If you are a child in need of protection in the NWT, there’s a good chance you will be moved in with a family without basic checks including home studies, family background and criminal record checks or even in-person interviews according to a new federal report.
There’s also a good chance that you won’t have regular communication with your case worker.
That’s according to a 41 page assessment by the Auditor General of Canada that paints a grim pictureof the delivery of child protection services in the Northwest Territories.
Yet this is not a new story.
This year’s audit is a follow up to a 2014 audit of the territory’s department of Health and its Health and Social Services Authorities (HSSAs).
“We audited the same area in 2014 and what we found then was sufficiently concerning that we knew we needed to reexamine these important services for vulnerable children,” said Glenn Wheeler, the lead auditor in an opening statement.
“Many of the services provided to children and families that we examined were worse than in 2014,” he said.
Auditors reviewed a selection of 37 child files and 37 foster care files to determine whether the Department and the Health and Social Services (HSSA) authorities met key responsibilities under the Child and Family Services Act.
The HSSA, who is responsible for protecting kids’ well being, has not maintained contact with many of the children in care.
According the report, 90 per cent of the cases examined found that authorities did not keep in regular contact with children in foster care or other placements. That is up from 60 per cent recorded in the 2014 audit.
Kids in permanent care were moved 12 times on average according to the report.
From April 2016 and March 2017, three kids in permanent care were moved five times. One child moved 20 times.
Wheeler also gave a “disturbing” example of a child who was not properly supervised when placed out of the territory.
One of those kids ran away from care and was missing for a week. Officials did not know who was responsible for managing their return.
The report showed that the health authorities haven’t made much head-way after the failed 2014 audit which showed authorities did not “adequately screen” foster homes before placing kids there.
In the 2018 report, only one out of every three foster care homes were screened properly. Similarly the assessment showed the authorities did not conduct annual reviews to ensure kids were well cared for
Since the last audit the required level of service for kids hasn’t altered and the number of kids needing care and protection in the past decade has remained consistent.
On average authorities put 1,000 kids per year under protection or prevention services within the Child and Family Services Act – 98 per cent of them are Indigenous.
Wheeler acknowledged that child welfare services are not easy to deliver but said several times in the press conference: “We are deeply concerned by the findings in this audit.”
He stressed the urgency of the Department and the Health authority to work together.
“Children will remain at risk until they make the changes they said were critical and that they committed to making,” Wheeler said.
The 2014 audit made 11 recommendations and the territory’s department of Health and health and social services authorities agreed to follow all 11.
Once again they are promising to follow all 11 recommendations for 2018 recommendations.
A lot of action plans government personnel shuffling.
The same year as the 2014 audit, “Building Stronger Families Action Plan” was put established by the territorial government, aimed at increasing accountability for front-line workers.
In 2016, six of the eight regional HSSAs were combined under one larger authority called the Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority (NTHSSA).
The territorial government claimed the objective was to improve services.
According to the report the changes that were implemented did not have enough resources or support to enact change and in some cases children and families received worse services.
“There was a lot of emphasis on changing the administrative processes,” Wheeler said.
“These were introduced to a system that in many ways was overburdened.”
He cautioned that the department has not yet determined the appropriate staffing and resources needed to deliver requirements laid out.
This means front line workers are wearing multiple hats and there are gaps in monitoring the whereabouts and ultimately well being of kids.
A full territorial government response to the audit will be posted in the following days.