The number of children receiving protective services from the territorial government while still at home increased significantly over the last decade.
According to Colette Prevost, director of Child and Family Services for the Department of Health and Social Services, in 2008-09 of the children receiving foster care-type protection from the GNWT, 19 per cent were still living with their parents and 55 per cent were living with a foster caregiver their home community.
Prevost said that data in a new 2019-2020 report shows that 93 per cent of children receiving protective services were either in their family home or home community.
That’s an improvement, because “this helps the child and youth maintain connections with culture, friends, family and other supports,” according to the Annual Report of the Director of Child and Family Services 2019-2020.
The report was tabled Oct. 21 in the legislative assembly by Health and Social Services Minister Julie Green.
Under the Child and Family Services Act, permanent custody status lasts until a child reaches the age of 16.
The report covers the period between April 1, 2019, and March 31, 2020.
“It shows positive indications that we’re on the right track,” Green said. “Over the past 10 years, we’ve seen an decreasing trend in the number of children and youth under a permanent custody order. We’re seeing a positive movement in the strength and resiliency of communities supporting families and their children. This change allows continued connections with family and community while ensuring cultural continuity, which is so important in protecting the identity of the child.
“As a government, we have a duty to protect the well-being and dignity of children and youth and ensuring their families receive the right kinds of support. To accomplish this, I will maintain an open dialogue with members, Indigenous governments and communities as well as key stakeholders to explore opportunities to benefit children, communities and families.”
Green added that, on the occasion of October being Foster Family Recognition Month, she extended her “sincere gratitude and appreciation” to all the foster caregivers across the NWT.
Data behind improving trends
Data from past annual reports of the Director of Child and Family Services bears out the encouraging trends.
During the 2019-2020 fiscal year, a total of 1,239 children or youth received either prevention or protection services from the Child and Family Services System. Fifty-four per cent received voluntary support services; 33 per cent received services through a Plan of Care Agreement between individuals with lawful custody of the child and the Plan of Care Committee; 10 per cent – or 123 – received supports through a Permanent Custody Order; and three per cent received supports through a Temporary Custody Order.
The number of children under permanent custody has been falling steadily since 2008-2009, when there were 244 within that status. In 2008-2009, 19 per cent of children stayed in the home of their parent while receiving services, while 55 per cent stayed in their home community.
Over the following years, those proportions increased and decreased, respectively. In 2017-2018, 30 per cent of children stayed with their parent while receiving services, while 46 stayed in their community. The 2018-2019 report showed that the number of children receiving services in the home of their parent had risen to 67 per cent, and 17 per cent remained in their home community.
The number of children removed from their homes but remaining in the NWT decreased to seven per cent in 2018-2019 from 15 per cent in 2008-2009.
Falling vacancy rate
The vacancy rate among Child and Family Services staff decreased to 8.6 per cent in April 2020, from 25 per cent in October 2018, the report said. The division also introduced 21 new positions to the system in April 2019.
While the report added that there are still challenges with staffing pressures and high workloads, it anticipates that the new positions will help improve compliance and support youth, families and caregivers.
Indigenous children overrepresented
Despite some positive trends over the last decade, the proportion of Indigenous children and youth in Child and Family Services remain overrepresented.
For 2019-2020, 98 per cent of children receiving prevention and protection services were Indigenous, even though only 54 per cent of children or youth in the territory are Indigenous.
“This overrepresentation is our call to action to strengthen partnerships with Indigenous governments and communities to better support children, youth and families across the NWT,” the report states.
That proportion, which includes First Nations, Inuit and Métis, has been above 90 per cent for more than a decade, though with some changes by ethnicity.
In 2008-2009, 95 per cent of the youth receiving services were Indigenous, but the numbers of Inuit and Métis youth decreased while First Nations increased to 76 per cent in 2019-2020 from 66 per cent in 2008-2009.
The latest report comes almost one year after the Department of Health and Social Services (HSS) released a progress report in response to a highly-critical assessment of NWT Child and Family Services from the Auditor General of Canada in 2018.
Its Quality Improvement Plan sought to address weaknesses found in service delivery and as of late December 2019, there were 23 “action items” out of 70 that had been implemented, while 47 others were “on track.”
The 2018 review, a follow-up to an audit released in 2014, found that HSS and its authorities failed to meet important responsibilities in ensuring the protection and well-being of children and their families; authorities didn’t maintain the required regular contact with almost 90 per cent of children placed in foster care; and screenings of foster homes weren’t properly conducted.