Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond is B.C.'s Representative for Children and Youth.

Computer chaos threatens B.C.’s at-risk kids: watchdog

New system thwarts searches, adds to data entry time

Children under the protection of the province may be unsafe because of the government’s disastrous rollout of a new computer database to track files, according to B.C.’s independent children’s representative.

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond issued the warning Thursday, saying the new Integrated Case Management system has proved deeply flawed since its April launch for child protection staff.

“I cannot be confident that child safety can be assured,” she said. “Immediate steps are necessary to prevent harm and stabilize the front line staff who are overwhelmed by this ill-planned process.”

The $182-million system was supposed to reduce the time child protection workers spend on data entry, give them better access to information across multiple ministries and free them up to work more with children and families.

But Turpel-Lafond said her office has been bombarded by staff complaints it’s had the opposite effect.

The new system is hard to search because it’s overly case sensitive, health and safety alerts are hard to find and duplicate files on the same child are easy to create, according to her findings.

The overall complexity of the system means information on an incident that used to take less than half an hour to record “can take most of a day.”

Caseload reports now print very slowly and a screen of information is too large to print to a single page, so it now comes out split across four printed pages.

In one recent case, Turpel-Lafond said the new system slowed efforts to dispatch police when a crisis call came in that only gave the mother’s first name, because it wasn’t first name-searchable.

“The family was at risk while social workers were frantically trying to identify the family and obtain the address.”

She also noted the rollout of the new system happened with no contingency plan if it didn’t work, including no capability to revert to the old system.

Children and Family Development Minister Mary McNeil said the magnitude of problems are “unexpected and deeply concerning.”

An action plan is being developed and an extra $12 million has been deployed to assist staff, she said.

“We are committed to making this work,” she said of the ICM system. “Moving backwards is not an option.”

Experienced child protection workers will be trained to help assist other staff with the shift, McNeil said.

The ministry will also hire up to 100 auxiliary child protection workers and 50 auxiliaries to assist child protection workers with administrative duties.