Glen Abernethy: 2018 Auditor General's Report on Child and Family Services

Yellowknife — October 24, 2018
Ministers' Statements and Speeches

Check Against Delivery

Mr. Speaker, I would like to respond to the follow-up audit on Child and Family Services that was tabled in the House yesterday.

 

Mr. Speaker, our top priority is to ensure the safety and security of children and youth receiving services and care from Child and Family Services. 

 

The Auditor General’s report contains findings that are disappointing and concerning to all of us.  While these findings align with what we have seen in our own internal audit work, they are difficult and serve as another reminder that we are not where we want or need to be and we must do better.

 

The Department of Health and Social Services and I have reviewed and accepted without question all 11 recommendations in the report. I want to assure you that we take these findings and recommendations very seriously.   We have already started implementing actions to fix the issues identified through this audit and our own internal audit.  We also recognize that there is more that must be done.   

 

Mr. Speaker, before outlining the actions we are taking it is important to remember the actions we took following the previous report of the Auditor General released in 2014.

 

Members will recall that we created the Building Stronger Families Action Plan four years ago to transform Child and Family Services.  Under this plan we took a number of actions to better serve and support children, young people and their families in the NWT.

We amended the Child and Family Services Act to help mature youth make a successful transition from care to living independently.  We improved training for staff, implemented a new child and family services information system and Structured Decision Making tools, updated the Standards and Procedures Manual, and got advice on how to better assess and manage caseloads, so we could better support our staff in their work.  We set up an internal auditing process, tabled legislated annual reports by the Child and Family Services Director and appointed Chief Operating Officers as Assistant Directors, so we could be more accountable for our work.  We also increased rates for foster parents to provide them with better support.

 

Mr. Speaker, the steps we have been taking are the right ones and they are the foundation stones needed to create better outcomes for children and their families. However, the Auditor General has concluded that some of the changes we have been making to the system have not been effectively implemented. 

 

Mr. Speaker, this audit and our own internal audit shows us that while we have been doing the right things, we need to be more focused on doing these things the right way.   As I have been acknowledging for some time, there is more to be done to improve our Child and Family Services.  Reflecting on these findings, we will be moving ahead with an improved focus on how we are managing and resourcing the changes we must continue to make.

 

Mr. Speaker, in January of this year I attended meetings hosted by Minister Philpott regarding the crisis of Indigenous children and youth in care in Canada.  At this meeting we heard from Indigenous leaders from across the country regarding the need to create a child welfare system that is more focused on prevention and keeping children with their own families and in their own communities and cultures.  I am proud that these are things we hear in this Legislative Assembly realized and have been working on for some time. 

 

The Director’s Report that I tabled here last week showed some trends that represent the kind of change that we want to see in child protection in the NWT and, indeed, within our country:

  • More children and youth receiving services are remaining in the care of their parents, while the proportion of children being removed from their homes and communities is decreasing.
  • The number of children and families receiving prevention services is rising, while the number of those receiving protection services is falling. 
  • More families who are facing challenges in caring for their children are being helped through Voluntary Service Agreements. 
  • The number of children in the permanent custody of the Director has decreased by over 37 percent, 244 children to 152 since 2008-2009.

 

Mr. Speaker, while these are hopeful and promising trends, they do not diminish the importance of responding to the findings contained in the Auditor General’s report.  I want to share with Members what we are doing as a system to ensure we move forward clearly and decisively from this audit and our internal audits.

 

We have begun taking action in four areas to fix the system and address issues also identified by the Auditor General: continuing to build a culture of quality, investing in human resources, building staff capacity, and engaging with our partners.

 

First, we need to build on the work we already started in creating a culture of quality.  That is why in the spring we implemented a Child and Family Services Coordinating Team to collectively plan and address findings from our internal audits.  We are also going to launch a System Quality Steering Committee to create a stronger quality improvement culture.  Quality assurances processes that were developed by the Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority are now being implemented across the territory to enhance key indicator monitoring and reporting, provide feedback to regions and staff and support quality improvement planning.  In addition, we are upgrading standards in areas where there are still gaps in quality, such as permanency planning, foster care and investigations.

 

Second, we are focusing on human resources to make sure we have the right people in the right roles to meet demand now and in the future.  We are assessing caseloads and workloads, and stepping up recruitment, retention and development of Child and Family Services staff.  We will be proposing the establishment of new frontline positions and examining whether we should include new roles, such as family support workers, to improve prevention services and early intervention.  Positions to better support the screening and review of foster homes have been assigned and will be recruited this year.  The Out of Territory Program is currently under review in order to ensure we have the proper complement of staff to effectively manage and support this program.  

 

Third, we are building the capacity of our Child and Family Services staff.  We’ve made sure they have the core training they need, including enhanced training on Structured Decision Making tools, and created an internal training team.  We also know we need to improve our training for Assistant Directors, so we will be delivering a new training program for them later this year.

 

Finally, we are engaging with our partners and drawing on their knowledge to improve outcomes.  We are continuing meetings and engagement with staff started several months ago to discuss quality issues and get their input on action required to improve compliance.  We’re also working with Indigenous communities and leaders to continue to develop more culturally responsive approaches. We are also working with the Foster Family Coalition to strengthen our relationship with foster families and engage them to understand the training and support required to better serve children under their care.

 

Mr. Speaker, as I said, we have laid the building blocks to improve the quality of Child and Family Services for children, youth and families.  But it is clear we continue to face significant challenges and there is much more work we must and will do. 

 

As part of our ongoing commitment to quality improvement, we will continue working with Members here, our staff, stakeholders, communities, Indigenous leaders and, of course, the families we serve, to make the changes needed for a stronger Child and Family Services system.  Our work with our partners must continue to strengthen the Child and Family Services system, making sure it is child, youth and family focused, and focused on providing high quality care and support in a way that respects culture. 

 

We will continue working in partnership with Indigenous communities and leaders to meet the government’s commitment in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to transform Child and Family Services in the direction of a more collaborative and family-centred approach.

 

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the Office of Auditor General Canada for their insights and for their contribution to improving services for children.  I also want to thank all of our Child and Family Services staff, who work incredibly hard in extremely difficult and complex situations.  We are committed to work with them in partnership and support them in their quest to provide the best services possible to ensure children, youth and families are protected and supported.

 

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.