N.W.T. MLAs issue new call for Child Services reform

A committee of MLAs has issued new recommendations to improve Child and Family Services, and Frame Lake MLA Wendy Bisaro is hoping that this time, things will change. ‘We had high hopes the system would be improved but it just hasn’t happened.’

‘We had high hopes the system would be improved but it just hasn’t happened:' MLA Wendy Bisaro

A committee of Northwest Territories MLAs has presented the government with another set of recommendations on how to improve Child and Family Services in the territory, and its members are hoping that this time, things will change.

The government has been told to improve the child protection system before.

In its report,  the Standing Committee on Government Operations says the government has made a lacklustre effort and failed.

Frame Lake MLA Wendy Bisaro is a member of that committee.

She was also part of a committee that came up with its own report four years ago.

“Stuff just didn't get done,” she says. “There were a lot of really good recommendations in the 2010 report and we had high hopes that the system would be improved, but it just hasn't happened.

“The blame to a certain extent has to be laid in many places. It's the minister's fault, it's the deputy minister's fault, it's the staff's fault... it's members' faults to a certain extent, because we don't follow up.”

Committee 'deeply troubled' by findings

On March 4, the auditor general issued a scathing report on child services in the territory.

It highlighted major failures in the system, including the fact that in 69 percent of the files examined, children were placed in foster homes that hadn't been properly screened.

In delivering its recommendations yesterday, members of the standing committee said they were “deeply troubled” by the findings.

Bisaro said she was also troubled by some of the government’s response.

“During the public review, departmental witnesses were unable to explain to the committee’s satisfaction why so little has changed. Instead, witnesses tended to deflect responsibility and blame the system.”

More support for families

The standing committee’s report includes 30 recommendations, with a strong emphasis on prevention, including alcohol and drug treatment, a healthy family program that offers in-home support to parents of young children, and introducing more family preservation workers to help with this programming.

They're also calling for better record keeping, more training for social workers, and more analysis to determine whether Child and Family Services is staffed and funded properly.

The department has about four months to respond.

1 in 6 N.W.T. children get services

Child and Family Services plays a major role in the territory.

Every year, over 1,000 children — roughly one child in six — receives services of some kind.

About 250 children are in temporary or permanent custody of the department’s director.

The N.W.T. has one of the highest rates of child apprehensions in the country.

Over 90 percent of child welfare cases involve aboriginal children.

The government spends about $21 million a year on child and family services.

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