Strategic Thoughts

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October 22, 2006

Well-Intentioned Incompetence

"I do want to record my strong conviction that all of the officials involved with this case, within the limitations of their skills, knowledge and existing mindsets, acted in good faith in the course of fulfilling their responsibilities."
Jane Morley, Investigation into the continued placement of children, p. 134.

Imagine what would have happened if any of the officials who were involved with Sherry Charlie and her brother had acted in bad faith! Morley's report is highly critical of the coroner's service, which apparently believes that it is above the law which requires anyone who believes that a child needs protection to promptly report the matter. It would be a mistake to think that failure to remove Sherry's brother from the home was solely due to the coroner's service not sharing information. Secrets are hard to keep in small communities where everyone knows everyone else. Usma, the aboriginal child protection agency, should have been able to act in the absence of the coroner's report. Morley's report awkwardly said: "The reality of close ties of Aboriginal agency workers with the families and communities they serve is not a reason not to give Aboriginal agencies child welfare authority, but it is a reason to make sure that in unusual circumstances such as this, these agencies are fully supported by outside resources that can bring fresh eyes to the situation and apply expert knowledge that will reveal a pattern different from the one that is seen from a close perspective."

Morley wrote that agencies could read her report and make reasonable adjustments to their own practices. That may be an enormous leap of faith that will require follow-up by the new Representative for Children and Youth, should the legislative committee ever stop stalling on the hiring process. Morley made only one recommendation, the adoption of multi-agency child death teams. Based on experience in Michigan and California, Morley wrote: "With multi-agency child death teams, the core team includes representatives from the coroner, the police, prosecuting lawyers, child protection authorities, pediatricians with child abuse expertise, and health professionals, including public health nurses. The team responds at the local level immediately after the death. Police, child protection workers, coroners and public health nursing team members all conduct home visits and investigations."

Morley called on the government to take immediate action on her single recommendation. That call wasn't mentioned in her three page covering letter to the Attorney General, but on page 135 of her 182 page report she wrote: "I advise the government to commit itself to pursuing this multi-agency approach and move ahead on it now. Public policy initiatives are often motivated by public reaction to an individual case. The death of the Nuu-chah-nulth child in 2002 has triggered many significant public policy recommendations. This report is unique in that the focus has been not on the causes of a child's death, but on the interests of the living children." (emphasis added)

When the government stalled on implementing the recommendation of Ted Hughes to appoint a Representative for Children and Youth, Hughes publicly criticized the government and its backbenchers for their delay. Morley should take a similar position in advocating for the immediate implementation of her recommendation.


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2006 David D. Schreck. All Rights Reserved.