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 Karen Hogan, says the Government of Nunavut is failing to protect vulnerable children and youth in a report she presented Tuesday in Iqaluit. It had no recommendations, but only issued a call to action, since recommendations from reports in 2011 and 2014 were not followed. (Photo by Jeff Pelletier)

By David Lochead

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.”

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(40) Comments:

  1. Posted by Concerned front line worker on

    I’m so glad AG is calling action on this.

    To tell you the truth, as a front line worker, Family Services employs burned out Management who aren’t experienced in the field or maybe are, but have no motivation to move forward with changes. I don’t know if they lack research skills. They don’t even follow the Child Protection Act, nor the Mental Health Act.

    We can not help people when the front line workers keep getting slack from Management especially us Inuit Social Workers.

    The time we try and help the majority of the population (which is Inuit), barriers upon barriers are imposed on us thus making it extremely difficult to help the most volatile population.

    Essentially, GN needs to hire younger educated, experienced Inuit Social Workers into Management positions in order to make a change. Current employees are too used to their own system and it’s not working.

    • Posted by So Many Opportunities, Not Enough People on

      I sense a whiff of both ageism and racism in this comment, but we’ll let it pass.

      There are very few of these ‘younger, educated Inuit employees’ in the system. The ones that that there are have so very many opportunities being offered to them that it will take a long time to fill these positions.

      I agree that we really need to get more educated Inuit though – regardless of age, and even it is only something like a certificate – it is the beginning of getting an educated workforce.

      • Posted by Whiff on

        I sense a whiff of white privilege with your comment about “sensing racism…”

        There is no racism in the comment about having more Inuit management.

        • Posted by No Moniker on

          On the topics of ‘racism’ and ‘white privilege’ we love in the NN comments section because mimicry is what some of us appear to do best.

          In my opinion a better description of the problem is structural-cultural.

          The issue not in prioritizing Inuit hiring *necessarily* but consequently, by placing under-prepared and under qualified individuals in critical positions where they do not belong and are unable to perform the entire governance structure suffers.

          ‘A’ problem (not every problem) we have is that the central focus of our HR departments is prioritizing identity and not education, skill, competence (of course these are not mutually exclusive). This has created a distinct kind of culture of entitlement and expectation that has distorted and will likely always distort the constitution of our public service in, at times, negative ways.

      • Posted by Concerned frontline worker on

        How ever you want to sense, do so. I am covered by NTI Agreement to be able to say (without being racist) we are mainly serving Inuit and should so by adjusting our systems to the needs of the people we serve, after all we are unique in a sense that other Canadian jurisdictions operate.
        In the ageism, so be it, we all know she plays a role in making changes. We have to keep up with the times.

        • Posted by NTI Status Doesn’t Eliminate Bigotry on

          You can be covered by NTI and still hold racist attitudes – this is self-evident and very common.

          Does your willingness to tolerate ageism work the other way? I really don’t like some of the young ‘uns in my work place – poorly educated, lacking a work ethic, underskilled, overly confident in their abilities and unwilling to take guidance and advice from their elders. Can I keep them out of the workforce until they mature a bit? I trust that you’re okay with that.

    • Posted by John K on

      The accuracy of your comment is made immediately apparent by the fact that there is no such legislation as “The Child Protection Act”.

      I don’t intend this response to be mean but to see a frontline Family Services worker misname the primary source of their authority is concerning.

  2. Posted by Wishing I wasn’t a cynic on

    I wish I was not a cynic.

    I wish that this did not ring so true.

    I wish I had faith that PJ will make a change.

    I pray for change and for children.

  3. Posted by The Kakistocracy of Nunavut on

    Nunavut is a structural failure, riddled with corruption and incompetence. You know this is true. You see it every day.

    • Posted by Euripides on

      “A bad beginning makes a bad ending.”

      The structural failure begins and ends in the details of the Nunavut Agreement.

    • Posted by Johnny Oh Ima on

      yes, and most of the GN workers are settlers that have no idea of what goes on the communities or even an understanding of Inuit history and trauma that people are experiencing. Incompetence but I don’t know about corruption, can you name give evidence of corruption.

      • Posted by Panache on

        You are part of the problem, Mamgark. Truly.

      • Posted by John K on

        Nothing is ever our fault is it?

