Strategic Thoughts

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November 10, 2003

[Note: Do not confuse this article concerning all children under age 18 with the Health Officer's report on infant mortality - children under age 1.]

Death Rate for Children in Care

The new Ministry of Children and Family Development webpage on children's deaths begins with the claim that:

Deaths of children in care have declined significantly in recent years, according to studies by the Provincial Health Officer. "For children and youth in care, as for other B.C. children, the risk of death is much lower today than in the past."

The Provincial Health Officer's report was completed May 2001. Since then the Campbell government has dramatically cut welfare rates and has significantly cut child protection services. Data in downloadable Excel spreadsheets on another page of the Ministry's website show 7 children in care died in both 2001 and 2002; in the first 9 months of 2003, 9 children in care have died. The Ministry emphasizes that the rate per 1,000 children in care is more significant than the absolute number of deaths. Since the number of children in care has been decreasing the death rate is increasing faster than the absolute number and will reach double digits for the first time since 1999.

The Ministry's website appears to be downplaying its responsibility for the deaths of children in care when it quotes the Provincial Health Officer as saying "Higher rates are not unexpected, given that many children and youth in care are medically fragile or have other special needs." No one should confuse "medically fragile" or "natural causes" with not preventable. Detailed data on the Ministry's website groups deaths of children by the International Classification of Diseases and puts suicides and homicides in a separate category. The largest group is natural causes which may include preventable deaths.

Not one word can be found in the service plan for the Ministry for Children and Family development regarding better outcomes for children in care, including preventing deaths. In 2004 tough new welfare policy will apply to families with children. In 2004 a further $70 million in cuts will be made to the Ministry of Children and Family Development. Gordon Hogg has repeatedly said that a 25% failure rate in his Ministry is to be expected. When failure means an increased death rate for children, it is unacceptable. It may be expected as the result of cutbacks, but it doesn't make it right.

Compare the trend line in the graph below with the trend line in the graph on the Ministry's website. The Ministry has drawn one simple line pointing down. The line in red on the graph below is a fifth order polynomial fitted by Excel to the actual data. It shows that the rate of decline accelerated in the late 90s, and it has been reversed in the New Era - pointing upward for 2004.

November 7, 2003

Deaths of Children

It is particularly unfortunate that on the same day the news media focused on the tragic death of Chassidy Whitford and the failure of the aboriginal child welfare authority, the Ministry of Children and Family Development posted a new page to its media website on children's deaths. The page responds to a freedom of information request I made asking for the number of deaths of "children in care". Sources within the Ministry tell me that in the haste to offload costs and reduce the number of children in care, efforts to maintain standards, including regular audits of child protection offices, have been dropped. Those sources maintain that the failure to maintain Ministry standards and practice audits is particularly severe in aboriginal child welfare authorities.

Graphs on the Ministry's webpage show that until recently the death rate (deaths per 1,000) for children declined. The new webpage, posted on November 6, 2003, asserts that 4 children in care died in 2002, but an email to me from the Ministry's Executive Director, Communications, said "The number of children and youth whose reason for discharge from care was recorded as being deceased, for calendar 2002, is seven. The number for 2003, to September 30, is nine."

Imagine what the BC Liberals would have done with this information when they were in Opposition. Now that they are in government they are downplaying the risk of physical abuse to children, reducing the number of investigations into child abuse and neglect, cutting welfare payments to at risk families and offloading responsibility for child protection without regard to maintaining standards.

The reduction in child deaths in the last decade was a significant accomplishment. It should not be reversed by a government that cares for little but the bottom line.

Update: At noon on Friday I was informed by the Director of Communications for the Ministry that the correct number of deaths of children in care in 2002 was 7 as she had indicated in her email. The incorrect numbers and graphs on the Ministry website will be corrected.


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