Following a report issued by the BC Ombudsperson which unveiled a misappropriation of funds by the Ministry of Children and Family Services, the ministry has agreed to pay over $7,000 in previously withheld funds to a family caring for their Indigenous granddaughter. IndigiNews file photoPhilip McLachlan, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Jun 09, 2022 at 13:43

By Philip McLachlan, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Knowingly withholding money from a family raising an Indigenous child with mental and physical challenges has landed the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) in hot water.

A report released at the end of May by the B.C. Office of the Ombudsperson has found that the Ministry of Children and Family Services acted “unjustly” by failing to forward federal disability benefits to two grandparents caring for their granddaughter.

The B.C. ombudsperson is an independent voice that investigates complaints from the public against government programs and services. Its report explains in detail the lives of “The Taylors”, who filed a complaint to the office after the funding they were supposed to receive, never arrived.

It explains that even though the family was eligible for the federal Child Disability Benefit (CDB), the more than $7,000 they were supposed to receive ($242 per month since 2019) was instead deposited into “general provincial revenues.” This happened, according to the ombudsperson, because the family was already being supported by the province, even though that funding was unrelated to their granddaughter’s disability. 

The family had been successful in applying for the Disability Tax Credit, which made them eligible for monthly support payments from the federal government. However, since the provincial ministry was “maintaining” their granddaughter’s case, the ministry received the funding first and instead of passing it onto the family, it deposited it into its general revenue accounts.

What’s more, ombudsperson Jay Chalke states the ministry knew of this problem, yet failed to pursue a solution and get the money to the family. 

To make matters worse, it wasn’t just happening to the Taylors. 

“The Taylors were short-changed more than $7,000, and other families in the same position were similarly deprived of funds specifically intended for essential care needs,” said Chalke in the report. 

“Our investigation confirmed what was known by both the Taylors and the ministry: the Taylors, and other caregivers in similar situations, had not been treated fairly.”

Two years to find solution

Once Chalke and their team found out about the issue, it took more than two years to find a solution. 

Chalke called this case “disturbing on a couple of levels,” adding that it highlights “the interplay between provincial and federal benefits and what can happen when these linkages break.”

As a result of this investigation, the ministry has since agreed to pay the Taylors what they are owed, however, this didn’t save the ministry from receiving criticism in Chalke’s report. 

“I am pleased that the ministry is now flowing an amount equivalent to the Child Disability Benefit through to these caregivers but, given the impact on children with disabilities and their caregivers I would have expected that when this problem was identified, the ministry would have remedied it immediately,” Chalke said. 

“For families caring for children with disabilities, every dollar matters and it’s not acceptable that the Taylors and families like them were short-changed at the time and are only this year being promised funds that they should have received years ago.”

Going forward, Chalke made four recommendations: provide ongoing funding to caregivers like the Taylors, pay outstanding benefits retroactively, support delegated agencies applying similar “practices,” and report all progress in remedying inequalities with regards to the CDB benefit to the Ombudsperson. 

Chalke added the ministry has accepted all recommendations, and took it one step further, reaching out to the Federal Minister of National Revenue, suggesting a “review of policies and procedures in cases like the Taylors so that the federal government is doing what it can to ensure fairness for caregivers and children.”

Ministry refuses interview

The MCFD did not agree to an interview with IndigiNews but provided a statement confirming it has implemented all recommendations made by the ombudsperson. It said ensuring children living with disabilities have access to fair and effective funding is a priority. 

Beginning this past February, the ministry says it has been retroactively delivering three years worth of monthly payments, equivalent to the Federal Child Disability Benefit (the funding withheld from the Taylors), to eligible families.

No clarification was provided as to how long the ministry waited when bureaucrats or the minister knew there was a problem with the family’s funding, as stated in the ombudsperson’s report.

IndigiNews asked why the ministry thought it appropriate to deposit federal disability funds into its general revenue account, and if it chose to remedy the problem on its own free will or if it waited until prompted by the Ombudsperson. The ministry did not provide a direct answer. Instead, a spokesperson said that “when this matter was brought to our attention, we took action to fix it with the affected ministries and the federal government.”

To read the full report, click here.

This item reprinted with permission from The Discourse, Vancouver, British Columbia