NDP MLA Carole James said services for at-risk children and youth in B.C. are "woefully inadequate" but can be solved if the government puts more resources into the sector.
"I want to see the Premier stand up in the way she stands up and talks about natural gas - I want to see her stand up and talk about children and families with the same passion and the same resources and the same urgency," James said Tuesday as she visited Prince George in her role as the critic for child and family development. "Natural gas is important and will be important for jobs, resources and income in this province, but if we don't provide for those children . . . then what kind of province are we going to be?"
James and NDP deputy critic Jennifer Rice met with a range of service providers in Prince George on Tuesday to discuss the challenges they face and what needs to be done to fix the system.
Among the constant messages they heard was the need for both more funding and more stability in the way programs are managed. James is concerned by things like an eight-month wait time for some children to access mental health care and foster children who are moved 10 times in the first six years of their lives.
James said constant reorganization within the Ministry of Children and Family Development has left some agencies scrambling to figure out who they're supposed to deal with. She said it's particularly difficult for service providers on short, one-year contracts.
"How do you provide stability, for example, if your contract is going to expire in a month and nobody has come to negotiate with you?" James asked. "How worried do your staff become? Do they worry that they might lost their jobs in a month? How do you provide stable funding if your contract is going to be renewed?"
James said agencies are seeing children with more complex needs than in the past, which adds to the challenge of providing services.
"It used to be in many areas that kids would come in with needs that could be easily addressed," she said. "Now they're seeing children coming in with multiple needs, poverty issues, children in care, mental health issues, younger children coming in with those kinds of challenges."
According to James, many social service organizations have been forced to deal with shrinking budgets for the better part of a decade and can't afford any more cuts. She said funding programs now will pay off down the road.
"If we don't put the resources in now for these children and youth, we're going to pay later," she said. "If we don't provide support for a young person with mental health issues, you're going to be paying for that young person in everything from the justice system and crime to health care, for the rest of their life."
James and Rice will use the information they gathered during the trip to question the government during the next sitting of the legislature in February. In the interim James said she's willing to work with the government to improve service, but if that fails she will speak out.
"I'm also prepared to be loud and vocal when I see services and supports not being provided," she said. "I can't think of a more important role for government than providing services for children and families."