Small victory for families living in poverty

A year ago today, Pivot and West Coast Legal Action Fund launched a systemic complaint asking the office of the Ombudsperson to review a policy that reduced a family’s shelter allowance while a child was in temporary foster care. We are happy to report, that last week that policy was amended. 

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Using the law as a catalyst for positive social change, Pivot Legal Society works to improve the lives of marginalized communities.

Before the change, a parent's monthly shelter allowance could be maintained for up to three months after a child was placed in temporary care by the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) with the approval of a financial assistance worker. At the end of the three month period, the shelter allowance was automatically reduced. This often meant that low income parents lost their homes while they were still working to address the MCFDs concerns and get their kids home, making it harder for children to be returned because now the parent did not have adequate accommodation.

The Ombudsperson complaint, brought on behalf of Atira Women’s Resource Society, Battered Women’s Support Services, the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre, and the Kettle Friendship Society alleged that the policy unfairly impacted poor families, and Aboriginal and single mother-lead families in particular.  We argued that the regulation was unfair, given that when a child is in temporary care, the MCFD social worker is working with the family toward reunification.  This process often takes much longer than three months. 

On May 3rd, the Ministry of Social Development revised the income assistance regulations to read that when a dependent child is temporarily in care the shelter allowance may be maintained as long as the parent is actively working on the return of the child. 

This is a really important victory for some of this province's most vulnerable women and children, but it also means a lot to me personally. I came to Pivot in 2006 to work on a report looking at women’s experiences as mothers involved with the child protection system. The end product, Broken Promises, documented women’s interaction with a system that was failing families by failing to provide the support and resources they needed to keep their children healthy and safe.

On several occasions, I remember sitting alone in my office, headphones on and tears running down my face as I transcribed hours of interviews with women, most of whom grew up in government care themselves, whose children had been taken into foster care. What really got to me was the despair mothers felt when they were trying to do the right thing for their kids, but kept running into barriers at every turn. The policy of reducing shelter allowances while a mom was dealing with delays in the court system, waitlists for services and a rotating cast of social workers, was just one of these many walls.

After we finished writing Broken Promises, we were left with the feeling that they whole system needed to be overhauled. We didn’t know where to start. This issue of shelter allowance reductions seemed minor given the scope of the problems we saw in our research, but at the same time, it was so blatantly unjust, so counterproductive and so easy to rectify that we decided to take it on. This small victory has been a long time in the making, and we are happy to be able to take a moment to celebrate what it will mean for families.