Health Minister Pauline Frost now admits that what the government has been saying about the state of the Yukon’s group home system may not have been the whole story.
“While it is important to reiterate that youth in our care are safe, we do have concerns about how policies and procedures are being adhered to within family and child services,” Frost said at a press conference May 9.
The government says new information about specific incidents “of alleged wrongdoing within transitional support services (the branch that manages group homes)” was brought to the deputy minister of health and social services and the public service commissioner on April 25.
Frost wouldn’t go into specifics about what is being alleged but said the new information has led to the decision to bring in help and “a shift in our previous approach and our previous statements.”
The government is now bringing in outside help to do investigations into the territory’s group homes.
The government has hired labour lawyer Pam Costanzo from British Columbia to conduct an immediate investigation of transitional support services.
It also brought in special advisor Kelly McGill, a social worker and lawyer from within the Yukon Department of Justice, to do her own investigation and report directly to the deputy minister.
Cabinet officials said the advisor to the deputy minister will be looking at whether policies and procedures are currently being followed and the external investigator will review the specific incidents in the past that have now been brought to the government’s attention.
Frost promised the investigation by the external lawyer would be done “in the coming weeks.” Cabinet officials said the investigation won’t result in a report, but it will result in recommendations to the deputy minister.
Allegations of mistreatment of children in the government’s care dominated much of this past sitting of the legislative assembly. Former children in care as well as anonymous government whistle blowers have alleged mistreatment.
As recently as April 13, deputy minister Stephen Samis and Leeann Kayseas, acting manager of family services, were denying to the press many of the allegations that had been made to the CBC.
They denied that youth were being turned away from beds or that any child would be kept out of the system because they were considered too high risk.
Frost couldn’t say why the deputy minister didn’t have all the information when he spoke publicly.
“Those are the questions that we ask ourselves. We ask ourselves every day how well is the department working? How long has this been going on? What can we do to ensure that the children are safe?”
Frost said she was frustrated.
“Why? Because we have been not given the information or we’re getting bits and pieces of information,” she said.
“The objective of the coming weeks is for us to do an in depth review and analysis of all of the information to determine what is true, what is validated and how can we proceed from there to make some corrective actions.”
Frost said the government “worked with the facts available to us.” She suggested her officials weren’t being given all the information.
“We are trying to determine why we were given information that was perhaps not accurate, what do we have before us, and why the misrepresentation,” she said.
“If those are factual (pieces of) information that is validated once we go through the investigation then we will certainly address that.”
The decision to bring in outside help is a shift for the Liberals. During the most recent legislative sitting the government used its majority to vote down an NDP motion supported by both opposition parties asking to bring in someone from Outside to independently investigate concerns.
At the time the government said it was comfortable with on the independent review being done by the Yukon’s child and youth advocate.
The advocate’s systemic review is still happening. Annette King announced some of the details of what she has planned earlier this month. She has said her review will take a year.
The budget for the advocate’s review hasn’t been set yet. The child and youth advocate’s office’s budget is approved by the members’ services board, a majority Liberal committee made up of representatives from all three political parties.
Helen Fitzsimmons, director of administration, finance and systems for the legislative assembly, said the advocate’s office is in the process of hiring two people it needs for the review and doesn’t know yet how much it will cost.
The board has been advised of those potential extra costs and when the advocate knows exactly how much she needs, she’ll apply to the board and the money will be approved, Fitzsimmons said.
Contact Ashley Joannou at firstname.lastname@example.org