Yukon officials deny allegations about lapse in child protection

Government officials answered questions and responded to concerns raised by a former manager about child protection in Yukon on Friday.

'I can tell you that's not correct. I am refuting that,' said deputy minister of Health and Social Services

Leeann Kayseas, acting manager of Family And Children's Services, and Stephen Samis, deputy minister of Health and Social Services, responded to concerns about Yukon's child protection system at a news conference on Friday. (Nancy Thomson/CBC)

Yukon government officials are refuting concerns recently raised by a former manager about child protection in the territory.

Jarrett Parker had sent an email last December to the assistant deputy minister of Health and Social Services and the director of the Family and Children's Services branch, explaining the "grave concerns" he had about how youth are provided care.

Parker was released from employment last week after his probationary period ended.

His email spoke of two cases where young women were denied care — one because she was considered "too high risk."

The other, according to Parker, was a child in permanent government custody, who was told there was no group home bed available. The child was only given a bed after suggesting she had been sexually assaulted where she was staying.

Stephen Samis, deputy minister of Health and Social Services, says the circumstances mentioned in Parker's email are not true.

He said a child under a permanent custody order would never be denied care.

"Under no circumstances would that child be turned away — we have a duty to care for that child," Samis said at a news conference on Friday.

Samis also denied Parker's allegation that a young woman had been considered "too high risk."

"I can tell you that's not correct. I am refuting that, it's not correct. I can't speak about it any detail, but I can tell you that did not occur."

'I didn't say it never happens'

Department officials also refuted on Friday stories of two youth who recently told CBC they had been locked out of group homes in winter, when temperatures were –25 C and colder. 

Leeann Kayseas, acting manager of Family And Children's Services, says workers would never deny shelter to a child, even if the youth were intoxicated.

"We would take safety measures — so, whether that's finding another place for that youth to go, we would ensure that youth has a place to stay," Kayseas said. 

When pressed further by reporters, Samis wasn't clear on whether the locking out did or didn't happen. 

"I didn't say it never happens. I said we would not do that. By policy, we would not do that. By practice, we would not do that. I have to believe those youth, that this happened to them," said Samis.

He added that youth who "feel they've been wronged in any way in our care" should contact a social worker, the Child and Youth Advocate, or himself as deputy minister. He said children can also go to the police. 

"If it's very, very serious — bring it to the attention of the RCMP. But what we need is for youth to come to us, and to say, 'this happened and here's when it happened,' and then we can act on it. And I guarantee we will."

Meanwhile, another youth and a whistleblower have independently told the CBC that youth are sometimes evicted from group homes without notice or cause.

Tyrell Jackson, 19, said he was told to pack his things and leave his group home one November afternoon. 

Kayseas contradicts Jackson's account. 

"No, no — we would find another resource if it was needed. We would not move a youth and say, 'you can't have this bed anymore, it's for someone else,'" she said. 

Review of policies and procedures

Samis would not say whether any group home staff have been dismissed or reprimanded since the allegations came to light. 

"We have reviewed the policies and procedures with staff, we have brought in additional training for staff, we have continued to do what we are doing — which is to continuously do quality improvement with the staff," he said.

Samis says staff have pulled three years of incident reports from group homes. 

"We're going through all of those incident reports to see what was the incident, how did we follow up, and what was the outcome," he said, adding that staff will then categorize all reports by theme to "get a better sense" of the incidents and look at how to deal with them differently.

Samis said he can't explain why some government employees went to CBC with their concerns instead of their own department supervisors. But he reiterated that any staff who decide to come forward won't be punished.

"If you see anything and if you hear anything — if there's any issue that you think needs to come to my attention, I am open [and] ready," he said.

Samis added that he personally visited all six government group homes.

He said met directly with staff and gave them his card.

"[I said] I am here to listen," said Samis.

About the Author

Nancy Thomson

Raised in Ross River, Yukon, Nancy Thomson is a graduate of Ryerson University's journalism program. Her first job with CBC Yukon was in 1980, when she spun vinyl on Saturday afternoons. She rejoined CBC Yukon in 1993, and focuses on First Nations issues and politics. You can reach her at nancy.thomson@cbc.ca.

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