(One of the 40 Nunavut foster children seen in October currently living in an Ottawa group home despite being wards of Nunavut. Jason Leroux/APTN photo.)
APTN National News
Nunavut foster children shipped to group homes in Ottawa have been without a social worker in the city for nearly eight months, APTN National News has learned.
That’s because Nunavut didn’t renew the contract it had with an Ottawa-based child welfare services firm it had been using since 2013.
J Mark Consultants provided, in part, support to the children if they had a problem at the group home and could respond in person.
But when the contract with J Mark Consultants expired March 31 Nunavut had no one in place to cover the workload on the ground and still doesn’t.
But the firm didn’t just handle the 40 Inuit children currently placed in Ottawa but also 25 more in Edmonton, Red Deer and Winnipeg.
When the service was in place, if the child had a problem they could call the contracted social workers, but now have had to telephone someone in Nunavut said a spokesperson with the department of Family Services in Iqaluit.
“Each client has a case manager in their home community who has been following their cases,” said a spokesperson who asked all quotes be attributed to the department. “There is oversight by the case manager in the client’s home community who is reviewing reports, talking to the client, etc.”
A spokesperson also said Nunavut-based social workers have been making “site visits” to the children living out of territory.Since April 1, the spokesperson said 47 visits have taken place.
The children are forced to live in facilities outside of their home communities because they have medical or special needs Nunavut can’t provide. The territory spends about $9 million annually to cover the costs, with about 80 per cent of that going to group homes.
APTN learned Nunavut made the decision not renew the contract in October 2015 telling the owner of J Mark Consultants it intended to hire two permanent “client liaison officers”.
A spokesperson for Family Services said it has “taken longer than expected” to hire the officers. Nunavut hopes to by the end of the year.
Once hired, the officers are supposed to be responsible for ensuring the children are receiving proper care in group homes, which Nunavut said they’ve found a number of “issues” with.
Essentially, they’ll act as the eyes and ears of the children thousands of kilometres from home.
The owner of J Mark Consultants said he understood the decision to hire permanent social workers but was baffled when two of his staff were approached by Nunavut earlier this year to work on a contract basis.
“They had made attempts to secure my employees as private contractors,” said Mark Arnold.
Arnold didn’t want to comment further.
APTN learned staff worked on a part-time basis but each child had their cellphone numbers and could reach them at any hour. There was one employee to cover Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
Prior to 2013, it’s believed Nunavut had no one on the ground for children sent out of territory, which it had been doing for years.
Issues with the practice came to light in 2011 when the Auditor General of Canada reviewed Nunavut’s department of Family Services.
The auditor general looked at files belonging to 57 children who were out of territory at the time. Nearly a third were in group homes. Nunavut could only provide evidence of a group home having a license in two of eight files reviewed.
Five of seven files also uncovered Nunavut was not meeting with the children at least once a year, which is required by the Child and Family Services Act.
The auditor general did a follow up in 2013 and found visiting the children improved but “serious gaps in key child protection standards compliance remain” as annual reviews of foster placements were completed 13 per cent of the time and 29 per cent of facility licenses had been reviewed.
Since then it appears problems have continued.
Nunavut’s child advocate Sherry McNeil-Mulak told APTN last week in the last year her office has responded to seven cases involving children placed in group homes out of the territory.
“We have observed a lack of culturally appropriate care, a lack of assessments, a lack of coordinated care and communication amongst service providers and families,” said McNeil-Mulak.
She said the cases have shown there is no general plan in place when the kids are first placed in the home, or when for when they get to leave.
“We have also noticed that young people are often not included in these big decisions about their lives,” she said. “They are often treated as passive bystanders, rather than active participants.”
McNeil-Mulak said the government should be looking for ways to bring the kids home.
“The Government of Nunavut should actively explore viable options to provide a more diverse range of care options to young people in their home territory,” she said. “It is clearly in the best interest of the majority of young Nunavummiut.”