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OBSTACLES ENCOUNTERED – ‘It became abundantly clear during this investigation that there is a significant difference of opinion between my office and the Yukon government as to the powers of the PIDC to obtain records and interview witnesses,” wrote Diane McLeod-McKay.

Report lays out wide-ranging suggestions

The Yukon government will have 60 days to lay out what steps it will take or look to take to meet recommendations stemming from a report that found wrongdoing by staff at a Whitehorse group home – a timeline it says it will “respect.”

By Palak Mangat on April 22, 2019

The Yukon government will have 60 days to lay out what steps it will take or look to take to meet recommendations stemming from a report that found wrongdoing by staff at a Whitehorse group home – a timeline it says it will “respect.”

That’s after Diane McLeod-McKay, the Yukon Public Interest Disclosure Commissioner (PIDC), found in her special investigation report that one out of six allegations made under the Public Interest Disclosure of Wrongdoing Act (PIDWA) showed wrongdoing.

McLeod-McKay’s report has not been publicly released in its entirety. Twenty-four pages out of the total 151-page document have been, while the Department of Health and Social Services (HSS) does have the full report.

“It needs to be kept confidential because I have to protect the confidentiality of the children involved,” the commissioner said last week.

On top of the 60-day timeline are more longer-term ones; the commissioner has requested that HSS provide an investigation report looking at the underlying cause of the wrongdoings within six months.

She has also given the department 12 or 18 months to show that it has met all the other recommendations, after that 60-day initial response period.

The suggestions stem from allegations CBC North detailed last spring that involved government-run group homes and youth in care.

One of those allegations and one of the six that McLeod-McKay investigated and found to have showed wrongdoing, involved a youth who was in the care of a director and was evicted from a group home “without suitable alternate accommodation.

“The decisions, actions or omissions of Department employees involved amounted to wrongdoing” as they contravened sections of the Child and Family Services Act (CFSA).

McLeod-McKay continued that there was wrongdoing “on the basis of determining that the decisions, actions or omissions by these employees created a substantial and specific danger to the youth’s health and safety.”

To address this wrongdoing, she listed eight recommendations made up of that investigation that is to look at the underlying cause and a policy and procedure review.

Via that investigation report, HSS is to detail the process, who was interviewed and what documents were looked at; the relevant law, policy, procedures and other documents; who was involved in the decision-making and what led to those decisions; and the steps it will take to make sure wrongdoings like this do not recur.

The policy and procedure review will see HSS look at its transition and discharge planning rules, to ensure that workers are clear about the rules in place when discharging or transitioning a youth from a group home to independent living.

That’s to make it clear that workers cannot discharge a child under the care of the director from a group home placement without ensuring that the child has “suitable alternate accommodation,” and that workers understand their role.

HSS is to also make sure there is a mechanism that addresses “in a timely manner, any discrepancies that may arise in respect of these responsibilities, plus risk-based criteria to inform employees about what constitutes ‘timely’ in any given situation.”

In a statement shared after the report’s release, HSS minister Pauline Frost referenced the one incident of wrongdoing dating back to Nov. 22 of 2016. Apologizing on behalf of YG, she noted the incident was known to the government as it was mirrored in the report done last year by Pamela Costanzo.

The Costanzo report has not been made public in its entirety so as to avoid revealing any identifying information for youth and staff involved, but a summary by Costanzo was provided to the media in September 2018.

“Outcomes of that investigation initiated wide-sweeping changes across government care systems,” Frost said, adding YG has now “accepted the recommendations” of the commissioner’s report and will respond to both her and the public in 60 days.

A document shared by the government last week provided some responses to the recommendations made and cited some improvements dating back to May 2017.

It noted that HSS is now investigating the wrongdoing. It will provide the PIDC with a copy of this investigation report within six months and publicly share what is possible.

Other responses include a review of transition and discharge policies, the outcomes of which will be shared with the public; continued training for current and new policy and procedures for discharge planning; training new workers in the process, policy and other developments from recommendations.

To the suggestion of evaluating accommodation for children when group home beds are unavailable, YG pointed to a plan to provide a number of accommodations like extended family care agreements, foster homes, youth agreements, group home placements, and transitional support agreements.

Other improvements include a reassessment as of January 2019 of all 50 Yukon First Nation children and youth under continuing care orders to see if reunifying them with their families, communities or culture is possible.

Last April, HSS introduced specific social work roles to support extended family care agreements and family services files, and equipped each of the four rural Mental Wellness and Substance Use community hubs with a child youth and family counsellor. In February of this year, a new records management system was implemented in the family and children’s services branch, with the tentative completion date set for fall of this year.

The commissioner’s report also detailed a number of other observations around gathering information for the report itself.

McLeod-McKay wrote that the incident report of what happened with the child “was missing crucial information about the refused entry.” Consequently, she is suggesting that HSS evaluate its incident reporting policies and procedures to make sure reporting is done properly.

