GN ‘struggling to put out a fire’ when it comes to child protection: MLA

Family Services announces ongoing work to improve foster system while coming up with long-term strategic plan

The Department of Family Services faced tough questions from MLAs Tuesday and Wednesday during a hearing to update the Standing Committee on Government Oversight and Public Accounts on efforts to improve the quality of care provided to children and youth in protective services. (Photo by Jeff Pelletier)

By Jorge Antunes

Nunavut’s Department of Family Services announced Wednesday its third attempt at better protecting youth in the department’s care — a strategic plan.

Iqaluit-Sinaa MLA Janet Pitsiulaaq Brewster asks questions during a two-day hearing to provide updates on work to improve child and family services in Nunavut. (Photo by Jeff Pelletier)

The update comes four months after a withering report from Canada’s auditor general regarding child and family services in Nunavut — the third such report since 2011 and 2014 — that concluded the Nunavut government is failing to protect vulnerable children.

MLAs had the chance on Tuesday and Wednesday to ask questions and get an update on what the department has done to address the report’s findings, during a hearing of the Standing Committee on Oversight of Government Operations and Public Accounts at the legislative assembly.

The Department of Family Services is accepting the auditor general’s advice to take a “whole of government” approach to making changes by developing the strategic plan with input from the Departments of Health, Human Resources, and the office of Canada’s auditor general.

Also in attendance at the hearing were Megan Hunt, deputy minister for health; Jimi Onalik, deputy minister for intergovernmental affairs; Kristie Cronin, deputy minister for human resources; and Andrew Hayes, the assistant deputy auditor general.

“This strategic plan must be built by members of the community, it must be owned by all of us,” said Jonathan Ellsworth, the deputy minister of family services, at the hearing.

Ellsworth did not offer a specific timeline for when the plan would be completed.

The department is also working to address staffing vacancies, inadequate training, improper procedures and staff safety as it develops the plan, as well as introducing new software to improve record-keeping and accountability.

“The Government of Nunavut is struggling to put out a fire, when it should focus on sparks before it becomes a flame,” said Iqaluit-Manirajak MLA Adam Arreak Lightstone during the hearing.

Ellsworth blamed the situation on a lack of meaningful government response to the previous auditor general reports.

In fact, the GN created the Department of Family Services in 2013 in response to the first auditor general report. Family services previously operated within the Department of Health.

The Department of Family Services created an action plan response to the second report. It aimed to increase staff retention, improve training for front-line workers and improve case management and data collection.

Yet the most recent auditor general’s report indicates that action plan was not effective. It noted the department was not able to provide an accurate count for the number of children and youth in its care.

The auditor general’s office also asked the Department of Family Services in December 2022 to follow up on a number of cases immediately, citing health and safety concerns for the youths involved.

As of the report’s release in May, the department had not followed up on 52 per cent of those cases. The government told the auditor general’s office it had taken care of the other 48 per cent of the highlighted cases, but did not provide evidence to support that assertion.

“Where are those children? These are real children, real families. Are these cases still out there in the netherworld? Where are these children who potentially are in danger?” asked Janet Pitsiulaaq Brewster, MLA for Iqaluit-Sinna, during the hearing.

Ellsworth confirmed that all of the cases have been followed up on since the report’s release.

“And I have received evidence to support that conclusion,” he said.

Since the report’s release, the auditor general’s office has kept in touch with GN departments, in particular the Department of Family Services, according to assistant deputy auditor general Hayes.

The auditor general’s office continues to monitor the situation and will make recommendations as work progresses.

“Ultimately, we are not the authority on resolving the issues that we find in our audit but we want to be a partner in terms of achieving positive outcomes,” Hayes said during the hearing.

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(12) Comments:

  1. Posted by Kudos on

    Kudos to Ellsworth and Brewster for addressing this head-on. Ellsworth is one of the few in senior management who seems to give a damn, and Brewster is formidable in holding the GN to account.

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  2. Posted by Unqualified on

    Yvonne Niego was pulled from DM Family Services on the eve of the latest reports, how convenient. The ringer that is in there now has a high school diploma.
    .
    When EIA is putting people in charge at $250k salaries who are never performance managed, and people who are not educated or equipped with any expertise to succeed, is it any wonder this is the situation? This is systematic negligence. There needs to be litigation and class actions launched if anything is going to be corrected.
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    The GN gets away with third world performances in all other aspects of its operation, it’s expected and tolerated. Why should children in care be expected to be different? The MLAs from 1999 and on are to blame for this. You are all spineless or useless and the fact these people sleep at night goes to show you that the problem with Nunavut and our government is cultural.

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    • Posted by John K on

      And during all of this NTI comes out and suggests that we should hire bad workers and completely enable them to be bad workers.

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    • Posted by Make Iqaluit Great Again on

      Does the current DM only have a high school diploma? That’s very interesting. You would think that minimum education requirements for that position would require some post secondary education. I suppose those requirements could be overlooked if he was a beneficiary hire. Is he a beneficiary? I guess that the duties for any position can be learned through on the job training, but usually minimum education requirements are important in order to get the most qualified individual

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      • Posted by Forever amazed on

        You have identified a main issue-hiring someone who does not have the educational background that would be a requirement any where else in the country. Almost like you are setting them up to fail.

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  3. Posted by John lariviere on

    I truly believe that today’s government in Nunavut have absolutely no clue on how to take care of its people. I’ve seen it over the years. Children would come to me for food. The suffering of children goes on every second of every day. It’s not like they have to care for millions of people. They are only 40.000 inuit in Nunavut, and the government can’t take care of them.

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  4. Posted by monica lieu on

    probably would have helped if the last DM just didnt hire her friends,

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  5. Posted by Uvanga on

    We all know the simple answer to all of this.. we need more qualified child protection workers, social worker, life coaches in every community. We need to once again feel like we are a community. I know ppl make the church look aweful but as a child that was our community gathering place where we heard positive messages about life in inuktitut but today we have no such common place as inuit in communities. Has there been an aggressive move to create more Inuit welness worker? Does the nunavut Arctic college offer such programs?

    • Posted by Policy Shift on

      It is unpopular, it is political suicide, but changing the internal unwritten policy of “almost no adoptions to non Inuit” for children who are apprehended is key to a system that will always be understaffed.
      .
      Been involved in the system and can’t believe the Department prefers kids to be in foster care forever vs adopted to a loving stable family. After over a year of off and on with a foster child and the parents either in jail, defying public health orders with TB, neglecting their other child who then died, and continuously defying parenting plans to get their life together, I refused participate in the system anymore that was intentionally abusing a child like this. Three years later the child is still in foster care, their entire
      life to date. No other family cared to step in.
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      Despite being being will to pursue adoption you never hear from the Department again. There are many similar stories to mine.
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      The Department response was always the same: “we can’t be seen to be giving Inuit children to non Inuit families”. The priority is politics, not child wellbeing.

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      • Posted by No Moniker on

        Indeed, these are the politics of the identity cult. Let’s hope the survivors of these dystopian policies eventually tell their stories. Expect future generations to look back in shame and horror.

  6. Posted by Paul on

    The GN always struggles to get anything done, on all levels, except the beer and wine store, that one was done in light speed, with very little effort.
    Priority is key here and the people employed at the GN need to reprioritize and start getting things done.

  7. Posted by Steven C. on

    Orphanage home for children well run in a more clean and sober hamlet need be considered and I think should be operating. God knows there is the need. How does anyone expect that society will heal when so many children are living in violent abusive homes, the reality being the hurt will continue to be passed from generation to generation when things are in constant crisis.

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