  4. Posted by Race Policies on

    Was prepared and offered to adopt a toddler we had in care for a year. Parents in jail, other kids dying, no family members fit as an alternative. Straight up told we did not have the right skin colour. Years later the child is still in foster care with others, we couldnt agree to continue on with this systematic abuse and participate. This is the cost of identity politics.

    • Posted by The Correct Term Is… on

      I think that the correct term is ‘systemic racism’, not identity politics.

      • Posted by Race Policies on

        An Inuit government developing internal policies that non Inuit are not be permitted to adopt Inuit in the care of the Minister is identity politics. If you want to also call it systematic racism then sure.

  5. Posted by Silos on

    As a former GN employee, I am saddened to read this report.

    Saddened, but not even a bit surprised.

    For years different departments have been working in silos with managers and directors creating little fiefdoms.

    I applaud the idea of a “Whole Government” approach. I really hope it comes to fruition – there are a lot of amazing, caring, and capable people in the GN – working together change is possible!

    • Posted by Face the Facts on

      The “Whole Government approach” is rhetoric, you must know this. We all know this. An endless string of scathing report after scathing report by the Auditor General for whatever Department it audits should tell us that the problems are structural. If so there is little PJ can do to change that.

  6. Posted by Observations on

    Who was the executive Director during that time? The same person now in charge of HR operations?

    Patterns always repeat. Audit HR next and you’ll find the common denominator.

    • Posted by Thank you Observations on

      Thank you. As a former employee, I had to remain quiet but I agree with your statement.

      Some people in power have done more harm than good . I’m hoping PJ and this govt will be working together with Minister Nakashuk and the staff that DFS has now at HQ to focus on our children and youth, we are failing them and lives have been lost because of it.

  7. Posted by Northern Guy on

    Shameful lack of action on the part of the GN. The AG first reported on these issues in 2011 and than again in 2014 and in the ensuing 12 years the GN has done absolutely nothing to address the deficiencies. The words “failed state” keep popping into my mind. The incompetence is absolutely mind-boggling.

    • Posted by Kanadian on

      Yup, Canada, the failed state

  8. Posted by Name withheld on

    It amaze me that things haven’t change since last audit.. Why didn’t the last ADM, DM take on the role of fixing the issue prior? Why isn’t this the first priority of the Government’s mandate?

  9. Posted by Solomon Grundy on

    No, not HR… they’re the reason for half the problems in the GN

  10. Posted by delbert on

    A society that allows this to happen to there most vulnerable is disgusting. This is child abuse. Caused by nothing but laziness, neglect and ignorance. This is a crime that should be punished. Hiding this abuse in the dark corners in homes schools or churches. Always will come out in the light. Shame, shame on all who have allowed this to happen.

  11. Posted by Embarassing on

    This government should be embarrassed, the premier grew up with these issues and half way through his mandate he has done nothing to make it better. Most of the departments are in disarray with no plan to fix the damage.
    In a territory that speaks of the highest suicide rates in Canada we are setting our future up for failure, where is the hope for our young people, you continue to support these group home places that create employment and receive tenants to help keep their pay cheques coming in but are doing nothing for the people they house.
    This government needs to be more accountable to the youth and the elders they speak so much about, we have elders in Embassy West that are being abused by the system.
    all this government wants to do is present everything as positive and share the great photo opts, we will be talking about these issues for years to come. It happens day after day, nobody is accountable to carry the torch, this issue like reconciliation will go silent in the weeks to come.
    The AG’s report is just heartbreaking and like a knife to the heart when reports in the past 12 years have said the same thing over and over.
    My question is, how many children have to suffer, how many have to die before this or any government of Nunavut actually does something. The current government is such a disappointment from the top down. Margaret is a fantastic Minister but everyone knows her hands are tied.
    The only way this territory will advance is by going to a party system, this will force accountability or loss your job.
    In my opinion there should be a call for a non-confidence vote however the Premier seems to have everyone is his pocket. MLA’s are not free to have and share their honest opinions.
    Shame on the government and shame on us for letting this happen.

    • Posted by How it looks from here on

      I’m fascinated how you’ve let the Minister off the hook, clearly it is not her fault, right? Clearly her hands are tied (who tied them?)!

      But PJ can go down, no worries! (not that I object, but the double standard is strange indeed). Do you know the Minister? Maybe you work for her? Okay… too cynical, I agree. Still, weird take.

