Health Department agrees with Many Rivers cuts: Graham

The minister of health says his department and Many Rivers Counselling and Support Services agree that cash for family education programs is not covered by the current funding agreement.

The minister of health says his department and Many Rivers Counselling and Support Services agree that cash for family education programs is not covered by the current funding agreement.

However, a plain reading of the agreement in question suggests otherwise.

In an interview early this morning, Minister Doug Graham said he gave general direction to his department that “NGO funding would be an issue, shall we say, that I was really interested in, because the auditor general in the last report mentioned the fact that we were providing… inadequate accountability for the dollars that we were giving to the NGOs,” he said.

“In other words, we were giving them the money and we weren’t properly accountable or making sure that they were accountable for the spending that they were doing.

“What I was trying to do was make sure that when we gave the NGO money, that we knew what they were spending it on.”

In June, Many Rivers stopped offering the Mother Goose and Mothering Your Baby the First Year groups and the Nobody’s Perfect parenting course.

The Health Department has since said it plans on continuing the Mothering Your Baby the First Year group, but few details have been released.

Some of the programs were around for decades and their cancellation has left parents in the community frustrated.

In the past the groups were funded partially through grants, then topped up using Yukon government funds.

Graham suggested that the money being used to top up the programs’ cost might have been a budget surplus that was being reallocated.

The latest agreement was signed in April and lasts until 2017. During that negotiation, it was agreed that the programs in question were not covered, Graham said.

“That was the interpretation that was arrived at between the department and Many Rivers, that technically those programs weren’t covered by this wording. I don’t get involved in that detail. We have approximately 100 NGOs that we have agreements with.”

These comments are at odds with the wording of both the current agreement and the one that covered the last three years. Both include a paragraph that says: “The society will promote, develop, support and/or deliver programs in support of parenting, the development behaviour of children and adolescents and family life, to family, youth, professionals, and/or groups.”

Parents have credited the since-cancelled programs for helping parents bond with babies, connect with other parents and discuss the many challenges of having a new child at home. That includes things like keeping an eye out for post-partum depression.

Graham wouldn’t say why the programs in question don’t fall under this category. He repeated that he wasn’t involved in the negotiations and depended on his department to follow his instructions.

“My direction was to make sure they’re spending any of those surpluses on things that we agree with, that meet the objectives of the department or meet the objectives of the agreement,” he said.

“Obviously when they talked about it, Many Rivers made the decision to end the programs, so they must have decided, in conjunction with the department, that there were other uses for the funding they wanted to focus on, or perhaps there wasn’t even a surplus.”

Calls and emails to Many Rivers looking for their interpretation of this part of the agreement were not returned. However, in the past the executive director has maintained that the present agreement doesn’t allow the group to fund the cancelled programs.

Graham said he didn’t know how long territorial government money was being used to top up the costs of the program. Some of them have been running for decades. He said he was under the impression that some used to be covered using federal money before the territorial government stepped in.

When asked whether this means the territorial funding had been being misused for years, Graham said, “that’s what the auditor general’s report said, that we weren’t providing the adequate checking on many of these NGOs.”

Graham said that he “never knowingly was aware that surplus money was being used for these programs.”

If Many Rivers came back to the department and asked for more funding there would be a process to go through, he said.

“If they asked for more money we would go through that process, or we would begin that process. But would I get more money between now and April 1 of 2015? No.”

Contact Ashley Joannou at

ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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