NDP Leader Liz Hanson speaks to media last year. Hanson called the health department’s update on group homes an example of spin. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)

‘Pre-sitting gloss’: NDP Leader on health department’s group home update

Health and Social Services Minister Pauline Frost apologized to mistreated youth on Sept. 6

“Pre-sitting gloss. Full of spin.” That’s what NDP Leader Liz Hanson thinks about the health department’s Sept. 6 update on the group home debacle.

“What we’re seeing here is an attempt to spin this issue to keep the attention away from the fact that there still is serious dysfunction within this department,” she said.

Health and Social Services Minister Pauline Frost issued a public apology to youth who had been mistreated in government group homes, admitting that the government failed them.

A summary report, produced by B.C.-based lawyer-investigator Pamela Costanzo, was also released. She found that, of six allegations of mistreatment, two were substantiated.

“In respect of the five allegations relating to specific youth, I found that one allegation of mistreatment of a youth was supported, in breach of law and HSS policy,” Costanzo wrote. “I also found that director failed to properly investigate one incident.”

Hanson doesn’t buy it, though, because key issues have yet to be addressed, she said.

“It makes no comment about the mishandling of the employees, with respect to whistleblowers,” she said, noting that these people provided brave, factual information that, in the end, got them fired.

Stephen Samis, deputy minister of the department, told the press on Sept. 6 that the “paradigm has shifted,” playing up a 44 per cent deduction of youth and children in care over a two-year period. The focus, he had said, was to avoid placing youth into care by extending family agreements.

“(W)e changed our policy to provide the same level of funding to grandparents, aunties, uncles and other extended family members as we provide to foster parents,” Samis said.

To this, however, Hanson asked: “What professional services are being provided to those caregivers?”

She noted an apparent blind spot, in terms of what ongoing support looks like for caregivers outside the foster home.

And, rather frankly, Hanson, referring to how allegations were denied earlier this year, said the health department didn’t acknowledge it was caught in a lie.

“There’s systemic issues at play here,” she said. “I think people need to be finding out what’s changed on the ground for kids who’re currently in the care of the system, kids who’re falling between the cracks.”

At the conference, Frost said she became aware of an allegation from “a youth” in February.

The Yukon Party weighed in on this point in a written statement, saying “it wasn’t until the CBC was about to break the story several weeks later that the minister took any action to follow up on these reports.”

Spokesperson Madison Pearson said that Frost has “refused to show leadership and accept responsibility” throughout the matter.

“For months the minister and the premier claimed that everything was fine and that no further action was required. The minister owes Yukoners an explanation as to why she did not take action immediately or report these specific allegations to the police after becoming aware of them,” she said.

Contact Julien Gignac at julien.gignac@yukon-news.com

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