CLBC families not so first for Liberals

THE ongoing train wreck that has become Community Living B.C. is, perhaps more than any other area of government, threatening to shred Premier Christy Clark's so-called "families first" agenda of all credibility.

The families that depend on CLBC for badly needed support can be forgiven if they fail to see any point in a government bragging about putting families first in any way, shape or form.

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The six-year-old organization - created to help adults with developmental disabilities - is now in full crisis mode, as near-daily revelations of insensitive treatment, service cuts or sheer incompetence have badly tarnished the public's trust in CLBC.

It has also become nearimpossible for the government to provide any credible response to calls for an independent inquiry of CLBC's operations, other than acceding to such an inquiry immediately.

Currently, only an internal review is occurring. The problem with internal reviews is that they don't necessarily challenge decisions that have been made or question the value of policies that are set in stone.

Many of CLBC's problems seem to stem from poor decision-making and policies that were poorly thought out.

They also flow from a severe budget problem. The case load is growing at a much faster clip than funding levels are, so it's not hard to see that problems are going to continue to mount if funding isn't increased significantly.

The waitlist for services is already at around 2,800, and that doesn't include families who have simply given up waiting for CLBC to do anything for them.

Faced with mounting budget pressures, CLBC has been literally squeezing its own clients. Group homes are being closed (some for good reason, no doubt) but parents are being left in the dark about care plans for their children in the system.

Some adults are being pushed into home-share arrangements, which are a cheaper alternative to group homes. But evidence has surfaced that suggests a serious lack of training and oversight is plaguing some of those homeshares.

There have been allegations of bullying by CLBC staff, conflict-of-interest among service providers, and the rewriting of internal reports to cover up budget concerns.

In other words, it's a complete mess.

Already, the scandal has cost the former CEO his job, and forced the cabinet minister responsible to be dumped from his post. In retrospect, it seems the former minister - Harry Bloy - may not deserve all the criticism directed his way at the time. Bloy was simply dealt a very bad hand by his own people. CLBC has been a time bomb waiting to explode, and unfortunately for Bloy, the pin was pulled when he was given the job.

The CLBC brass no doubt is thinking this month-long round of negative media coverage has peaked, but their troubles may only be starting, although this may be a good thing.

Mary-Ellen Turpel-Lafond, the province's independent advocate for children, now wants to widen her office's scope to include 19-to 24-yearolds. Such a proposal would put the tenacious Turpel-Lafond squarely in the midst of many CLBC activities, as she would have the power to go in and independently assess whether CLBC was doing adequate work or not when it came to those young adults.

Her argument for extended powers is being supported by Ted Hughes, who can single-handedly stare down any government when it comes to social policies. Hughes and Turpel-Lafond together are not a team I would suggest the B.C. Liberals take on as adversaries, unless they want their collective noses badly bloodied.

In fact, perhaps this is just what CLBC needs. Allowing someone like Turpel-Lafond to peel back the curtains and make her own assessment could be the start of a top-to-bottom makeover of a social agency that has so badly lost its way.

Public trust in CLBC has been seriously eroded and only external and independent forces stand any chance of regaining any notion of confidence. An independent review seems the only viable alternative.

However, if CLBC continues on adrift and unchecked, and if improvements aren't forthcoming quickly, the premier should quietly end any further talk of a "families first" agenda.

When a government is actually hurting families through its policies, pretending those families actually come "first" in any fashion rings rather hollow.

Keith.Baldrey@globalnews.ca Keith Baldrey is chief political correspondent for Global BC.

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