AG report reveals gaping holes in Nunavut child protection
“These children represent the future of Nunavut”
A new report from the Office of the Auditor General reveals gaping holes in Nunavut’s child protection system, including staff shortages and an inability to collect vital information.
The report, released March 8, found the Government of Nunavut isn’t meeting child protection goals set out under the Child and Family Services Act and the Adoption Act.
“These children represent the future of Nunavut, and they have a right to expect protection from harm and neglect,” said Auditor General Sheila Fraser in a statement.
“Fixing the very serious problems we saw will require the immediate attention, leadership, and commitment of government, working with parents and communities to find solutions.”
Among the report’s findings:
• The Department of Health and Social Services sometimes places children in foster homes without ensuring their needs can be met and without doing criminal records checks on the adults in those foster homes;
• The department doesn’t keep information on children in foster care, which means social services officials can’t track troubled children, understand what they need or adjust department services to meet those needs; and,
• One third of social worker jobs in the communities are unfilled, which means some communities have no social workers, while social workers themselves are often overworked.
Ronnie Campbell, the assistant auditor general, said 17 of 46 social worker positions in Nunavut are unfilled, meaning the territory simply doesn’t have the staff it needs to adequately protect children.
“If you don’t staff the positions, you’re not going to get the job done,” Campbell said in an interview.
The OAG report did find that government social workers act swiftly to investigate complaints of child neglect.
In 59 of the 61 cases the Auditor General’s office examined, it found social workers performed an assessment of the child’s situation within the required 24 hours.
It also found social workers made a decision on whether the child needed protection within the required 72 hours.
But the study also found that social workers often struggled to perform follow-up checks on children in care and did not keep adequate records.
The auditor general’s report found the GN should collect more information about the workload of social workers and provide them with more training.
But the health and social services department doesn’t even track whether its social workers have obtained the minimum certifications required to work in the territory.
The GN agreed with all of the auditor general’s findings and will assemble an action plan to address the problems, the report said.
Included in that is a plan to set up “a state-of-the art data acquisition and management system that is compatible with our territorial technology constraints.”
The auditor general also found that the GN isn’t meeting its own rules governing custom adoptions.
The OAG examined 13 custom adoption files and found all of them lacked at least one document intended to ensure the adoption was in the child’s best interests.
The report also found that while the GN was meeting its requirement to notify and consult regional Inuit organizations before a custom adoption takes place, it hasn’t received a single response from an RIA regarding an adoption.
“The department has made little effort to follow up with the RIAs to determine why it has not heard back from them,” the report states.
Campbell said the OAG also recommended the health and social services department should decide on priorities when it puts together an action plan, because it doesn’t have the resources to tackle all of its child protection problems at once.
“I just don’t think they have the capacity to implement everything right away,” Campbell said.
Campbell said Fraser is scheduled to appear before MLAs in mid April to discuss the report’s findings.
It will be her last visit to Nunavut: the Auditor General’s 10-year term expires at the end of May.
To download a PDF copy of the auditor general report on children, youth and family programs and services in Nunavut, follow this link.