N.W.T. daycare inspection reports not available to the public

Many jurisdictions post annual inspection reports in searchable databases but the N.W.T. Dept. of Education, Culture and Employment doesn't release those reports. Obtaining copies of the records is expected to cost the CBC thousands of dollars.

Accessing inspection reports since 2012 would cost CBC $1,700

NWT daycare inspection reports not available to the public 2:25

Parents looking to check in on how their child's daycare or day home fares during annual inspections are out of luck in the Northwest Territories, as daycare inspection reports are not made public.

Natasha McCagg sends her daughter to daycare in Yellowknife. She says if parents want to know how safe a facility is, it's up to them to try to interview providers.

'You just want to make sure you do your research and your due diligence." - Natasha McCagg, parent

"You're sending them off, trusting another adult to be that caring adult. You just want to make sure you do your research and your due diligence." 

CBC News filed an Access to Information request to see five years' worth of records for facilities across the territory. 

An initial estimate from the Department of Education, Culture and Employment said retrieving and copying those files would cost CBC $3,000. That request included information on the frequency of inspections.

CBC has since modified the request to ask for records since 2012, reducing the cost to about $1,700. 

Tough decisions for parents

In many provinces, inspection reports are publicly available through online registries. In Yukon, the Ministry of Health and Social Services provides a book of reports at its Whitehorse Child Care Services office. It's also mandatory to post the reports in the facilities themselves. 

McCagg says she would look up the reports if they were available online. 

"It's also something a day home providers could boast about: 'Listen go here, you can see reports, we've been the best in what we've been doing this year or five years.' Having information is key. If it's easily accessible then people will access it," she said.

Yellowknife parent Natasha McCagg says parents would benefit from having access to daycare inspection reports but most wouldn't go through government officials to review the documents. (CBC)

In the N.W.T., territorial government inspectors go through a checklist of 14 categories, everything from keeping immunization records, having enough play space, storing food properly and outlining behaviour policies. They flag and comment on any compliance issues. Renewals and accreditation are dependent on meeting the standards. 

Government inspectors do similar monitoring for restaurants in N.W.T. Those reports are available online.

No one from Education, Culture and Employment was available for an interview. However, a spokesperson says making the reports public has "potential to help enhance the quality of licensed early childhood programs, services and supports." 

The department says it is researching what other jurisdictions do, to see if it's possible in N.W.T. 

The government is required by law to inspect daycares and licensed day homes every year. But that hasn't always been the case.

Poor track record

Five years ago, the federal auditor general looked at N.W.T.'s daycare inspection reports from 2007 to 2009. The auditor general's report found that because of long gaps between inspections, Education, Culture and Employment had no way of knowing if the child care providers were following health and safety regulations. 

For instance, in 2008, the department inspected only half of the facilities in Yellowknife. The average time between these inspections was close to two years.

In response to the criticism, the department said it was short on staff. It committed to improving and switching to an electronic system to monitor if inspections were happening on time.

The auditor general says that didn't happen. In a follow-up report in 2012, the watchdog said progress was "unsatisfactory." It found inspectors were still filing reports by hand and there were cases where there were safety concerns and no evidence for how to follow up.

For instance, it found cases with blocked fire exits and cleaning products or chemicals within children's reach. The auditor general said the lack of follow up on whether the facilities were fixing these problems put children at risk.

About the Author

Elizabeth McMillan

Elizabeth McMillan is a journalist with CBC Nova Scotia. Over the past nine years, she has reported from the edge of the Arctic Ocean to the Atlantic Coast and loves sharing people's stories. She can be reached at elizabeth.mcmillan@cbc.ca

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