Better training for employees who are to fill out these reports was also suggested, to include things like all the facts and identification of all workers and children involved in the report.

Conducting a review of the incident reporting system, preferably once a year, was suggested to make sure it works as intended and improvements are made when needed.

Those were followed by McLeod-McKay noting that investigations done by the department “were deficient” and may be the result of a faulty incident report and reviews.

“The evidence showed that all the reviews by management and senior management, up to the Director level, relied on the findings made

by the first line investigation, which was found for a number of reasons to be of poor quality,” the commissioner wrote.

“The Department then appeared to rely on the results of this investigation to make decisions in respect of the allegation.”

The report hinted at something of a pattern too, as the commissioner noted that during her investigation, there seemed to be “a practice used by group home employees that involves refusing children entry into their group homes in certain circumstances that Department management may not know about.”

She suggested that HSS identify if this practice is happening in group homes, and if it determines it’s acceptable, then provide guidance to workers at the group home when it can be used and instruction on what they are to do once there is refusal.

“The guidance should also address where children who are refused entry to their group home are to go as an alternative,” she added, noting that should be shared with children too.

Educating children on their options to make a complaint and to whom could also help; the commissioner suggested HSS consider having workers remind children of these routes of redress at least once a year and when an incident occurs that they’re involved in.

Suggestions around record-keeping showed that “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.”

HSS has since said it’s automating its file and documentation rules, she acknowledged, as it is to “introduce an electronic system for managing Incident Reports.”

Meanwhile, McLeod-McKay also pointed to “numerous legal challenges” by YG lawyers she faced when requesting records and employee witness interviews. The department outright refused access to some records and insisted on having a lawyer present during some of the interviews.

Adding that some these actions of the government were problematic, McLeod-McKay wrote there was a need for the authority of the PIDC and PIDWA to be reviewed and clarified.

The act itself is to be reviewed within five years of it coming into force, which is coming up next year, as it came into effect June 15, 2015.

“It became abundantly clear during this investigation that there is a significant difference of opinion between my office and the Yukon government as to the powers of the PIDC to obtain records and interview witnesses,” she wrote.

Comments (13)

Up 12 Down 0

Bonnie B on Apr 25, 2019 at 5:59 pm

Minister Frost; “Outcomes of that investigation (Costanzo) initiated wide-sweeping changes across government care systems,” Which include; number of accommodations like extended family care agreements, foster homes, youth agreements, group home placements, and transitional support agreements. Minister Frost all of those accommodations which you cite have been in place since the Act was first brought in - in May 2010 they are not new. In terms of training, all of the group home staff attended trauma informed training that occurred long before any of these incidents. I can assure you that at no time during the training was locking out youth or discharging them to no where in the middle of winter part of our trauma training.
There have been no "sweeping" changes, yes changes in staff, numerous staff left because they could no longer work under the oppressive conditions and the unethical leadership. Don't be fooled by all of the talk of change as there has been very little. The only way to make sweeping changes is to terminate the current Director and Manager of RYTS/TSS/Wann road. If your "leadership" is the same corrupt group that spent a lot of time and tax payer money not co operating with this investigation then how can we expect the truth or expect any change that is real or meaningful? Our children remain at great risk while they are at the helm as truth and integrity are not part of their leadership and that has been proven with this report.
Minister Frost - stop apologizing and start acting, CLEAN up your house at FCS starting at the top - front line is NOT the problem, stop parroting what the Director and Manger tell you - you would think by now you would know that "misinformation" is their specialty. ACTION not apologies and changes that are real.

Up 21 Down 1

Brenda on Apr 24, 2019 at 6:19 pm

Minister Frost should not be protecting anyone and should be requiring that questions are answered by those legislated and employed to protect our children. These people need to account for their actions today. Allowing them to provide an investigation report that they are unqualified to produce given what has already transpired - not good enough. ACCOUNTABILITY and ETHICS

Up 15 Down 0

Cameron on Apr 24, 2019 at 6:10 pm

"The commissioner has requested that HSS provide an investigation report looking at the underlying cause of the wrongdoings within six months. Who is going to investigate and provide that report, the Director or her TSS/Wann road Manager? The same Director and Managers that denied any wrong doing, denied access to records, insisted that lawyers sit in on interviews? These people didn't acknowledge there were problems. The commissioner further found "that investigations done by the department “were deficient” and may be the result of a faulty incident report and reviews." I think that an actual ethical investigator like Jane Bates who actually has ethics and is not afraid to tell the truth should be brought it to do an investigation of the underlying cause of the wrongdoing. If you think that the Director and/or one of her managers will provide you anything of truth and substance....... sorry we are no further ahead. Termination of those two and then you can produce an actual report that is truthful. These people have clearly shown they have an aversion to responsibility and truth and I would anticipate the front line staff will get the blame not the real culprits - what a joke !

