North

N.W.T. gov't unveils new plan to improve beleaguered child welfare system

Nearly 10 months after the Auditor General of Canada delivered a scathing rebuke of the Northwest Territories’ child welfare system, the territorial government has released a new plan to improve it.

Plan includes 70 actions; territory hopes to get moving on all of them by 2021

In a news release Monday, N.W.T. Health and Social Services Minister Glen Abernethy says his department's 'number one priority is to ensure the safety and well-being of children and youth receiving services.' (Alex Brockman/CBC)

Nearly 10 months after the Auditor General of Canada delivered a scathing rebuke of the Northwest Territories' child welfare system, the territorial government has released a new plan to improve it.

The territorial Department of Health and Social Services unveiled its "Quality Improvement Plan," and an accompanying online progress tracker, on Monday. 

The plan includes 70 actions to create better outcomes for children and families involved with the child and family services division. The government hopes to get moving on all 70 items between this year and 2021.

"Our number one priority is to ensure the safety and well-being of children and youth receiving services and care from child and family services. This includes their connectedness to family, community and culture," Glen Abernethy, minister of health and social services, said in a news release Monday.

Abernethy said the government intends to post quarterly updates so the public can see what actions have been taken, as well as any new goals that are added. 

According to the child and family services division's most recent report, dated 2017-2018, the number of children involved in the system had remained steady over the last decade, at an average of 984 children per year. Over that time, more than 90 per cent of the children in care were Indigenous.

In October 2018, the auditor general reported that since its previous review in 2014, problems with how the territorial government protects children in its care had gotten worse

The report cited cases in which the department placed children with guardians before doing basic background checks. Among other failings, it found that officials did not maintain regular contact with children in care and that it did not properly supervise children placed outside the territory. 

At the time, Abernethy said staff retention within the child and family services division was a major issue. He said over the four years between the two audits, the job vacancy rate had hovered around 25 per cent.

The 2019 territorial budget included about $3.3 million for child and family services to hire more social workers and support staff, and generally build up capacity.

The new child and family services plan puts an emphasis on increasing satisfaction among child and family services staff, and improving compliance with department standards.

It also aims to offer employees more training opportunities.

Additionally, the plan calls for greater scrutiny of foster homes, more training and support for foster parents, and enhanced oversight of children placed in homes outside the territory.

According to the government's online tracker, 19 of its actions have been completed and 51 are "on track."

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