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Yukon gov't staff violated child protection laws at youth group home, commissioner finds

The Yukon Public Interest Disclosure Commissioner's investigation was launched after some government employees alleged wrongdoing in how youth group homes were being operated.

Investigation done under whistleblower legislation was tabled Wednesday in Yukon Legislature

Public Interest Disclosure Commissioner Diane McLeod-McKay found some government employees' actions 'created a substantial and specific danger to the youth's health and safety.' (Dave White/CBC)

The Yukon Public Interest Disclosure Commissioner (PIDC) has delivered the results of her investigation into allegations of wrongdoing in youth group homes, and found that in some cases, government employees violated child protection legislation.

In May of 2018, some Yukon government employees approached the PIDC with allegations of wrongdoing involving seven children who were in the care of the Department of Health and Social Services.

CBC had earlier interviewed several whistleblowers who worked for government, and some of the youth involved.

The investigation report by Commissioner Diane McLeod-McKay was tabled Wednesday in the Yukon Legislature.

The first allegation she looked at was that of a teen who was refused entry to his group home on a cold winter night, because of his behaviour.

The decisions, actions or omissions by Department employees amounted to fundamental contraventions ... of the CFSA.- Diane McLeod-McKay, Yukon Public Interest Disclosure Commissioner

McLeod-McKay's investigation found that had in fact happened. But her report also says no wrongdoing by staff had occurred, and that the "harm suffered by the child as a result of the decisions and actions of these employees did not create a danger to the child's life, health or safety."

The second allegation involved a youth who was told to leave his group home one afternoon with nowhere else to go.

The PIDC investigation found that contravened the Child and Family Services Act [CFSA].

"The decisions, actions or omissions by Department employees amounted to fundamental contraventions ... of the CFSA that were significant and serious," the report says.

It also says the employees' actions "created a substantial and specific danger to the youth's health and safety."

The PIDC investigation did not find any wrongdoing in the other four allegations.

The report includes eight recommendations for the Department of Health and Social Services, including:

  •  The department thoroughly investigate the underlying cause of the wrongdoing and detail its findings in a report.
  •  The department review its transition and discharge policies and ensure "employees are clear that they cannot discharge a child in custody of the director from a group home without ensuring that the child has suitable alternate accommodation."
  •  The department evaluate whether it is necessary to "establish a plan to accommodate children in an alternate location that ensures their safety and well-being when there is a group home bed shortage."
  •  That the department review its incident reporting, train employees and supervisors on properly documenting and reviewing incident reports, and establish an audit process.

The report also says the social services department's own investigations into wrongdoing allegations made by children were "deficient," that incident reports were "faulty," and that the follow-up processes by management "may be flawed."

The investigation found that children in care have not been made aware about how and where to make a complaint.

Investigation 'vigorously' challenged by gov't lawyers

McLeod-McKay says whistleblower legislation in Yukon needs to be reviewed and clarified. (Paul Tukker/CBC)

McLeod-McKay's report is the first to be made public since Yukon's Public Interest Disclosure of Wrongdoing Act came into effect in June 2015.

The report details how the Department of Health and Social Services was "confused" about protections given to employees under the whistleblower legislation.

"A failure to have proper disclosure procedures in place puts employees at risk who are courageous enough to bring a matter forward," the report says.

It goes on to point out that "confidentiality and anonymity ... [are] critically important for reprisal protection."

The report says during the investigation, the commissioner's requests for records and employee interviews were "vigorously met with numerous legal challenges by Yukon government lawyers."

McLeod-McKay says the government "refused access" to some records and "insisted" on having its lawyers present while the PIDC office interviewed some employees.

Her report concludes that this presented an "obstacle" to the commissioner's ability to conduct a thorough investigation.

McLeod-McKay says that points to the need for the whistleblower legislation to be reviewed and clarified. The act calls for a review within five years of it coming into force.

The report urges the department to work with the commissioner to develop disclosure procedures.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Raised in Ross River, Yukon, Nancy Thomson is a graduate of Ryerson University's journalism program. Her first job with CBC Yukon was in 1980, when she spun vinyl on Saturday afternoons. She rejoined CBC Yukon in 1993, and focuses on First Nations issues and politics. You can reach her at nancy.thomson@cbc.ca.

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