The federal auditor general released a scathing report Tuesday on the state of Child and Family Services in the Northwest Territories.
Approximately 1,000 children receive care in the territory every year, 95 per cent of them aboriginal, and the report says the Department of Health and Social Services is not doing enough to protect them
The auditors reviewed case files, analyzed documents and interviewed department officials and child protection workers from across the territory.
Assistant auditor general Ronnie Campbell says the results are "troubling."
"This is about children, vulnerable children, children in distress, children who need help," said Campbell. "There's an act there intended to help them. It concerns us when it's not implemented in the way that it should be."
The report found foster parents were not screened in 69 per cent of the cases reviewed, which includes getting reference letters and criminal record checks. In two of those cases there were later allegations of abuse and neglect.
It also found half of plans of care weren't monitored, so health authorities don't know if children are safe, and in nearly a third of the cases auditors looked at, child protection workers were not following up on reports of children at risk.
Campbell says the department also needs to focus on helping families before children are removed from their homes.
In terms of management, the report says the health minister hasn't had a proper annual report on Child and Family services in a decade. That means the department does not know if regions are funded or staffed properly or if there are inconsistencies in record keeping.
Many of these issues came up during a 2010 report done by members of the legislature including the current Health and Social Services minister Glen Abernethy.
He says he's committed to fixing the problems.
"We need to do better, without question," he said.
Abernethy says a new training manual for child protection workers is almost ready. This year there's money to replace the database where social workers record information.
Also, starting this summer, staff in the regions will report directly to the CEO of their health authority. CEOs will be associate directors in charge of protecting children.
"If they don't meet their terms and conditions under the child and family services act, their designation will be pulled, which means they can't perform the duties of their job," says Abernethy. "Their jobs are dependent on the administration of child and family services "
The audit is not legally binding, but the department says it agrees with the auditor general's 11 recommendations.