GN failing vulnerable children and youth, auditor general charges
Karen Hogan calls her office’s report ‘an urgent call for action’
Canada’s auditor general made the trip to Iqaluit in person to deliver a damning report Tuesday: The Government of Nunavut has failed to protect vulnerable children and youth.
“It is an urgent call to action,” said auditor general Karen Hogan.
Her report says children and youth in the GN system have not been properly monitored and are often put into vulnerable situations.
Its failures include a lack of information on children and youth in the government’s care; poor management of foster homes; and inadequate tracking of children and youth after they are sent south to live.
The audit covers the period from Jan. 1, 2019, to May 31, 2022.
This is the third time the auditor general has reported on Nunavut’s handling of vulnerable children and youth, following previous reports in 2011 and 2014.
But with past recommendations not having been followed, Hogan took the unusual step this time of calling for immediate action and a whole-of-government approach that entails the departments of Family Services, Health, and Human Resources working together.
“Over the past 12 years we have painted the picture of a failing system,” Hogan said. “One that is failing the people and, most importantly, the children it is meant to protect.”
Among the report’s alarming findings, Hogan emphasized the Department of Family Services could not provide an accurate count for the number of children and youth in its care.
Meanwhile, indicators such as responses to referrals for children and youth needing protection was also poor. Referrals often come from people such as neighbours, police or health-care workers who advise that a child may be living in a dangerous situation.
Of the 92 cases Hogan’s office sampled, no screening was done on 20 of them.
Of the 60 cases the department decided did need to be investigated, only half of the investigations were completed and of those 18 were finished late.
Foster care was also problematic, the auditor general’s report found.
Among the sample cases looked at, 26 children were placed in 15 foster homes.
To Hogan’s alarm, no contact was made by the department with children over long periods of time. That includes no check-ins with six foster homes for a year or longer, and two foster homes had no check-ins during the 39-month period of the audit.
Six of the homes Hogan’s office sampled had an adult with a criminal record living there, yet the Department of Family Services only checked for a criminal record on one of those homes.
The report found the department’s performance in caring for children, youth and young adults sent south for foster care was no different.
Regular reviews are considered critical, as they help determine whether a person can be brought back to Nunavut. And yet, Hogan’s report found that only one in 23 children, youth or young adults sent south was the subject of a quarterly review.
Poor information management was one of the root causes Hogan identified. An example she gave of why better information management is needed is because it can determine how much funding family services needs.
“If you don’t know how many children are in your care, how do you know if you have sufficient funding?” she said.
Staffing was also a critical issue identified in her report.
Hogan said communities need a social services worker to identify vulnerable children, investigate cases, and check if a child needs protection. However, some communities went months without access to a social services worker.
Clyde River didn’t have a social services worker for 23 months during the audit, Hogan said, while Igloolik only had one worker for 18 months.
Not having full-time employees is also a problem, according to the report. Last year, 56 per cent of social services workers were on short-term contracts.
The report also identified suitable housing as an issue. Outside of a lack of staff housing causing recruitment delays, the Department of Family Services had 13 offices that needed repairs in order to provide staff a safe and confidential workspace.
The report also pointed to a lack of training, stating some employees never received mandatory training.
In her report, Hogan wrote that her staff was so alarmed that they informed Department of Family Services senior management in December 2022 of their early findings.
A response from the GN in March did not relieve their concerns, the report stated.
In a news conference Tuesday, Minister of Family Services Margaret Nakashuk called the report “very heavy” and emphasized her department’s need for more staff.
She acknowledged the auditor general’s two previous reports and said with Nunavut having a growing population her department and all others need to step up support for children.
Premier P.J. Akeeagok said his government accepts the report.
“We have failed our children,” Akeeagok told reporters.
He agreed with Hogan’s recommendation and committed to taking a whole-of-government approach.
Akeeagok said previous governments did not make the investments after reports came out, but that his government is ready to make them.
He said with full cabinet support his government will take immediate actions, but did not elaborate on specific steps it will take.
Outside of Hogan’s findings that must be addressed immediately, to systemically address all the issues presented in the report Akeeagok cautioned “it will take some time.”