of each child. A public recruitment campaign, fosternow.ca, ran from October 2018 to March 2019, to raise awareness of the important role foster parents play in a child in care’s life. And, effective April 1, 2019, we raised the rates paid to foster parents by $179 per month and boosted support for family members caring for children through the Extended Family Program by more than 70%, bringing them on par with foster caregivers and better supporting them to care for young family members, so they will not have to enter the foster or contracted residential system. We also increased the rate for other out-of-care caregivers who have an agreement with the ministry or adopted a child or youth.
“We’re making progress keeping children out of care, and we’re working to strengthen family-based foster care. The number of children and youth in care has fallen below 6,200, a decrease of 10% from two years ago. But there remains a need for therapeutic, specialized service and support for those remaining children and youth who have the most complex care needs. The contracted residential system must be designed to meet their needs in a planned, strategic manner.
“In the past, contracted residential agencies and resources have been loosely defined. This led to their often ad hoc setup and gave ministry staff limited oversight ability and contract management. As of 2017, we have a standard working definition to distinguish contracted residential care from foster care and outline the employment, licensing and associated standards that contracted agencies are expected to meet and maintain.
“Where we previously lacked accurate and complete data on residential resources, since 2017 we have compiled an inventory that includes each and every agency and service provider. And we have done an initial assessment of all of those.
“Together with our partners, we have created a ministry-wide strategy to build a system where a child in care’s needs drive their placement and ultimately determine what supports they receive. We’ve been consulting and working closely with the sector, and we are looking at this in the context of the entire system of services for children and youth in care and their families.
“I acknowledge we still have much more to do to overhaul the system, improve oversight and tailor our services to better meet the needs of children and youth in care and their families. The representative for children and youth and others have been sounding the alarm for years on how the ministry has dealt with the entire contracted residential system. While some changes were undertaken, demonstrable results were never achieved. That stops now.
“The auditor general’s report recognizes our efforts to date, with much more to come by 2021. I welcome ongoing scrutiny of our action plan as I believe there is no greater imperative for the ministry than supporting the children and youth whom British Columbians have entrusted to government care.”