First, a warning...
This will be a long post to try and fully explain the situation and, hopefully, bring this matter to a close.
So feel free, particularly if you've been following along all week, to skip immediately to the last section of the post.
At the beginning of the week I published a post in which I asked two very specific questions of the Minister responsible for British Columbia's Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) regarding any and all changes to what we presumed had been a longstanding practice that made it possible for front-line social workers to buy separate gifts for children under the Ministry's care who are NOT in foster care, specifically as Christmas and/or Holiday presents at this particular time of the year.
I asked this question because of a detailed back-and-forth discussion that I had with a reader who convinced me that they are very knowledgable about how things work on the ground at the MCFD.
Regarding this specific issue, our reader was concerned that, due to budget contraints at the Ministry, social workers had been told not to buy separate Christmas/Holiday gifts up to maximum value of ~$50 for these kids this year.
With that set-up, which I outlined in a detailed post on Monday, here are the two questions I orginally asked:
Question #1: Have social workers in the MCFD been told they are not allowed to purchase (separate) Christmas gifts for the children and youth in government (but not foster) care?
Question #2: Is it true that social workers who have already bought (separate) gifts for children and youth in government (but not foster) care are being told to return those gifts?
(Please note: I added the 'separate' and 'but not foster' care qualifiers here, for clarity, because I noted that both were important aspects of the questions in the original post)
Soon thereafter, based in large part on the attention brought to this matter by many other bloggers and social media users including Norm Farrell, Ian Reid, North Van's Grumps, Merv Adey and Paul Willcocks, as well as additional information provided by Laila Yuile, the Ministry sent out the following statement:
"Any claim that the ministry will not be supplying Christmas gifts for children in care is absolutely inaccurate and it is very concerning that this erroneous message was sent to a client. In fact, social workers are encouraged to ensure every child and youth in care receives gifts during the holiday season.
Funding to cover gifts for children and youth in care is built-in to monthly payments the ministry sends to foster parents. For children and youth living independently or on Youth Agreements, ministry staff are authorized and encouraged to ensure those young people are remembered over the holidays and gifts are provided."
As a result, on Wednesday morning I concluded that the statement did NOT answer my original questions, particularly as it pertained to social workers (i.e. not 'Ministry Staff') buying separate (i.e. not part of some other fee/funding program/schedule to be used for other events and/or gifts) Christmas/Holiday presents for children who are not in foster care.
Therefore, I let the questions stand.
All was quiet until late Wednesday afternoon when an Anonymous commenter left an E-mail on the attached thread that was purportedly sent to all MCFD staff from Mr. Doug Hughes, the Provincial Director of Child Welfare, and Ms. Beverly Dicks, the Assistant Deputy Minister for Service Delivery in the MCFD. Initially, I commented on the E-mail briefly in a short post Thursday morning but I did not bring it to the front page because I couldn't immediately authenticate it.
Then, late Thursday morning, Laila, who has really done a lot of the legwork on this one, received a confirmation, in writing, from an MCFD spokesperson that the Email was authentic and that it was, indeed, sent out to all MCFD staff.
Therefore, I am now publishing the pertinent portions of that Email below (in quotes, bolded and in italics) with my comments interspersed between each section:
You may be aware that there are reports in social media that the Ministry will not be supplying Christmas gifts to children in care. This is not accurate and there has been no change to the current practice regarding gifts for children and youth in care. We would like to clarify the use of some discretionary funding for children in the care of the director under the Child, Family and Community Service Act..."
OK....So far so good... Mr. Hughes and Ms. Dicks appear to be telling their staff that 'current' practice has not changed and that there is, indeed, discretionary funding available for kids in the care of Mr Hughes... What's more, I think most reasonable readers would also conclude from this first paragraph that this discretionary funding could be used for separate Christmas presents...
"...The vast majority of our children in care are placed with foster care families and part of the maintenance payment they receive from the ministry is to cover presents for events and milestones in the child or youth’s life which would include holiday gifts..."
Hmmmm....Once again the issue of kids in foster care has been raised...So, to be very precise here, once again...In the original post we made it very clear that we were referring to kids who are NOT in foster care.
"...For those children and youth where this is not the case then the child/youth worker has the ability and is encouraged to purchase a small gift..."
Now, finally, it appears that we are going to get to the heart of the original matter....Mr. Hughes and Ms. Dicks are telling staff that frontline workers have the ability (from the 'discretionary' funds mentioned in the first paragraph, above?) to purchase a 'small' gift (presumably a separate Christmas gift as was implied in the first paragraph, above?)...
So, given all that, the next passage is, to say the very least, somewhat surprising...
"...As has been the case in previous years, this purchase would be under the umbrella of recognizing milestones and other important events for a child or youth where the purchases of small gifts are allowed up to a maximum yearly amount of $100 per child or youth..."
What?...An umbrella?....Recognizing milestones?.. And other important events?...Up to a yearly amount of $100 per kid?...So...Mr. Hughes and Ms. Dicks are telling all their staff that there is no discretionary funding available for separate Christmas and/or Holiday presents...Alrighty then....I guess that answers my original questions...To be more explicit, I conclude from this that Mr. Hughes and Ms Dicks are telling social workers that there are no discretionary funds to purchase separate Christmas presents up to a maximum of, for example, $50...Furthermore, and I think that this may be a very important point for longtime MCFD staff, Mr. Hughes and Ms. Dicks are also stating that it has NOT been either past and/or 'current' practice to make it possible for frontline workers to buy such separate Christmas gifts for the kids they work with who are not in foster care.
You could argue that this is all just quibbling.
Let's step back and look at the bigger picture for a moment.
The Director of Child Welfare and the Assistant Deputy Minister responsible for Service Delivery in the MCFD have just explicitly told people working with kids who need our collective help most that the most they can spend on them for milestones and important events (birthdays...goal setting...task completion...end of school...getting good grades...and everything else, including separate Christmas/Holiday presents) is $100.
Because, I suppose, we have other critical spending priorities in this province.
As a result, we just don't have any money for, say, an extra $50 for separate Christmas presents for these kids.
And, what's more, according to the Email above we've never done that sort of thing in the past anyway.
And, apparently, we sure as heck aren't going to start now.
The entire Email (with preamble), as it came to us in the comments late Wednesday is printed in full, for the record, below:
The office of the Provincial Director of Child Welfare said...
We just want to ensure you are aware the following email was issued to MCFD staff today:
You may be aware that there are reports in social media that the Ministry will not be supplying Christmas gifts to children in care. This is not accurate and there has been no change to the current practice regarding gifts for children and youth in care. We would like to clarify the use of some discretionary funding for children in the care of the director under the Child, Family and Community Service Act.
The vast majority of our children in care are placed with foster care families and part of the maintenance payment they receive from the ministry is to cover presents for events and milestones in the child or youth’s life which would include holiday gifts.
For those children and youth where this is not the case then the child/youth worker has the ability and is encouraged to purchase a small gift. As has been the case in previous years, this purchase would be under the umbrella of recognizing milestones and other important events for a child or youth where the purchases of small gifts are allowed up to a maximum yearly amount of $100 per child or youth.
We would appreciate your assistance in reviewing this with your Community Service Managers, Team Leaders and Social Workers who are responsible for providing services to children and youth in care.
Provincial Director of Child Welfare
ADM Service Delivery