Training for N.W.T. child protection workers now includes learning about colonization

The territorial government says the new training is 'more significant' and also includes child protection workers connecting and working closely with elders and traditional knowledge holders in the communities.

Foster parent screening changes coming in spring

Patricia Kyle is the assistant deputy minister for families and communities as well as the statutory director for child and family services with the N.W.T.'s department of health. She says training for child protection workers has become 'more significant.' (Alyssa Mosher/CBC)

Child protection workers in N.W.T. are now required to take more substantial training that involves learning about the haunting — and all-too-common — effects of colonization and the residential school system.

In 2014, a federal auditor general's report found, among other problems with child and family services, that the protection workers' training wasn't good enough.

Child protection workers told auditors they learned a lot about the regulations they had to follow — like possibly filling out court affidavits — but not enough about how or why those regulations fit into their day-to-day work.

The Department of Health and Social Services says that's changed.

Patricia Kyle, assistant deputy minister for Families and Communities, says since early 2016, the training has become "more significant."

Training for the workers now consists of:

  1. Meeting with elders, chiefs, traditional knowledge holders, and nurses in their communities. Kyle says the government wants to make sure all of these people are working together with the same goal: reunite the child and his or her birth parents.
  2. All child protection workers across the territory travel to Yellowknife for training sessions, which includes learning about colonization and the residential school system and how that may affect the children they're working with and the family dynamic they encounter. 
  3. Workers then travel back to their communities and work as trainees, where they can apply some of the things they learned before officially becoming an independent child protection worker.

Parents need training: Foster Family Coalition

Tammy Roberts, executive director of the Foster Family Coalition of the N.W.T., says it's "fabulous" that the territorial government is moving in what she calls the right direction. She says instead of a foster parent simply being a "temporary caregiver for kids," that person is now part of a team — which includes elders and nurses in the communities — that's aiming to get the child back to their birth family.

And the numbers show the strategy is working.

According to the 2015-16 Child and Family Services report, fewer children are being permanently taken from their homes — and fewer birth parents are being taken to court. Instead, they're coming to an agreement with the government that works best for their child and eventually sees them back in their home.

"Years ago there was never any notion to have birth families and foster families working together, but now that happens more because it's more beneficial for the kid," Roberts said.

Tammy Roberts says not only do child protection workers need training, but foster parents should have mandatory training as well. (CBC)

But there's still work to be done, she says. The coalition, whose mandate is to support foster parents, offers training for them so they can better understand exactly what they're getting into. 

"We're getting kids that have a lot of challenges... exposure to family violence, prenatally exposed to alcohol or drugs... so we need training in order to do the best we can in providing for them," Roberts said. 

She says sometimes prospective foster parents get a boost of confidence from the training, while other times people realize fostering is not for them. 

Roberts says that's part of the reason why training should be mandatory for all foster parents. 

"Being removed from your family and placed with strangers, that's going to cause issues for [a child]," she said. "So we need to have people that are equipped to deal with that and help these children move forward."

At this stage, that's not on the docket for the territorial government, but Kyle says they are working on improving how the government screens foster parents, another recommendation from the auditor general.

The changes to that process are expected to come into effect this spring.