Jay says somebody tried to get the Prince George media interested in this story last year but the newspaper said they couldn't write about MCFD unless an issue came up in the legislature. Jay was wondering whether this was true when it comes to what the media can or can't do.
While it certainly is easier for media to write about things once they become matters of public record, it's a load of hooey for anyone to suggest that media can't get into MCFD issues until they're raised in the legislature.
Yes, there are publication rules around identifying a child who is in foster care, so media can't name a child. But there's nothing stopping the media from looking into the way MCFD contracts, how much it pays people for those contracts, how it selects its contractors, etc.
I would assume that even the specifics of how a particular group home (or "specialized resource," as MCFD calls the kinds of homes where the Tasering occurred, as they house just one child) is fair game for a media query, as long as the individual children aren't identified by name.
That said, MCFD does make it really, really difficult to get information. Nothing in that piece of mine actually came from the Ministry. I did contact the Public Affairs Bureau, which is what you have to do if you're a media person looking for answers. But I knew from past experience that I would get nothing useful back from their communications people.
So media do need to be prepared to do some sleuthing when they do an MCFD story - but then again, that's the raison d'etre for even having media, isn't it?
It's also much easier for me as a columnist than if I were a reporter - we're both required to have solid sources, be truthful and to be very careful to avoid libel and defamation, but a columnist has more freedom to voice an opinion and present information without saying specifically who the source was.
Fortunately, we are in the age of social media, and need not wait anymore for hometown media to decide whether to cover a story. On-line newspapers like the Tyee would be interested in stories like this one, and there are a number of savvy political bloggers in B.C. who might also do their own digging.
I'd suggest people shop out a wider variety of writers when looking to take a story public, and not just rely on the traditional media. However, all "public" writing is still subject to the libel laws and the Web is still very much the wild, wild west, so seek out proven writers who you trust to do a thorough, responsible piece.
Here's what I got back from MCFD's communications department when I asked them about how they contract for foster homes and what qualifications an operator has to have to get those contracts. Please note that while it may be true that most requests for proposals are posted on BC Bid, that does not appear to have been the case for Jordy Hoover's homes, or for the many other "one-offs" for vulnerable, high-risk children that the Ministry now funds all over the province:
In most cases, requests for proposals to provide residential services are posted on BCBid.com. The specific requirements for each contract varies depending on the individual needs of the children involved. Children and youth living in staffed specialized homes may include children and youth with intellectual or physical disabilities, mental health issues or behavioural difficulties and who are unable to reside in either their own home or a foster home. The requirements for the facility would vary according to the specific challenges of the children it was meant to provide care for.
As an example, there may be a requirement that the proponent possess a knowledge of aboriginal culture, have experience in dealing with physical disabilities, or have expertise in caring for children with complex needs.
For all proponents – new or existing – there are additional requirements for the staff working with clients that would again vary depending on the individual children involved. All staff would need to undergo a criminal record check and would need to be adequately trained and have access to ongoing training and supervision to meet the needs of their respective jobs.
More information can be found in the ministry’s Standards for Staffed Children’s Residential Services at http://www.mcf.gov.bc.ca/child_protection/pdf/standards_residential_services.pdf