Saskatchewan’s Advocate for Children and Youth is once again calling for fundamental change in his 2015 annual report released Wednesday.
While Bob Pringle acknowledges improvements have been made, he adds in the poverty strategy, the government’s plan “is vague and lacks target dates”.
Over the last six years, the issues of children’s care in the province has been at the forefront.
In 2009, a report was issued into overcrowding in foster homes after the death of “Jake”. In 2010, recommendations to transform the child welfare system were put forward and following that, the report into the death of Lee Bonneau at the hands of a 10-year-old called for fundamental overhaul.
Despite all that work and blueprint forward, Pringle maintains not much has changed.
“The magnitude of the transformation that was envisioned in the child welfare review has not occurred, and appears to be abandoned as a policy and program direction in the province,” he wrote.
Pringle acknowledges the financial crunch the government is under but argues “children are paying a price for that”.
Social Services Minister Donna Harpauer thanked Pringle for the work he has done and maintains it is a work in progress.
“Child protection will always be continuous improvement there is always more that we can do, ideally we can all strong health families and we wouldn’t be bringing children into care,” Harpauer said at the legislature.
More than half of the issues the children’s advocate dealt with in 2015 were about the Ministry of Social Services or its agencies. The most common complaint was about case planning or management, parents not being told what is happening to their children or their issue.
In 2015, the children’s advocate was notified of the deaths of 26 children – half of those involved aboriginal children. Fifty per cent were children under five in cases such as fires or drowning, with two of the deaths being intentional.
In that case, Pringle finds there was inadequate reporting of suspected abuse and two instances where child protection investigations were not completed.
In the report, Pringle touches on a number of issues that need to be addressed.
Pringle documented the case of “Troy”, a child in a wheelchair. His foster parents were no longer able to care for him but wanted to keep him until a new home was found. They requested specialized equipment for him but because of the pending move, the Ministry of Social Services wouldn’t provide it.
Pringle maintained a child’s needs should always be put first, and his office’s advocacy efforts ensured the equipment was provided.
The number of “apprehended” children in the First Nations system in 2015 totalled 6,493. Pringle wrote, “this is an indication that there is not enough focus on early intervention and prevention services to keep families together”.
Pringle saved his biggest criticism for the government’s decision to close two young offender facilities.
He says the decision to close the Yarrow Youth Farm in Saskatoon and Orcadia Youth Residence near Yorkton was not in the best interests of those housed there.
Pringle also documented the case of “Ethan” who struggled to adjust to his incarceration and became violent. He was segregated and was confined to his room for the majority of the day, given 15 minutes to shower and one hour to exercise, which involved walking in a small space. Ethan described feeling like “a caged animal”.
With his advocacy, Pringle wrote a psychologist and work with the facility have allowed Ethan more freedom and improved behaviour.
This is Pringle’s last report as children’s advocate; his term ends in October 2016.