Michael Smyth: B.C.’s problem-plagued computer system puts kids at risk — and costs taxpayers

May 8, 2014

It was a case of déjà vu all over again for B.C. social workers when their $200-million computer system did its latest crash and burn.

The Integrated Case Management system was supposed to streamline and link computer files across ministries that care for poor children, disabled people and troubled families racked by addiction, mental illness and violence.

But it’s been plagued with problems for years, and now the government admits it crashed completely over the past week, forcing social workers to dig out old paper files — where they existed.

“The staff are working hard. They are using the traditional paper-and-pencil method,” Social Development Minister Don McRae said Wednesday.

Not good enough for Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, the province’s independent watchdog for children and youth, who called for an outside audit of the system.

She said the malfunctioning computer network puts vulnerable children in danger.

“Every social worker investigating every call, every case, cannot access information about the family,” she said.

“That means a social worker today going out to a home to remove a child will not know whether in that home there are weapons, won’t even know, perhaps, the last known address of the child, or who will be in the home.”

As the alarm bells got louder, the government trotted out Andrew Wilkinson to extinguish the flames.

“The system is back up and running normally,” the notoriously smug technology minister announced.

But that reassurance lasted about an hour, after the NDP ripped the government in question period.

“We’ve continued to get calls to say that the system has crashed again,” said NDP MLA Carole James.

And Darryl Walker, head of the union that represents social workers, said the system comes on only intermittently.

“Then bang! It will crash again,” he said.

As the complaints piled up, a frustrated-looking Wilkinson changed his tune.

“It’s now gone down again and I’m not at all happy about this,” he said, while McRae, his cabinet colleague, tried to put it all in perspective: “To say there won’t ever be hiccups is something we can’t do. Look, Windows 8 didn’t go very well.”

Turpel-Lafond’s response: “These aren’t just hiccups. This has been a disaster.”

Here’s where that déjà vu kicks in: Turpel-Lafond and other critics have been exposing the system’s problems since 2012, when the government said it had launched an “action plan” to fix them.

Not much of a plan. And it has cost B.C. taxpayers millions, while putting vulnerable kids at even greater risk.



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