P.E.I. child-care centre inspections need improvement, says AG
Inspection templates not updated with new regulations
Inspections at provincially-regulated child-care centres are lacking in some key areas, including criminal background checks for staff and fire inspection reports, says the provincial auditor general.
Auditor General Jane MacAdam's annual report was released Friday morning. Early learning and child-care centres was one of three performance audits included in the report, with the others being a five-year capital plan for provincial parks and a review of public purchase procedures.
MacAdam found the parks capital plan lacked the background work required to ensure it was budgeting enough money, and that public purchases were often not following proper procedures.
More on all of these reports below.
MacAdam also reviewed the government record in implementing recommendations from previous reports.
She found only 33 per cent of the recommendations from her 2015 report had been implemented, and 64 per cent the recommendations from 2016.
"The lengthy delay in implementing these recommendations is very concerning," MacAdam wrote.
Childcare inspections still using dated templates
"Many parents rely on the availability of affordable, licensed early child care to provide a safe environment for their children," wrote MacAdam.
There are about 5,000 P.E.I. children regularly attending the centres, about two thirds of the under-school-age population.
The audit included how centres were inspected. In particular, MacAdam found the inspection template used by the Early Learning and Child Care Board was outdated.
New regulations were put in place for the centres in January 2017, but the inspection template has still not been updated to reflect all the changes. In the 15 months following new regulations being put in place, more than 40 per cent of inspections did not take into account the new rules.
Those new rules included criminal record checks for all staff. The following items from the new regulations are not included on the template.
- Overall sanitary conditions. Template only addressed washroom conditions.
- Provision of crib or infant bed for each child under 12 months.
- Diapering area within reasonable proximity to a washing area.
- Review of handling of medication for the children.
- Food meeting standards in Canada's Food Guide and food in sufficient quantity.
While shadowing seven inspections, AG staff found inspectors did ask about criminal record checks in all cases. In none of those cases were the centres able to provide the proper documentation, but four of the centres were still issued an overall satisfactory report.
In 30 per cent of new licence approvals inspected, licences were granted without fire inspection documentation. There were also 30 per cent that did not have staff screening documentation.
The AG concluded there was not enough guidance for inspectors on what violations should lead to an unsatisfactory inspection.
The board has responded to MacAdam's recommendations regarding inspections. It says the inspection template is being updated, and it will develop a policy regarding what constitutes an unsatisfactory inspection
Inspection schedule required
MacAdam also noted that in many cases too much time passed between inspections.
"Good practice indicates inspections should be at least annual," she wrote.
About 35 per cent of centres reviewed by the AG had licence renewals where the inspection was more than a year old. New centre inspections, which have to be done with children present, on some occasions were not done until nine months after opening.
The board agreed that inspections should be annual. It said that is its practice, and it would develop a policy to formalize the practice.
Provincial parks problems
MacAdam reviewed a five-year capital plan for provincial parks, and found it lacking in two key aspects.
Tourism PEI runs 23 provincial parks, including eight campgrounds. The campgrounds are becoming more popular, with about 31,000 site nights sold in 2013 and about 41,000 in 2018.
The plan, running from 2018-23, includes $3.3 million in expenditures. It includes $136,000 a year for washrooms, and $57,000 a year for building replacement.
But Tourism PEI prepared the capital plan without preparing a strategic vision for the future of the parks.
"As the vision is not defined, it is difficult to determine the nature and extent of the assets that may be required," MacAdam wrote.
Tourism PEI also prepared the plan without creating a complete list of the assets in the parks — such as playgrounds, roadways and other infrastructure — and consequently the department does not know the condition of those assets.
The lack of documentation of capital assets included some shortfalls in the area of safety.
"Several parks did not have chemical water analyses completed in compliance with legislation and playground inspections were not always completed and documented," MacAdam said in the report.
Tourism PEI has a policy that parks should be inspected twice during the tourism season to get a sense of the condition of the capital assets. During the 2017-18 fiscal year only half the campgrounds were inspected and less than a quarter of the day-use parks.
MacAdam is concerned that the capital budget will not be adequate.
She noted more than half the buildings in the parks were more than 35 years old, and they have an estimated useful life of 40 years.
Tourism PEI has started to compile a list of capital assets in the parks, and expects to have a strategic plan completed in 2020.
MacAdam's report also reviewed the procurement of goods for government departments, as well as publishing the audited financial records for the province.
Government purchases not following procedures
Key components of the Public Purchasing Act are not being complied with and competitive processes are not being followed consistently, MacAdam said.
Not following the rules has interprovincial implications, because under the Atlantic Procurement Agreement purchases over $10,000 are open to vendors across Atlantic Canada.
MacAdam said many of the problems were with transactions that were close to the lower limit, but the value of them could add up. In an analysis of 33 transactions requiring a public tender, she found 11 did not properly follow the competitive process. The total value of those purchases was $250,000.
MacAdam was also concerned that when goods arrived they were often signed for by someone who did not have authority.
The office of the comptroller said it would be providing additional education on procurement procedures by the end of the year.
Net debt to GDP falling
MacAdam's financial audit confirmed the $75 million surplus for 2017-18 forecast by the Department of Finance in November.
The original forecast for that year was a $600,000 surplus. It was the first reported surplus since 2007. MacAdam said it was largely the result of an 8.2 per cent increase in revenue.
She noted net debt to GDP has been falling since 2015.
- 2015: 36.5 per cent.
- 2016: 35.7 per cent.
- 2017: 34.2 per cent.
- 2018: 32.1 per cent.
Currently P.E.I. has the fourth lowest debt to GDP ratio in the country, behind Alberta, Saskatchewan, and British Columbia.