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Child advocate, B.C. govt. in 'near standoff'

Former judge Ted Hughes, who wrote a scathing report on B.C.'s child-protection system four years ago, says vulnerable children are being put at risk because of a "near standoff" between the government and its independent watchdog over his proposed changes.

Mr. Hughes called on Premier Gordon Campbell, who had promised to act on all 62 of his recommendations in that April, 2006, report, to impose mediation on the two sides.

"The well-being and best interests of children, families and youth of our province are the big losers by a continuation of the near standoff that presently exists," Mr. Hughes wrote in a statement released to the news media on Monday. "The relationship of which I speak is broken and I believe the responsibility to start the necessary repair rests with Premier Campbell."

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Mr. Hughes was responding to a report released earlier in the day by Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, the Representative for Children and Youth, which concluded that the B.C. government has completed only half of Mr. Hughes's recommendations.

"Essentially, I have reached a dead end with the ministry on this subject," she told a news conference. Instead of following through on the Hughes recommendations, she said, the ministry has launched a "transformation" process that amounts to vague plans and inconstant reforms.

Mary Polak, Minister for Children and Family Development, told reporters she will meet with Mr. Hughes but played down any friction between her ministry and the representative.

"We take his concerns seriously when he raises them so I'd like an opportunity to discuss that recommendation with him," Ms. Polak said.

"Our ongoing relationship, day to day, between the office of the representative and the ministry works very, very well."

Mr. Hughes, who wrote to the Premier last May to offer his mediation services, noted that Mr. Campbell has yet to acknowledge his concerns about how the two sides are working to improve the safety net for vulnerable children.

"In my judgment that relationship is now best described as one that is seriously fractured," he stated.

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In 2005, the government appointed Mr. Hughes, who was also the province's first conflict of interest commissioner, to investigate a series of tragic cases of children who died while under government protection.

Mr. Hughes concluded that the government went too far with spending cuts to the safety net for vulnerable children, and that the system had been "buffeted by an unmanageable degree of change."

At a news conference on Monday, Ms. Turpel-Lafond echoed many of his criticisms, saying she's not sure the system is any better today for children at risk.

"After 41/2 years, the opportunity to fundamentally change the child-serving system has not been realized," she said.

She expressed reservations about the "transformation" plan, which she said has resulted in long, drawn-out changes that have left front-line child-protection staff frustrated and confused about what they are supposed to be doing.

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About the Author
B.C. politics reporter

Based in the press gallery of the B.C. Legislature in Victoria, Justine has followed the ups and downs of B.C. premiers since 1988. She has also worked as a business reporter and on Parliament Hill covering national politics. More

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