Privacy before Transparency…a real connection

We live in an age which cries out for transparency. We have the technology to make revelation and exposure almost unavoidable. Many of us demand disclosure; who knew what, when, where, how, and why?

Who is responsible? We always want to know who is responsible.

I follow the activities of The Representative for Children and Youth fairly closely. Her reports over the past few years have shone an impressive and unrelenting light on our child welfare system. The needs of the most vulnerable children in the Province of BC have, over and over again, been brought to our attention.

Though I am a decade and a half away from the demanding and dark cut and thrust of child protection, these situations of system failure at worse, of human failure at best, that seem to repeat themselves with an agonizing regularity, with a sombre sense of inevitability, haunt me.

I am not naïve enough to suggest that I know what might make a difference, other than to submit that with enough committed, energized and creative personnel and a wealth of appropriate resources, there might be fewer lives shattered.

As I write this, hundreds of migrant’s lives have been lost in the Mediterranean in the past few days. Both our macro and micro rescue and salvage systems are being challenged in ways that must constantly be reconfigured. It may be ill-advised to compare the almost incomprehensible complexity of the world’s migrant dilemma with our child welfare system. I only do so to remind myself that some things in our immediate world are there to grasp and to manage.

Earlier this month, an unusual report, Approach With Caution: Why the Story of One Vulnerable B.C. Youth Can’t be Told, was issued by Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond.

In very guarded language, we are told next to nothing about the life of the youth who is the subject of the report. Both MCFD and the Representative are seemingly in accord that the privacy of this youth trumps transparency.

The youth’s current situation seems to be partially summarized as follows: “For the young person who is the subject of the RCY investigation, the initial efforts to stabilize them in a new placement failed and resulted in their returning to an SRO in the DTES. After months without any effective ministry supervision, a compromise was reached that placed the young person with a former caregiver. Although the new placement was an unconventional one and represented a significant deviation from standard ministry practice, the caregiver has maintained a real connection to the young person and may represent the best hope currently available, although meaningful stability remains elusive.”

Such a statement resonates with me. I can think of a dozen or more situations from my social work time that could easily be described in much the same language. Although it is hard to know the specifics of this particular case, the placing of a youth with a “former caregiver,” in my rather jaded experience, has never been “unconventional.” More frequently, it was serendipitous and slightly magical. The child welfare system has always seemed to me to access caregivers who have “maintained a real connection” with a range of youth seeking, needing, crying out for a real connection.

The report ends with the following: “This is a difficult situation with very little positive to report, other than to record the Representative’s most serious concern for the youth who was the subject of this investigation and the more than 100 others in B.C. who are in a similar situation.“

I truly hope that there are no more than 100 other youth who are at the same level of risk as the youth alluded to in this latest report. Personally, I imagine the number, 100, is optimistic.


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