Minister Pauline Frost talks to media at the legislative assembly building on April 18. Frost told reporters that the health and social services department is accepting eight recommendations from an investigation that found the department erred in evicting one youth from a government-run group home. (Julien Gignac/Yukon News)

Yukon’s health minister accepts the latest recommendations to improve group homes

The department has 60 days from April 10 to submit an official response

Yukon’s Health and Social Services Minister Pauline Frost said her department accepts eight recommendations from an investigation that found the department erred in evicting one youth from a government-run group home.

“On behalf of the Government of Yukon, I would like to once again apologize to this youth,” she said in a written statement. “While I was not the minister at this time, this historical incident was unacceptable and we have learned from this.”

Among six allegations from Yukon government employees that affected six youth and one child, one incident violated the Yukon’s Child and Family Services Act (CSFA), according to the investigation, conducted by Diane McLeod-McKay, Yukon’s Public Interest Disclosure Commissioner.

The allegation involved a youth being evicted from a group home “without suitable alternative accommodation,” the report says.

The incident took place on Nov. 22, 2016, according to Frost’s statement.

The department has 60 days to file an official response concerning the recommendations.

A summary response breaks down what health and social services is doing to remedy the problem. The document says the department has launched an investigation into the case of wrongdoing, which will be shared with the commissioner within six months.

“The department will publicly share what is possible from this report, respecting privacy rights of all involved,” the summary says.

It also says that work is underway regarding a “child-centred approach to policy, procedure, and training and associated documents.”

Speaking with reporters on April 18, a day after McLeod-McKay’s report was tabled, Frost said her department was already aware of the allegation where wrongdoing was found to have occurred, a result of a report conducted by a lawyer, investigator from British Columbia.

Pamela Costanzo investigated five claims by youth, which include being denied placement into group homes, locked out or unfairly evicted on a short timeframe between the end of 2016 and early 2018, according to a summary of the full report released in September. Coinciding with this release was a public apology made by Frost to youth involved.

One allegation of mistreatment was supported, Costanzo said in the summary report. She also found that the director failed to investigate one incident.

“We had already been aware of that and we had already started implementing the recommended changes,” Frost told reporters last week, “so it’s great, I’m very happy and pleased with where we are. I think we can only work to make things better for our children.”

Guiding that work, according to her statement, involves preventative measures rather than apprehension.

Frost suggests she inherited the group home problem from the Yukon Party in her statement — she reiterated this during question period when pressed by both opposition parties.

“In 2016, there were 158 children in Government of Yukon’s care. Through collaborative efforts with our partners, we have reduced that number to 92. In 2016, when this incident took place, there were 46 children in group homes. Currently there are 19.”

Extended family care agreements, which came into effect on Nov. 1, 2018 and involve family members receiving financial services and supports on par with foster caregivers, helped reduce the number of children in care, according to the summary.

Other changes, it notes, include on-call staff at Transitional Support Services (TSS); a second transitional support worker who will be added this spring; and the purchase of 22 Wann Road, which is to be turned into a new group home.

Frost told reporters Wann Road will open this summer.

In November, Department of Health and Social Services spokesperson Patricia Living told this newspaper youth would “hopefully” move in before April.

There were other issues raised in McLeod-McKay’s investigation. She was “hampered” by poor record keeping, her 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.

“Right now, everything is paper documented, and it isn’t very user friendly,” Frost told reporters. “Is that a good approach? I don’t think so, and I think we acknowledge that and we know that we have a lot of work to do … It’s really essential on the well-being of the child that we always know where they are and we know their needs and respond accordingly.”

According to the summary, a new records management system was introduced at Family and Children’s Services in February, “with a tentative completion date of fall 2019.”

Last September, a review of incident processes and procedures was launched by Family and Children’s Services, the summary says.

“A jurisdictional scan of best practices was conducted and looked at ways to align TSS and Family and Children’s Services policies,” it says. “Revised processes, procedures and forms are expected to be completed May 2019. Staff at all levels will be provided with comprehensive training to support these changes.”

It says that revised processes will include a requirement for youth involvement upon their consent.

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

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