North·Exclusive

Some N.W.T. day home operators say they won't take in foster children amid concerns with system

Some day home workers in the Northwest Territories say they’re hesitant to take in foster children after their experiences with the territory’s beleaguered child welfare system.

Allegations include pay delays, lack of information about kids in care and disrespect

A file photo of a woman walking with a child in the park. Some day home operators in the Northwest Territories claim they've had issues being paid on time for the care of foster children and they're not treated with respect by workers with the Child and Family Services division. (Getty Images/Flickr RF)

Some day home workers in the Northwest Territories say they're hesitant to take in foster children after their experiences with the territory's beleaguered child welfare system.

Three operators who spoke with CBC cited pay delays, privacy issues, and a lack of information about foster children among their concerns. 

Their allegations come in the wake of a searing letter from the Foster Family Coalition of the Northwest Territories made public in January, detailing serious allegations against the territory's Child and Family Services division.

In total, CBC reached 18 day home operators in the territory, who run a daycare in their personal homes. Many said they have never had foster children in their care. 

CBC has granted confidentiality to operators who spoke out, to limit the risk of identifying children in their care.

'This was my first and my last'

One day home operator told CBC while she "had a soft spot" for a foster child in her care, her experience with the government has soured her on caring for more foster children.

"This was my first and my last," she said.

Some day home operators say they won't take foster children anymore because of their experiences with the Child and Family Services division. (CBC)

She said she didn't have any problems until "out of the blue" a social worker brought the child's biological parent to her home.

She said that's a safety concern for her, her family and other children in her care. 

"I just felt like it was a violation of my rights," she said. 

She said she made a complaint to the department, but her concerns weren't taken seriously.

They really need to get their act together.- Day home operator

"I was basically laughed at," she said. "I was told by Social Services that it's the parent's right to know where their kid is and that my rights and privacy didn't really matter."

The operator added that the biological parent showed up on her doorstep "banging on [her] door" on another occasion. 

The Department of Health and Social Services did not directly answer CBC's repeated requests for information about the territory's policy on giving parents information about day homes.

An employee in the division who spoke with CBC on the condition of confidentiality confirmed that parents of children who are in foster care have the right to know where their children are.

The day home operator said a social worker she knows in Alberta told her that wouldn't happen there. 

A spokesperson for Alberta Children's Services said they give biological parents general information about their child's living situation but they do not give them addresses. 

The day home operator said N.W.T. social services also did not inform her the foster child had a contagious illness. She said if she hadn't been told by the foster parent, she would have had to shut down her day home for a week.

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She added that she was told when the child went on overnight stays with a biological parent, and when they were no longer in foster care, before the foster parent was notified.

"They really need to get their act together," she said of the division, adding they don't respect foster parents. "I don't feel there's any respect for me as well." 

Several day home operators cited concerns with pay delays including one who is a former foster parent. She said she also won't take any more foster children because of her experience with the division.

Among her concerns was that day homes are only told the same day when a child will no longer be in their care. 

"It would be like if your boss came up to you and said 'OK, so one-sixth of your income is gone.'" 

That's not just a financial challenge, she said — it's also emotionally difficult. 

"You grow to love these children and you take care of them and you treat them like they're your own," she said. "These children are ripped out of enough situations."

Day home licenses at risk

A third day home operator said she had to deny childcare to three foster children because of incomplete health information. 

Under the territory's Child Day Care Act, operators are required to keep files for each child in care — including annually updated immunization records and information on any health conditions. 

"I'm not going to lose my license with [the government] just because you want me to take one child from Social Services," the day home operator said, noting incomplete health information also puts other children in her care at risk. 

A file photo of a woman and a child. Some day home operators say they're given incomplete healthcare information about foster children. (Chantal Dubuc/CBC)

In the case of one child, the day home operator said the department's request to update information on a child's measles, mumps and rubella vaccine was denied by the biological parent.  

"I could not see myself taking a child without it because it was kind of exposing myself and other kids," she said. 

She said a staff member in the Education, Culture and Employment Department, which licenses day homes, told her they've heard the same concerns from other operators. She believes there needs to be better communication and co-operation within the government.

The Department of Education, Culture and Employment did not provide a response to CBC by Monday morning.

Requests to ministers offices were not returned.