Systemic Change – One Policy at a Time

Through our work at Battered Women’s Support Services we have witnessed first hand the ways in which systems and institutions increase women’s vulnerability to violence and abuse while entrenching women in relationships to experience harm.  Children and youth witness their mother’s abuse by a father or father figure which is considered a child welfare issue.  Therefore, women may come to the attention of the Ministry of Child and Family Development and may have their children removed from their care if the women return to the abusive relationships.  The reality of women staying, leaving and returning to abusive relationships, on average seven times, puts women in a bind particularly when the system that is designed to help children then has policies which discriminate against women when they’re victims of abuse including sexual and physical violence.

The Ministry of Children and Family Development tends to interpret their policies as emphasizing the non abusive parent as responsible and placing the entire onus of children and youth safety on the abused woman and largely, ignore the violence and abuse of the husband or boyfriend.  

There is a complex network of policies and practices that intersect and interact to discriminate, one year ago, West Coast LEAF and Pivot filed a complaint on behalf of Atira Women’s Resource Society,  the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre, Kettle Friendship Society and Battered Women’s Support Services and as outlined in the following media release, West Coast LEAF and Pivot celebrate with Battered Women’s Support Services about one discriminatory policy change.


Discriminatory policy amended – community groups celebrate the change 

Exactly one year after calling on the Ombudsperson of British Columbia to investigate a discriminatory shelter allowance rule that kept kids in foster care longer, Pivot and West Coast LEAF have learned that the policy has been amended.

"This policy was an example of two Ministries working directly against each other, and in the end it was vulnerable children and families paying the price,” says Darcie Bennett of Pivot Legal Society. "On the one hand, when a child is taken into care, social workers are responsible for returning children safely to their parents as soon as possible. On the other hand, the system made that impossible by taking away the housing necessary for the child to be returned.”

Previously, the Employment and Assistance Regulation reduced a parent’s monthly shelter allowance three months after their child or children were placed in temporary care by the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD). This meant that low income parents lost their homes and struggled to get their kids back.

The Ombudsperson complaint was filed on May 12, 2010 and alleged that the policy unfairly impacted poor families, and single mothers in particular.  The complainants also 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, and the process often takes much longer than three months.   

The complaint was 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.

On May 3rd 2011, 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.    

“We are happy to see the change” says Amber Prince, Legal Advocate with Atira Women’s Resource Society "when we filed this complaint, our hope was that it would result in the necessary changes to prevent children from being kept in care unnecessarily. We are glad there is one less barrier to family reunification.”