The Yukon government has accepted the bulk of recommendations included in the child advocate’s report, which primarily found that more should be done to ensure youth and children in care are connected to their cultures.
“Systemic issues require a systemic response,” the government’s written response released July 26 says, adding that “change must extend beyond any one person, one policy, one program, one branch and one government.”
The review, released in April by Annette King, the Yukon’s Child and Youth Advocate, found “gaps between policy, practice and the lived experiences of children and youth,” and made 30 recommendations for the government to apply.
It concerned 94 children and youth who were in care between 2015 and 2018. The majority of them — 79 per cent — identified as Indigenous, according to the review.
Recommendations include cultural-based supports for families and mandatory First Nations trauma training for staff working with youth and children, along with ensuring youth continue to be supported once they age out of care.
The Yukon government’s response says 27 recommendations have been accepted, one of which has been modified. The remaining three have been rejected.
The accepted recommendations are being addressed through initiatives that have been launched already or plan to be, according to the government. These include supervisor training, adding a second transitional support worker, the unveiling of a new records management system, extended family care agreements and hiring counsellors for four mental health hubs in rural zones.
“I’m optimistic, with a bit of caution, of course,” King told the News. “The optimism part is they met the deadline. The response shows an intention to acknowledge the issues that the children, the families and the staff identified through the report.”
King’s review went beyond the confines of group homes, she said — it centred on care.
“It does need a system-wide approach, so I was pretty satisfied that’s the tone of the response. This is the start.”
Asked to elaborate, King said the government’s response is an initial one.
“We’ll make sure that each and every issue that was identified for the kids that is still ongoing is addressed, like all the way to resolution.”
Formal meetings are to occur twice per year going forward. It’s during these times that progress will be measured.
Three recommendations have been rejected on the grounds they are being tended to “in other areas” by the Department of Health and Social Services (HSS), the government says.
King suggested the Child and Family Services Act be amended so that youth beyond 24 years of age could still qualify for support.
Instead, the government says supports for clients over 24 years old should extend beyond Family and Child Services, arguing that doing the opposite would pigeonhole services. The government says linkages need to be created with community-based organizations and other government-sponsored programs.
King wants more information about this.
“If not you, then who?” she said. “You know, map it out, because it’s hard enough to navigate systems, right? Tell me how it’s going to make a difference for the kids.”
The department is waiting on a final report from the Child and Family Services Act advisory committee regarding people who are older than 24.
HSS has rejected the recommendation to hire a cultural advisor, stating that this type of work shouldn’t be up to one person.
“HSS believes that connection to family, community and culture is a requirement of all who work with our children, youth and families. Ongoing recruitment efforts support diversity applicants in all positions.”
The government has also rejected the suggestion that it establish an independent cultural/reconciliation committee charged with connecting children and youth to culture, including land-based activities.
The response says “these goals can best be achieved with a revitalization of our previous culture committee, or the implementation of a similar model that has youth participation and an enhanced focus on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) and reconciliation activities.”
It says that coming up with an independent committee of this kind would be “very challenging” due to legalities of Family and Child Services.
One recommendation that calls for the enforcement of exit interviews has been adjusted. The position of HSS is that staff should have a choice to complete them.
“Staff have an ongoing obligation throughout the period of their employment to report immediately any quality of care concern to ensure it is addressed appropriately,” the response says. “Should staff wait to exercise their legislated responsibility during an exit interview, they potentially place children and youth at risk and this is unacceptable.”
While some initiatives attached to the government’s response were “great,” King wants to know more — including how they will change outcomes for children and youth.
Regardless of whether recommendations were rejected, all of them are intentional in that they were sourced from the community, she continued.
“We’re gonna keep on all of those processes.”
Contact Julien Gignac at firstname.lastname@example.org