Kids as young as three are staying in the territory’s group homes, sometimes living with older children, the News has learned.
Group homes normally don’t house children younger than eight. But the health department now admits children as young as three are staying in group care.
The Yukon Employees Union says it has been happening since at least September.
No one from the health department was made available for an interview. But in a statement the department called the issue “complex.”
“One major part of the answer is because there are not enough foster homes,” the statement said. “In addition, and likely because of the housing considerations, we are finding that many of the current and new foster homes are unable to support sibling groups. Unfortunately the issue of younger children being placed in group care is a problem that is national in scope and Yukon is no exception.”
The statement does not say how often younger children are being taken into group homes or how old the other children are who live in the same homes.
“At times we do have younger children residing with older children, just like in typical families. We make every effort (to) keep sibling groups staying together and this may mean providing group home programming that can allow for different ages and genders,” the statement said.
“But in general we try to maintain our group home programs where children are placed by age.”
The news has both the union and the territory’s child advocate asking questions.
Union president Steve Geick wondered whether staff at the group homes were being appropriately trained to help preschoolers.
“There are things they are trained for, but I don’t know if that translates to that age group of kids.”
If things are going to continue this way, the department needs to consider expanding the mandate of the group home system, Geick said.
“They need to look at possibly separate homes and keeping dedicated space for preschool and ensuring the staff has the tools they need to deal with it.”
Annette King is the Yukon’s child advocate. Part of her mandate is to ensure the rights of children in government care are being respected.
King wouldn’t say whether her office has heard complaints about preschoolers in group homes, citing privacy concerns.
She wants more information from the Yukon government about how it decides to send young kids to group homes.
“It’s the developmental age that we’d be concerned about. I’d want to know what resources were put into these group home situations that promote their development,” she said.
“Is there different training for staff? We think of group homes as being teenagers’ homes and adolescent development is different than preschool development.”
The department said: “Many different efforts are being made to help address the needs of younger children who require out of home care.”
That includes “trying to improve the training made available to both foster parents and the social workers who provide supports and services in the area of child welfare.”
Last year the department said there were 61 Yukon foster homes. At the time, CBC reported that number was down from 70 the year before.
The health department says it runs a foster parent recruitment campaign that tries to dispel the myths of being a foster parent, including the misconception that you have to be married to apply.
“This issue illustrates that our system needs to remain flexible and adapt to the changing needs within our communities and territory as a whole. In addition, it is clear that preventing children from coming into care has to remain a system priority,” the statement said.
In 2013, the Yukon’s occupational health and safety officials investigated the territory’s group homes after an influx of employees reported workplace violence on the job.
In 2014, the health department admitted that children were being housed in bed and breakfasts because the department didn’t have enough space.
The department’s latest statement makes no mention of whether older children are being displaced from group homes to make room for younger ones.
Contact Ashley Joannou at firstname.lastname@example.org