According to an investigative report tabled in the legislative assembly on April 17 and written by Diane McLeod-McKay, the Yukon Public Interest Disclosure Commissioner, health and social services staff did not have the authority to evict one youth from a group home. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

Yukon government was wrong in evicting youth from a group home, commissioner finds

The health department has roughly two months to respond to recommendations

Health and social services staff did not have the authority to evict one youth from a group home, according to a special investigation report by the Yukon Public Interest Disclosure Commissioner (PIDC).

Among six allegations from Yukon government employees that concerned six youth and one child, one case violated the Yukon’s Child and Family Services Act (CSFA).

The allegation involved a youth being evicted from a group “without suitable alternative accommodation,” the report tabled April 17 in the Yukon legislative assembly says.

The department did not immediately return a request for comment.

Wrongdoing was found to have occurred because, based on “decisions, actions or omissions by Department employees involved,” several provisions of the CFSA were contravened.

They include ensuring a child’s safety and health, “emotional ties between the child and significant individuals in the child’s life,” stability and that they are “fed, clothed and nurtured according to community child rearing standards.”

The report, by commissioner Diane McLeod-McKay, points out that, according to the CFSA, the director has “general superintendence over all matters pertaining to the care or custody of children who” come into their care. This, too, was contravened.

Taken together, these “were significant and serious,” the report says.

Wrongdoing is defined under the Public Interest Disclosure of Wrongdoing Act as “act or omission creates substantial and specific danger to the life, health or safety of individuals, other than a danger that is inherent in the performance of the duties or functions of an employee…”

Breanna Taylor, intake officer and registrar, said McLeod-McKay would not be commenting on the report.

Two children were interviewed for the investigation, the report says, “despite numerous efforts to contact others.” It notes that the Child and Youth Advocate and her employees said that media coverage made some reluctant to participate because, “while not naming individuals, (it) identified to them and those who knew them, their stories, which they did not wish to share.”

McLeod-McKay made eight recommendations for the Yukon Department of Health and Social Services (HSS). The department has 60 days from April 10 to submit a response showing what steps it has or will take to implement the recommendations, the report says.

Recommendations include that the department “thoroughly investigate the underlying cause of the wrongdoings and detail its findings in a report,” which would detail the investigation process, steps showing wrongdoings won’t happen again and reviewing transition and discharge policies, the report says.

McLeod-McKay makes several observations where no wrongdoing was found to have occurred.

One of these allegations involved a child being barred from entering a group home. For this, she suggests that the department evaluates its reporting policies and procedures to ensure it is “done properly.” What’s also suggested is training employees so that this occurs and establishing an audit process.

The investigation into this particular allegation was “deficient,” the report says. McLeod-McKay suggests this be fixed by “establishing procedures to guide employees on how to properly conduct investigations where incidents, that may be service quality issues, are alleged.”

Her investigation was “hampered” by poor record keeping, the report says.

“Instead of a succinct and chronological file containing incidents, case plans, reviews, and other relevant documentation about the child, the Department produced a collection of emails and memos from various employees and others involved in the lives of these children,” it says.

To remedy problems with record keeping about children, the report says, the department should expand an electronic management initiative for incident reports.

“In the interim, the Department should take steps to ensure that the child in care files contain proper documentation.”

During the investigation, McLeod-McKay says in the report she observed a practice of employees refusing access to group homes that “Department management may not know about.”

“The Department should identify whether this practice is occurring in group homes. If the practice is occurring and the Department determines that the practice is acceptable, then it should provide guidance to group home employees about when the practice may be utilized and instruction about what group employees are to do once refusal occurs,” the report says.

McLeod-McKay observed that employees are “significantly reluctant to place children in care in private accommodation, such as hotels and bed and breakfasts, even when there are no other placement options available.”

It’s suggested that the department revisit policies governing this to ensure that, in the event nothing else is available, children will be accommodated this way.

The report says there was a “significant difference of opinion” between the office of the PIDC and the Yukon government when it came to obtaining documents and interviewing witnesses, noting “numerous legal challenges.”

“The Department refused access to certain records and insisted on having legal counsel present during interviews with some employees, both of which are problematic. While I understand the importance of the Yukon government protecting its legal rights, the exercise of these rights must not, in my view, be an obstacle to the ability of the PIDC to conduct a thorough investigation under PIDWA.”

As a result of these issues, McLeod-McKay suggests that the authority of her role as covered under the legislation be “reviewed and clarified.”

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

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