Nfld. & Labrador

Children 'at risk' unless changes made to provincial protective services: auditor general

Newfoundland and Labrador's auditor general says the Department of Children, Seniors and Social Development sometimes fails to heed its own policies and doesn't always act quickly or effectively, putting children at risk.

Terry Paddon's report outlines dozens of problems, recommendations in new report

Auditor General Terry Paddon says children under the province's protective care are at greater risk of maltreatment if changes aren't made. (CBC)

Newfoundland and Labrador's auditor general says the Department of Children, Seniors and Social Development sometimes fails to heed its own policies and doesn't always act quickly or effectively, putting children at risk.

Auditor General Terry Paddon outlined dozens of problems with the department, formerly known as Child, Youth and Family Services, in a report released Thursday. Among them:

  • The department doesn't always respond to allegations of child maltreatment in a timely and appropriate way;
  • The department doesn't always comply with its policies and procedures to effectively manage the safety and development of children in its protective intervention program;
  • Some family homes assessed by social workers as having a higher risk of mistreatment of children were visited less frequently than lower-risk homes;
  • The department doesn't report to the public on the performance of its child protection programs;
  • The progress reports required when children are in care of the department are often late by anywhere from four months to a year.
  • Social workers do not always complete safety assessments as required when beginning a protection investigation to document whether children were safe in the family home.

Paddon's report also outlines recommendations to target the deficiencies he's found.

"There is an increased risk that children under the protection of the Department of Children, Seniors and Social Development will be maltreated should our recommendations not be implemented."

Eight per cent of children under protection

The auditor general said that 6,252 children — eight per cent of the children in Newfoundland and Labrador — were being served by CSSD programs as of March 31, 2015.

Jerry Earle, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees, which represents social workers, called it a "very challenging" situation for social workers who are overworked.

"They're overburdened with caseloads," he said. "It's impacting on their ability to do the paperwork that's attached, and the paperwork that's attached to many of these files, they spend as much time doing filing, documentation almost as they do with client interactions."

They're overburdened with caseloads.- Jerry Earle, NAPE president

Earle said Paddon may have reviewed several cases, but he doesn't believe a single social worker was interviewed.

"The social workers that are on the front lines can certainly talk about the problems," he said. "It's fine to have policies and procedures, but if you don't have the resources, or if your workload is too significant to be able to implement them fully, then it's quite challenging."

"There's burnout in that profession."

Earle noted the provincial government closed a couple of rural offices, meaning some social workers are commuting longer distances to provide the same services.

NDP MHA Gerry Rogers says the government needs to remove barriers preventing social workers from doing their jobs. (Glenn Payette/CBC)

NDP critic Gerry Rogers said some of the problems being experienced can be attributed to the instability from the former Department of Child, Youth and Family Services being folded into a broader department.

"What's really important now is to be able to drill down and to see what are the blocks and barriers, what are the resources that are not there that enable the social workers to be able to do the work that they need to do with this very vulnerable population," she said.

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