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Child advocate says protection system failing

Representative for Children and Youth Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond - Black Press
Representative for Children and Youth Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond
— image credit: Black Press

VICTORIA – B.C. government officials say the latest problems in their new computer system for child protection files are being fixed after a week of disruptions, but the province's independent child advocate says she's heard that before.

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond told a committee of MLAs Wednesday that the Integrated Case Management (ICM) computer system hasn't worked consistently since it was put in place two years ago. The system records information for social workers on threats to children, court protection orders and general information on social assistance and children in government care.

The latest failure may have left safety warnings unrecorded, and social workers could be entering a home without knowing if there are weapons or other threats, Turpel-Lafond said. She called for an independent review of the $180 million computer system to see if it is adequate.

"They launched this, and it didn't work," Turpel-Lafond said. "It couldn't print a report for court for six months. Furthermore, it has been launched in other jurisdictions and failed. The same product was used in Australia and didn't work."

Citizens' Services Minister Andrew Wilkinson assured reporters Wednesday that the ICM system had been restored to full operation. That changed by the afternoon question period, when NDP critic Carole James said calls were still coming in about system failures. Wilkinson said the system was being "rebooted" again after another crash.

Children and Family Development Minister Stephanie Cadieux said social workers have backup protocols when the computer system is down for power failures or other emergencies. They take reports on paper and phone urgent information to other offices, as they do when ministry offices are closed, Cadieux said.

Social Development Minister Don McRae said regular social assistance payments were processed normally on April 24, and his ministry staff have the ability to issue emergency assistance payments as needed by issuing paper cheques.

Turpel-Lafond said she had a call in the past week from a father of three young children who couldn't get a payment because no one in the office knew how to issue a cheque. And she said the loss of domestic violence warnings for social workers and police is an ongoing problem.

"Everybody who works in the child welfare safety system knows that you need to keep good identifying information about the adults in a child's life," Turpel-Lafond said.

James said there have also been reports that emergency meal vouchers and grocery cards were not available from social assistance offices due to recent problems with the ICM system.

 

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