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Child welfare ‘crisis’ hasn’t improved Nunavut, auditor general contends

Report claims the Nunavut government is ‘failing to protect vulnerable children and youth.’
“This is the third time since 2011 that we have raised these concerns,” Auditor General of Canada Karen Hogan states in her latest report on child welfare in Nunavut, which was publicly released on Tuesday. The Canadian Press/Sean Kilpatrick photo

One of the Auditor General of Canada’s two 2023 reports to the Legislative Assembly of Nunavut asserts in plain language that the territorial government is “failing to protect vulnerable children and youth.”

The report, titled Child and Family Services in Nunavut, was released publicly on May 30 – the fifth day of the legislative assembly’s spring sitting.

It referred to the situation as a “crisis.”

It pointed to several areas of concern, noting that the Department of Family Services could not provide accurate numbers on the number of children in foster care in the territory, and that the department “did not respond or was slow to act in many cases” when children are at risk at home.

“The audit found failures in all areas examined, from responding to reports of suspected harm, to completing investigations and following up with children, youth and young adults placed in care in the territory or in southern Canada,” the report stated.

In terms of the causes of these issues, the report pointed to “severe, chronic gaps in critical areas such as staffing, housing and office space for employees, and training of employees.” It also alleged that the department is not providing a safe work environment for its staff.

The document did not contain any recommendations for the department, implying instead that recommendations in previous reports — the last one coming in 2014 — did not yield any results.

“This is the third time since 2011 that we have raised these concerns,” the report reads. “Recommendations in our previous two reports received agreement from the department and commitments for significant improvements that have yet to result in changed outcomes for the territory’s children, youth, and families.”

Premier P.J. Akeeagok, who had already been briefed on the auditor general’s findings, was quick to respond to the report, and promised “swift” action in a news release.

“Our government acknowledges and accepts Auditor General Karen Hogan’s findings,” he said. “Children are the future of our territory. As premier, and as a father, I am deeply disheartened by her report that says the delivery of child and family services in Nunavut is in a crisis state.”

Akeeagok went on to promise the Department of Executive and Intergovernmental Affairs will take a “whole-of-government approach” to “provide oversight across departments for services related to the well-being of children, youth, and families.”

Family Services Minister Margaret Nakashuk also addressed the contents of the report, stating, “I fully accept the contents of the performance audit. I am deeply committed to making the changes that need to be made.”

Nakashuk laid out plans to increase her department’s commitment to hiring qualified workers, including social workers, as well as engaging Elders and foster families in hopes of improving the situation. Staff housing, office space and software were also listed as areas where Family Services, in collaboration with other GN departments, will seek to improve.

The auditor general also released an unrelated report titled Covid-19 Vaccines in Nunavut. It was decidedly less severe, stating that “vaccinations in Nunavut were quick and equitable” and crediting GN departments for “working together and with community stakeholders to quickly give all Nunavummiut access to the vaccines”

However, the assessment did point out several areas where the GN could improve, specifically with respect to staff and nursing shortages.

Waste was also a problem, according to the report.

“Because of the absence of an inventory management system for tracking vaccines, the department could not account for 19,542 doses (16 per cent),” the report read. “The Department of Health reported wastage of 15 per cent, but the percentage could be as high as 31 per cent when the known wastage is combined with the doses that were unaccounted for.”

Akeeagok also addressed the Auditor General’s Covid-19 findings in a news release.

“Regarding Covid-19 vaccine distribution, recommendations will be implemented as the GN continues to ensure that vaccine rollout is effective and equitable. This evaluation reinforces the actions we took and will continue to take to improve healthcare delivery and services for Nunavummiut. Vaccines save lives, and we continue to encourage Nunavummiut to protect themselves and their communities by getting vaccinated.”