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
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.