Children and Family Development Minister Katrine Conroy has released the following response to the Representative for Children and Youth’s statement on contracted residential resources in the child-welfare system:
“The representative rightly outlines a number of flaws in the system of contracted residential care for children and youth in care. This is a problem the previous government grappled with, and it’s one that I, as minister, have been concerned with and will not allow to continue. Previously, change was aimed at simply improving the status quo system. What we need to do is completely overhaul that system.
“I’ve told my deputy that each and every action we undertake has to be focused on the child.
"Kids shouldn’t be placed in a resource simply because it’s what’s available at the time. That’s what currently happens in many circumstances, and our children and youth in care deserve better. They deserve resources and supports that are specifically tailored to their unique needs.
“I know social workers are committed to finding appropriate homes for children and youth in care, and we need to ensure our system supports their efforts. So, effective immediately, no new contracted, residential agencies will be opened without the approval of a senior ministry official.
“For the more than 800 children and youth currently placed in contracted, residential agency homes, I have asked the ministry to review each child’s circumstances, to determine the most appropriate placement to meet their needs. I hope, and expect, this will result in moving some of those children and youth back to family-based foster homes.
“As part of this review, we will develop a new approval process for placing any child or youth in a contracted, residential resource. Decisions must be based on the child’s particular needs, not on the simple availability of a bed. For example, a youth who is violent might need a resource with Plexiglas windows, and caregivers who are specifically trained to deal with violent behaviours.
“We need those skilled professionals to support our children and youth in care. We will be launching a recruitment campaign to attract foster caregivers, who may also be licensed practical nurses, teachers or occupational therapists — ensuring they have the necessary skills to help children and youth with complex needs.
“It will take time to get where we need to be. In the meanwhile, there can be no excuses in situations when children in our care are not being looked after properly.
“The ministry has started to exercise more oversight and auditing controls over contracted, residential agencies. Action hasn’t been fast enough and I’ve told my deputy minister that has to change.
“We’ve brought more people in to verify that all contracted, residential agencies have completed criminal record checks on their staff. Auditing can’t just be administrative or financial; it needs to consider quality of care matters as well. Social workers must regularly visit the kids they are responsible for, to ensure their safety and well-being. Agencies need to be accountable for upholding the same.
“I’ve asked for monthly updates on our plan of action and progress. If things aren’t moving fast enough, we’ll add resources.
“I want to thank the representative for his recent discussions with me about this issue. This is a challenge other jurisdictions face as well. Solutions aren’t simple, but enough is enough, and we must work together to change the status quo.
“The safety and well-being of children in care is job one in this ministry. We have a duty to provide appropriate, care, as all parents do for their children.”