Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut March 20, 2014 - 11:40 am

Auditor General: Nunavut child protection still falls short

Minister of Family Services says report will strengthen government response

PETER VARGA
Michelle Salvail, principal auditor for the Auditor General of Canada’s Follow-up Report on Child and Family Services for Nunavut, visited Iqaluit March 18 with the assistant auditor general, Ronnie Campbell, when the document was tabled in the legislative assembly. (PHOTO BY PETER VARGA)
Michelle Salvail, principal auditor for the Auditor General of Canada’s Follow-up Report on Child and Family Services for Nunavut, visited Iqaluit March 18 with the assistant auditor general, Ronnie Campbell, when the document was tabled in the legislative assembly. (PHOTO BY PETER VARGA)

Updated March 20 at 11:30 a.m.

Nunavut is not measuring up to child protection standards set out in its Child and Family Services act, according to a report by the Auditor General of Canada.

Tabled in the legislative assembly of Nunavut, March 18, the report measures the territory’s progress on fulfilling recommendations that the auditor general made in 2011.

The follow-up report found that the territorial government has made good progress at solving staffing issues — such as improved training and overcoming shortages of social services workers.

This, however, has not helped improve child protection standards in the territory, which have shown “unsatisfactory” progress overall since 2011, the report says.

“We’re hoping that with the training in place, and more social workers in communities, that we’ll start to see some improvement,” said Michelle Salvail, principal for the audit report.

In a statement March 18, Jeannie Ugyuk, minister of family services, said her department is reviewing the report to identify immediate and longer-term plans to address the auditor-general’s recommendations.

Ugyuk says department representatives are working with Nunavut Arctic College to review and improve the social services worker program, for example. She says they have made progress improving statutory training for people involved in child protection work; they are discussing ways to expand the current training tracking system; and, they are hoping to put more resources into better facility inspection.

“Our staff is very devoted to working in this field and seeing positive changes and impacts. Even with our limited resources, they care tremendously and do the bet within this framework to address the needs of children and families,” Ugyuk said in her statement.

“We acknowledge there are challenges ahead and are dedicated to undertaking the work.”

She added that she looks forward to “comprehensive discussions” on child welfare issues with her fellow members during the legislature’s standing commmittee hearings this spring.

Unlike the 2011 governor-general audit, the 2014 follow-up report does not include adoption as part of the study.

It focuses on children “in danger,” whose parents cannot take care of them for a period of time.

“We have decided to focus on child and family services this time,” said Salvail. “That’s not to say we won’t follow up later” with an assessment of adoption in Nunavut.

“Children are among the most vulnerable people in society,” the report states.

“The Government of Nunavut plays a key role in safeguarding the welfare of children at risk by protecting them from physical harm, neglect, and other forms of abuse, and by ensuring their needs for shelter, food, and support are met.”

The territory’s Department of Child and Family Services took on this “key role” in April 2013, from the Department of Health and Social Services.

Then, the new department oversaw 395 children receiving services, and provided advice and counselling to many families,” the report said.

The new department has shown some progress fulfilling recommendations made in 2011, but still falls short in certain areas.

These include:

• A lack of an annual review for children placed in foster care. Only 13 per cent of cases researched in the report were checked on after one year.

• A lack of annual audits on child protection files “to verify that supervisors and community social service workers are fulfilling the requirements of the Child and family Services Act.”

• Criminal record checks on adults are done in only about half of foster family homes.

• Less than half of licenses for facilities housing children away from their parents are reviewed, and not all Nunavut group homes are inspected.

• Less than one-third of Nunavut children separated from their parents — and living in foster care, group homes or other living arrangements — were visited by social service workers in 2013.

The report also found that the department “has done too little” to involve parents and communities in child welfare strategies.

“Social workers are intervening, but at the base, children are the responsibility of the parents — and by extension, the community as well,” Salvail said.

“The department should talk to communities to find solutions, to develop strategies in order to keep get their children safe.”

The report used files from the communities of Iqaluit, Pangnirtung and Cape Dorset, the audit principal said.

Training and staffing of social service workers and supervisors showed solid improvement over the three-year period since the last audit, the report said.

Positions were staffed to 83 per cent of capacity in 2013, compared with 64 per cent in 2011.

All workers receive mandatory training, as well as additional training on Inuit societal values, geared to social workers from the south, Salvail said.

“Throughout the GN, as we know, staffing positions is always an issue,” she said.

Family services “is a new department, almost a year old now,” she added. “So to get it up and running added some challenge to the department, as they’re trying to implement our recommendations.”

Ronnie Campbell, assistant auditor general, said he will discuss the report with members of the legislative assembly this spring.

You can download copies of the report from this area of the Auditor General of Canada’s website.

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