      • Posted by Embarassing on

        Not letting the Minister of the hook. She is one of the best they have, can improvements be made? Of course. Do notice that when she is questioned in the assembly, she does answer the questions and if she don’t have the answers she will get them. The Premier’s answer is we are investigating and will report, it won’t come up again until the next report by the AG unless someone keeps pushing it. The problem is that there is no opposition in the assembly. Joe S is retriable, George H is getting a good salary and building a great pension why would they continue to fight when they know they will just hit a brick wall.
        You have to be blind not to see that the corner office controls all the Ministers. You have an inexperienced leader and an ex GN employee who was rehired running the show. It’s either the Premiers way or the highway. Ask someone like the former Minister Mr. S.
        The children that have been placed in danger my this government should be starting a class action suit against the government who failed to protect them. The AG said it and the GN admitted they are at fault. They put the kids out of site out of mind. The GN continues to do this to children and Elders.
        However, I am sure the knew DM, the white guy with the background from Justice will fix it all. Don’t hold your breathe, this will go on for years, nobody can fix the broken system. People come and people go, children continue to be abused and elders continue to live in substandard conditions.
        We are to busy chasing our tails, fighting fires, trying to break the barriers down to accomplish anything positive.

        • Posted by Desperately looking for a win on

          The new DM, Jonathan Ellsworth, who is on a six month contract? He better hurry up.

  12. Posted by Now It Adds Up on

    The Department had a heads up this was coming. Didn’t they just change of the long time Inuk DM with a new non indigenous guy? The timing seems impeccable.

    • Posted by Behold Yer Scapegoat on


  13. Posted by Not At All Schocked on

    This is not News to my self, being raised in a home that was abusive in all forms of abuse be it physical, sexual, opportunities like education food that was not available why is it that shocking to you? why do you think most Inuit are not educated? exorbitant use of alcohol and drugs. The government is laughable as if changes will be done. It takes years to change and only if one has enough enlightenment will things change. One person at a time.

    • Posted by S on

      Thank you, “Not At All Shocked”; your words touched me with their truth and your voice touched me with its feeling

  14. Posted by Wake up call on

    I think this article isn’t meant to embarrass or shame the government i think its more of a wake up call. How many people have read this article ? I’m sure hundreds if not thousands. The question is who is going to step up and make the necessary change needed. Honestly it will take more than just one person. There’s a lot of argument of something needs to be done, and i agree 100% but lets work on solutions rather that tear each other down. I’ll use our annual city wide clean up day as an example, all a bunch of volunteers working together to restore the beauty to our community by going out and getting our hands dirty. Are we ready to volunteer our time and efforts to make improvements in our community. We need a place to heal and a safe place for our youth, and we cant rely on someone else to do it for us. I’m certain if the materials were funded volunteers would be lining up to help with the build. But like i said we have to come together as a community.

  15. Posted by Polique on

    We should be grateful for these auditors reports. Consistently casting light on the dysfunction of our government is a service to all Nunavummiut.

    Yet we should ask, why does our government have NO mechanisms in place whatsoever to detect how far off course it has gone? Why must we wait until crisis levels are pointed out by external agencies to even discuss self correction?

    Who remembers the last report on Justice? Do you wonder what progress has or hasn’t made since its last drubbing from the AG? I would bet very little, if any.

  16. Posted by S on

    ANYONE who suggests that Nunavut’s problems arise from anything more than the oppression wrought by Inuit upon their fellow-Inuit is part of the oppression.

  17. Posted by Anita on

    I get why we are mad at the government and mad at the Family Services and the social workers. But how come is no one mad at the parents and family and people in our own communities who abuse and neglect and treat kids badly or ignore when they see or know it is happening?

    • Posted by Northern Guy on

      Anita, the simple fact of the matter is that not everyone is cut out to be a parent and there is no eligibility test to ensure only those well equipped for the job actually become parents. At the end of day lousy awful people will have kids and will do lousy awful things to them. It is the Government’s job to identify these people and protect their children from their abuse. The Government has failed miserably at that fundamental job.

  18. Posted by Eyes and ears on

    We see with our eyes and hear with our ears and we think who we elect can do the job,

    People elected people in all boards should be evaluated from all departments NU, Gov to all Inuit Organizations,

    Sitting Ducks we see and hear todate.


  19. Posted by LOL on

    The GN is failing on all levels and departments, huge annual budget to boot.
    Very embarrassing!

Comments are closed.