The B.C. government has rejected the main recommendation in a new report by the province's children's watchdog, who called on authorities to re-screen relatives who have taken in 4,500 vulnerable children.

The report released Tuesday by children's representative Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond called on the government to stop taking shortcuts and ensure safe and crime-free homes for children in care.

But Children's Minister Mary Polak said she is not prepared to launch a retroactive investigation into the parenting skills of thousands of B.C. grandparents and other relatives.

An audit by the children's representative found risk issues for up to 30 per cent of the children living with relatives who receive government funding under the government's Children in the Home of a Relative program.

The 114-page report, "No Shortcut to Safety: Doing Better for Children Living with Extended Family," concluded some children were living in homes where at least one caregiver had a criminal record, with the primary convictions being assault and drug trafficking.

Turpel-Lafond's report makes 10 recommendations but the primary recommendation was for the children's ministry to re-screen all current relative caregivers by Oct. 1.

"For decades a blind eye was turned to children in the Children in the Home of a Relative program," said Turpel-Lafond at a press conference.

"The government has a responsibility to address this now. The risk of doing nothing is too great. We cannot turn a blind eye to their plight or peril."

But Polak said the government will not re-screen, saying the relative care program is being phased out and replaced by the new Extended Family Program.

"The first thing I want to say to any grandparents and relatives out there who are currently enrolled in the CIHR program is that we are not contemplating retroactively investigating them with respect to child-protection screening," she said.

She rejected the contention in the report that up to 1,000 children are living in homes where they are at risk, saying Turpel-Lafond arrived at that number by concluding that because some children live at low incomes, they are at greater risk.

And she said it was preposterous for the children's representative to suggest the government would not investigate concerns about children living in homes with people with serious criminal records, such as sexual assault.

"That's ridiculous," Polak said. "If we have something that's brought to our attention through screening we certainly act on it."

The report said the government is taking financial and safety shortcuts in programs where children end up in the homes of relatives.

"It appears the government has chosen the lowest cost option," Turpel-Lafond said. "Clearly, this audit says there is not a clear framework for children."

She said the government must start over and re-screen relatives to ensure children are safe.

"Child advocates have raised serious concerns for many years about the well-being of children placed with kin carers, and a concern that these children were 'hidden' or 'invisible' foster children," said the report. "This audit finds much basis for those concerns."

Turpel-Lafond successfully sued the government for access to cabinet documents for the audit of the program, which applies to about 4,500 children in B.C.

Opposition New Democrat children's critic Maurine Karagianis said the report finds that many vulnerable children were placed with relatives and forgotten by the government.