‘Substantial failure’ in N.W.T. child services: deputy minister

The deputy minister of the Northwest Territories’ Department of Health and Social Services says she agrees with the Auditor General’s conclusions and MLA concerns ‘that there has been substantial failure’ in child protection services.

Northwest Territories MLAs reviewing the Auditors General's report on Child and Family Services in the territory say they’re appalled with how little has changed despite multiple reports over the past decade.

Sahtu MLA Norman Yakeleya says the current child protection system is continuing the cycle of taking children away from their families and replicating the problems of residential schools.

He says there needs to be family preservation workers — locals working in their own communities.

“Ninety five per cent aboriginal people, you need 95 per cent aboriginal solutions,” he said. “Our solution is working with the people in the community. This is not what you call, in your report, colonization, you'll never fix it from that point of view.”

The deputy minister of Health and Social Services, Debbie Delancey, says she’s also disappointed that it is taking so long to improve the child protection system.

MLA Daryl Dolynny asked Delancey whether she's confident the department has a handle on the situation.

“Probably better answered at a political level,” she replied. “But I would say no, we absolutely have to agree with the Auditor General's conclusions and your concerns that there has been substantial failure in this area.”

Some progress, many challenges

Delancey says the department has been trying to make improvements for years, and has made some progress, such as beginning to do the annual audits that are required and working on updating a standards and procedures manual.

Delancey says part of the problem has been many changes in the senior managers in the department over the past decade, and the difficulty of recruiting people to do child protection work.

She says there are gaps between policies and what happens on the ground in communities.

And legislation needs to change to improve accountability within the department.

She says another problem is that many children are being neglected, not abused.

For those children, improving their situations involves dealing with addictions and early childhood programs.

MLAs on the Government Operations committee will continue questioning Delancey and other senior health officials today.


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