The territory’s health minister will meet with the Foster Family Coalition of the NWT’s board later this month to address major concerns raised by caregivers who say the child welfare system, broken and in “crisis,” continues to put children at risk.
Health and Social Services Minister Diane Thom will meet with the board on Jan. 30,
Tammy Roberts, executive director of the Foster Family Coalition of the NWT told Yellowknifer Monday.
Following a Dec. 12 meeting between foster care providers, adoptive parents and representatives from Health and Social Services, including Child and Family Services executive director Colette Prevost, Roberts and the non-profit coalition sent a 27-page letter to Thom, calling for a “long overdue” sit-down to address persistent problems plaguing a “failing” system.
“This is our modern residential school crisis,” wrote Roberts.
The letter, summarizing the concerns raised by caregivers at the December meeting, was accompanied by a host of recommendations. They include calls to make full-time respite care staff available in the capital and to establish a child and youth advocate position in the NWT.
Ongoing concerns and frustrations raised in the letter were echoed by several foster caregivers who sat down with Yellowknifer last week.
A damning 2018 report from Canada’s auditor general found many of the deficiencies identified in the territory’s child welfare system four years earlier had only worsened. In 2018, 66 per cent of foster families were not properly screened, and health and social service authorities in the NWT did not maintain the required regular contact with 90 per cent of children placed in foster care, a 30 per cent spike from 2014.
“Exhausted,” unsupported and underappreciated, foster parents said they’ve seen next to no progress at the ground level since the audit’s release – despite reassurances from the health department that improvements have been made.
Foster caregivers and adoptive parents all decried major, enduring shortcomings in accountability and oversight from Child and Family Services.
Some said they’ve faced lies, verbal abuse and harassment from child protection workers.
Roberts is hopeful the Jan. 30 meeting will result in meaningful action.
“The board is optimistic about meeting with the minister and department staff next week,” Roberts wrote in an email.
“We are hoping to discuss how we can work together to make services better for families and the children they care for,” she added.
Trista Haugland, media spokesperson for Minister Thom, confirmed the meeting on Tuesday.
“Minister Thom is committed to finding ways to work with and learn from foster parents to make things better for front-line workers, family and children and youth in care,” stated Haugland.
“(Thom’s) focus right now is to find ways to work to address the serious issues that have been raised and to make sure that children, and youth in care are safe and cared for and that those entrusted with their care are heard, supported and able to help them thrive,” continued Haugland.
Haugland added it’s still being determined which “key staff members” from the health department will be able to attend the meeting.
Meanwhile, Yellowknife Centre MLA Julie Green is welcoming the meeting between both sides.
“They deserve a comprehensive answer from the Department of Health and Social Services. I am hopeful that their meeting with the minister will be constructive,” Green told Yellowknifer in an email.
“As an MLA I will continue to hold the government accountable for the safety and well-being of children in care. There are no easy or immediate answers to these long-standing problems,” stated Green.
Glenn Wheeler, who led the 2018 audit into NWT Child and Family Services, could not be reached for comment.
The coalition’s board is made up of up to two volunteers from each region in the territory. There are currently seven sitting board members out of a possible 14, with vacancies in Hay River and the Sahtu.