Up 18 Down 1

Groucho d'North on Apr 24, 2019 at 4:39 pm

This government and the people involved in the department should be glad this review was performed by the Public Interest Disclosure Commissioner rather than the Coroner's office. They should be glad their bad decisions did not result in a more serious outcome.

Up 18 Down 4

Noah Novik on Apr 23, 2019 at 12:45 pm

What we have here is a failure in ethics and it matters because children and youth in the Yukon are falling through the cracks. This is not politics but fact. In 2019 with all we know it is plain unacceptable. It's happening and needs rectifying. What we have is a morale failure in some social workers making a bad name for all social workers and it's not like social work has a great history to stand on in the first place in particular with First Nations. All of these people are social workers and should know better but there you have it.

Up 21 Down 0

Melinda House on Apr 23, 2019 at 9:29 am

"difference of opinion" regarding PIDC powers must be addressed or office closed. You can not have a government bullying its own investigative unit. There is a word for that and we see it South of the border. Come on let's show them how democracy really works. It's hard work but worth it.

Up 26 Down 0

Michael on Apr 23, 2019 at 9:20 am

For sure its the front line staff who are to blame that's why you have a YG lawyer present when they are testifying to PIDWA....nope you can't pull that wool over our eyes YG. If it was forced on staff to have YG lawyers present while testifying to PIDWA then it makes me think you have some issues further up this chain of command that is the real issue and for which you desire to protect. Good Luck with that we see the emperor has no clothes. Try again maybe another plumbing issue somewhere caused you trouble? That seemed to work before.

Up 29 Down 0

Pat on Apr 23, 2019 at 6:29 am

Wha'ts up with forcing staff to have the YG lawyer present during a PIDWA investigation? The YG lawyer is looking out for YG interest. It's a conflict.

Up 24 Down 0

Beth Shiva on Apr 23, 2019 at 6:20 am

"discrepancies" about policy? Imagine being front line at a group home told to do one thing and you know it's wrong so you speak out about it and you get fired. Orders come from up high not on the front line. You need to look into the unwritten direction from the Director and Manager of group homes to find the answers to this mystery.

Up 23 Down 0

Gordon Max on Apr 23, 2019 at 6:08 am

So we are to believe that in spite of an Auditor General Report recently the Director does not know to keep proper child in care files??? Any Director of Child and Family Services anywhere in the world should come with this knowledge and enforce it - it's her duty - one of the really really important ones for very important reasons. The humane society knows how to keep better records!

Up 25 Down 0

Penny Larson on Apr 23, 2019 at 5:57 am

So are they saying some front line staff who were following SOMEONES direction will be held to account for ALL this mess?? Read the act the Director is appointed and 100% accountable for this kind of event even if she was unaware. However she has been aware of these issues since 2 years now if only due to the media but we now know she was also made aware by staff and kids.
The existing policy and act make it clear what is supposed to happen and this was not done. We actually do not need a new policy to know to keep files and not kick kids in care out - this is basic common sense and these rules exist already. This lies on the head the Director who is also I assume a social worker and who also has ethical duties to uphold.

Up 16 Down 9

Edie rue on Apr 22, 2019 at 10:47 pm

What occurred with the group home child was wrong; there’s no debate there. However, child welfare is a highly charged political weapon, and this matter has become highly politicized, all for the benefit of the political opportunist. Please be kind with this open comment section and don’t add fuel to something that is anything but political. FCS social workers save hundreds of children each year from abuse. Nobody hears about those stories, nor will they ever. Please don’t forget that .

Up 30 Down 1

YG Tricks on Apr 22, 2019 at 6:55 pm

Yes, that's what YG does best.

It files numerous legal challenges trying to wear it's opponent down; it tries to drain the financial resources of litigants so they will hopefully drop the action by filing applications to strike, by failing to disclose information that should be disclosed, by filing applications to declare litigants vexatious...anything to put up hurdles for the opponent. YG files legal authorities on legal authorities on legal authorities so the judge can easily pick and choose from any precedent setting case that allows them to rule in favour of YG. Yes, this is your tax dollar hard at work and Legal Services works HARD to make sure YG can avoid any and all liability.

Stand your ground, Ms McLeod-McKay, stand your ground! If you can't get unredacted copies of YG documents, then no one will be able to and the gov will (continue to) do whatever it wants with no accountability. ATIPP is the only thing that keeps them that little bit honest (if you can call it that). When confirming your authority under the PIDWA, try to get a hammer too so you can order them to do that what should be done instead of simply making recommendations that they can then choose to implement or not. I can guarantee they will only implement the recommendations they think will work for them; the main event is avoiding liability. It's not really about the kids at all.

Too bad HSS lost JB and JP. Integrity gets you fired; wrongdoing doesn't. In some (most?) departments, wrongdoing even gets you a promotion!

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