The NWT’s Child and Family Services division is now “on the right track,” the territory’s new health and social services minister declared as she released the division’s annual report.
Julie Green made the remarks in the legislature as she tabled the 2019-2020 annual report from the division’s director. Child and Family Services had been heavily criticized in a 2018 evaluation from the Auditor General of Canada.
In August 2019, as part of the territory’s response to that audit, the division released a quality improvement plan aimed at better meeting the needs of children and families.
“The measurement I am most proud of is that over 90 percent of children receiving support from Child and Family Services live with their family or in their home community,” the minister said this week.
“This change allows for continued connections with family and community while ensuring cultural continuity, which is so important in protecting the identity of the child.”
Other improvements the report cites include an increase in the number of child protection staff, more training – including in how to support children with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders – and a reduction in the number of children in care over the past decade.
According to the report, in 2019-2020, 160 children were in permanent or temporary care. That compares to to 216 in 2010-2011.
In April 2019, 21 new positions were created in the division. A third of those were focused on design and training, while the rest were front-line positions.
The vacancy rate for staff has decreased from 25 percent to 8.6 percent.
Division still faces challenges
The report does, however, note a number of areas where the territory’s child protection system still faces challenges.
An audit of services delivered between April 2018 and March 2019 found the division struggled to interview caregivers and children in a timely manner.
The audit also concluded improvements must be made in updating key information on the suitability of foster parents; developing transition plans for people ageing out of care; making sure caregivers know they can access legal counsel; and ensuring Indigenous organizations know about child apprehension orders and protection orders in their communities.
Green acknowledged Indigenous children and youth are still overrepresented in the territory’s child protection system.
The report states that of 1,239 children and youth who received either prevention or protection services in the territory, 98 percent were Indigenous. Comparatively, only 54 percent of all children and youth in the NWT are Indigenous.
In January, a federal act handing more control of child protection to Indigenous governments came into effect. The legislation seeks to reduce the number of Indigenous children in care while improving the quality of child and family services.
Green said the territory is working to implement that act.
“We are affirming our commitment to having an ongoing dialogue with Indigenous governments and communities to ensure that our system advances the best interests of children, youth and families,” she said.
“We will continue to work collaboratively in supporting communities and families to preserve family and cultural continuity for our territory’s children and youth.”
The auditor general’s damning 2018 report concluded many services in the NWT were worse than they had been at the time of the previous report, four years earlier.
Front-line workers did not keep proper contact with nine out of 10 children in foster care, the audit found, and were not adequately screening guardians.
The report led to a motion of non-confidence for then-health minister Glen Abernethy, who ultimately kept his job.
In January 2020, the Foster Family Coalition of the NWT issued a letter outlining a litany of concerns from foster parents. The letter included allegations that an “unmanageable” number of children were being placed in homes, caregivers weren’t being given adequate support, and even that child protection workers had “verbally abused” and lied to foster parents.
Tammy Roberts, executive director of the coalition, in June told Cabin Radio things had since improved.