` Columbia Journal - Public Affairs: Yet another two-tier system from the BC Liberals!
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Public Affairs

Yet another two-tier system
from the BC Liberals!

BY WILLIAM PROULX - How low can the Liberals get? Well apparently a lot lower than many had thought, as they take aim at the most vulnerable citizens in the province, the children of the poor and working poor.

One of the draconian cuts the Liberals have brought into legislation is the change to the Income Assistance Regulations that govern payments to persons, mainly grandparents, who have been looking after the children of family members. The Child in the Home of a Relative (CIHR) program has been changed as follows:

Only applicants under 19 years of age, who are living with a blood relative or relative by marriage, who is not the legal guardian of the child or does not have legal custody, are eligible for consideration for assistance through the CIHR program. Relatives with legal guardianship/custody are considered the parents and may apply for assistance with the child listed as a dependent child.

The ramifications of this new legislation are profound. Parents of these children are themselves often living in extreme poverty and have come to either a state of extreme desperation, or have become so dependant upon drugs or alcohol that they lack the judgment to care for their children. The safety and/or well being of these children is often the motivating factor in having moved to a non-parental relative. Many of the relatives who have welcomed these children into their homes are often quite often poor themselves, poverty tending to be a multi-generational phenomenon.

Without additional funding many will not be able to afford the extra cost of additional mouths to feed. Some will be returned to parents with chronic substance abuse problems and others will be returned to abusive homes. Many will be placed in foster homes funded by the Ministry of Children and Family Development.

The emphasis on legal custody/guardianship is another stab in the back to many caregivers, having been advised by the Ministry in the past to seek such status in order to assure the child of a stable living situation, one in which an absentee parent could not take the child away at any time and return him or her when it became either impossible or inconvenient to continue care themselves. Now this advice is being used to legislate away their ability to afford to continue providing care to these children.

This latest cost cutting measure came into effect May 1st, but an immediate outcry seemed to result in a change of heart or at least some backpedaling by MHR in a damage control attempt. Within days Ministry officials sought to calm the protest by issuing these supposedly cancelled cheques.

This battle is far from over however. Ministry officials notified the CIHR caregivers that they had a one-month grace period while Ministers Coell and Hogg attended a meeting in order to resolve the issue. The present grace period may possibly be extended even further into the summer months as other means of assessing eligibility are considered.

Good news? Hardly, as the tactics of this government are to backpedal in order to appear to give in, but never to completely back down. Coell and his controllers wish to 'reduce the numbers of persons who are on income assistance'. This concept of 'reduction' rather than social responsibility is the one factor that the Liberal ideology cannot free itself from, no matter how erroneous a factor it may be.

The next stage the CIHR caregivers fear is the reviving of a previously threatened 'means test' as a means of reducing their numbers. This would mean that legislation would be changed in order that MHR have the power to demand an accounting of how many dollars are earned within a household in which a CIHR child resides. Wages, pensions, RRSPs, insurance policies, even the earnings of other non-relative residents could be factored in to the equation as the Liberal's continue their policy of 'cut costs at any price'. BC Liberals do not remember that the ends do not always justify the means.

Projected cost savings are an illusion as every dollar that Minister Coell saves from the MHR budget will result in hundreds more being spent by MCFD. Every child that goes into foster care is going to cost far more than the equivalent care provided by a relative.

In addition, there are added costs if the child is special needs, having medical, developmental, behavioural or emotional problems, costs possibly rising over two thousand dollars per child. Currently under CIHR many special needs children are cared for by loving and understanding grandparents instead of being placed into foster care. Current policy changes will mean the difference between relatives caring for a family child or having the child placed into Foster Care, possibly lost to the birth family forever. First Nations communities exposed to similar tactics practiced during past decades still carry painful and increasingly costly wounds.

Heather Clarry is the canadian representative for The National Child Rescue Organization and founder of Child Rescue BC, an organization, which in Clarry's words was "formed to advocate for parents and families who have had their child or children apprehended by the Ministry of Children and Family Development without valid proof of being a danger to their child's well-being."

Clarry is concerned that cuts to programs that allow children to remain in the homes of relatives will lead to an increase in child apprehensions and trauma to these children as their lives are unnecessarily disrupted. MCFD Child Protection enforcement has been controversial since before the Gove inquiry and it remains even more so as the ministry shifts more such responsibilities to for-profit contractors.

Mary Collins, President of South Island Metis Nation and an alternate Zone Director for the United Native Nations Vancouver Island region receives several phone calls daily from worried, stressed and fearful parents and grandparents each day asking how they and the children affected are to survive.

Collins credits CIHR caregiver protests with the extension in benefits at this time. She is hopeful that the program can be saved and with every opportunity reminds Ministry officials of the responsibility of government to uphold the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, a document that Canada is a signatory to. Collins further advocates keeping pressure on the BC Liberals. In these strange times where government follows a strategy of constant change on every front, where the rich profit by stealing from the poor, where the rights and freedoms of BC citizens are increasingly tied to power and status and where we are witnessing the emergence of a new aristocracy, it seems that we are living in the midst of some "Mad Hatter's Tea Party."

This feeling of unreality took another turn following the findings of a committee of Alberta provincial government backbenchers. They recommended the rethinking of the right wing ideology driven approaches to welfare, and proposed "paying extended family members to look after children whose parents work in low income jobs" and "linking housing allowances to the cost of living in a region where the recipient lives" both of which have been recommended by anti-poverty groups in BC for years.




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