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Data gaps contributing to child sexual abuse 'crisis' in Nunavut

Seventy per cent of Nunavut's registered sexual offenders have offended against children, according to Nunavut's representative for children and youth. Jane Bates also told legislators that poor information tracking is contributing to the problem.

70 per cent of Nunavut's registered sexual offenders have offended against children, report finds

Nunavut’s representative for children and youth, Jane Bates, took questions over a two-day hearing on her offices annual report. (Jackie McKay/CBC)

Nunavut's representative for children and youth is calling child sexual abuse in the territory a "crisis," and says the lack of data collected by the government is holding back positive change. 

Jane Bates made the comments during a two-day hearing in which the legislature's standing committee on oversight of government operations and public accounts reviewed her office's 2019-2020 annual report. The hearing ended Tuesday. 

The report is meant to point out the gaps in services and systemic issues faced by children in Nunavut. 

It says 70 per cent of Nunavut's registered sexual offenders have offended against children. At the hearing, Bates said updated numbers show that percentage is now closer to 50 per cent, but that this is still a shocking number. 

Bates said that according to the charity the Canadian Centre of Child Protection, only about seven per cent of child abuse cases are brought to police or child welfare agencies. 

"When you look at all of this information that I am providing together, I would say yes, this is a crisis," said Bates. 

In March of 2020 Family Services Minister Elisapee Sheutiapik said her department doesn't have complete statistics on how many calls they get about child sexual abuse, but that she can "comfortably say" it gets about two calls a week. 

Referencing this statement, Bates said that means the department gets around 104 calls a year about child sexual abuse. 

But there's no way to know how many reports the department actually gets, because it doesn't keep track, she said. 

This table in Nunavut's 2019-2020 Representative for Children and Youth Report has a lot of question marks. The youth representative says the territorial government needs accurate data if it's going to address high rates of abuse experienced by children. (Representative for Children and Youth Office)

Gov't departments not tracking basic data 

In the representative's report, spaces are left blank for the number of referrals family services gets related to people reporting child abuse and what kind of abuse they are reporting.

"We thought it was concerning that the Department of Family Services doesn't keep track of the number of referrals for the year and the reason for the referral," said Bates.

She said other jurisdictions to track this information. 

Asked why the department isn't tracking this, Yvonne Niego, deputy minister for the Department of Family Services, blamed bad technology and said the department is working to implement a better tracking system.

Bates said that she "worked in a system for more than 17 years that did not have an electronic state-of-the-art-case management system or a client information system, yet we still collected data."

Yvonne Niego, deputy minister of Family Services, answered questions at the hearing relating to her department. It was criticized for not tracking basic information when it came to referrals for child welfare. (Sima Sahar Zerehi/CBC)

The Department of Family Services isn't the only department failing to track basic information. 

The representative's report shows the Department of Education is unable to provide the average class sizes by grade, and the Department of Health doesn't track births outside the territory and was unable to provide the number of young people who have died by suicide over the last year. 

"The information that we are requesting should have already been completed and in the possession of the department," said Bates. 

Bates's office routinely requests this kind of data from the departments to inform its cases and make annual reports. Bates mentioned repeatedly over the course of the hearing how often her office struggled to get the information. 

If departments tracked even a year's worth of this data, she said, they could better inform the government about how services are working and how many staff are needed to properly deliver services.

Gov't blames data gaps on staff shortages

Deputy ministers from the departments of Health, Justice and Education were also at the hearing. 

All the departments said many of their failures to properly track data have to do with struggles recruiting, retaining and housing staff. 

But Bates warns that it doesn't matter if you have more staff if policies, procedures and legislation aren't being followed. 

"The infrastructure that is required, the training that is required, to carry out this type of work [child welfare] is intensive," she said. "But I cannot stress enough how important it is." 

Gov't needs to be held accountable, says Bates

Bates said data helps hold departments accountable for their decisions. 

Referring to the Department of Family Services, Bates said without key information they are unable to justify to children and families why they did or did not intervene in child welfare cases. 

"That is the experience of that child, that youth, and they may come back to you, that department, several years later and say, 'Why did this happen to me? How did you make these decisions?' And without that documentation the department is not accountable."

The tone of the report was criticized by associate deputy minister of Education, Rebecca Hainnu, who said it made it sound like Nunavut was a terrible place to live and all the territory's children are angry and hungry. 

"In fact, we have wonderful children that are achieving many wonderful things and come from good healthy homes," said Hainnu.

Bates said the report's tone is intended to be factual. 

"Conditions and experiences in childhood have a major impact on your life trajectory," said Bates. She said the goal is to ensure government services are "equitable, ethical and consistent." 

The committee will make recommendations to departments based on what it heard at the hearing. Those recommendations will be tabled in the legislature in September.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jackie McKay

Reporter

Jackie McKay is a Métis journalist working for CBC in Nunavut. She has worked as a reporter in Thunder Bay, Yellowknife, Whitehorse and Iqaluit. Jackie also worked on CBC Radio One shows including The Current, Metro Morning, after graduating from Ryerson University in 2017. Follow her on Twitter @mckayjacqueline.

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