19th legislative assembly member

responses

In September 2019, we asked the candidates running in Great Slave, Yellowknife North, Yellowknife South, Yellowknife Centre, Kam Lake, Frame Lake and Range Lake three questions about the child welfare system in the Northwest Territories. 

Great Slave

Katrina Nokelby

1) As a Member of the 19th Legislative Assembly, will you work to ensure the territorial government implements changes in response to the 2018 Auditor General’s Report on the Child & Family Services in the NWT during the first year of the 19th Legislative Assembly?

Yes, I would commit to including this as a priority in the first year of the next Assembly. Issues such as poverty, addictions, cost of living, and violence are adversely affecting children in the Northwest Territories and we must do better. We have alarming suicide rates and one of the worst graduation rates in the country. We need to work harder to address our social issues so that we are giving the children of the territory the best possible start they can have. 

2) Please state the actions that you will take in the 19th Legislative Assembly that will improve the welfare of children and youth in care in the territory.

Poverty is a huge issue affecting children and youth in the territory, and poverty is often mistaken for neglect or abuse. We need to ensure we have programs in place that support the family and teach parents the skills they need to raise healthy children. We must address addictions issues and provide mental health support not only to addicts but for their families as well. The inter-generational trauma created by the residential school system is a huge barrier to healthy families and I would like to see even more funding in place for professional counsellors to deal with this issue. I would like to see the reinstatement of the social work program at Aurora College, and ensure that any new Polytechnic University include mental health training programs so that we can have more northern professionals working with children and youth rather than trying to impose southern-style solutions on them.

3) How will you ensure that the voices of children, youth, foster caregivers, adoptive families, and biological families involved with Health and Social Services are heard?

We need to continuously solicit feedback from all people involved with the foster family system in the Northwest Territories. We need to make informed decisions based on data and we need to be able to change and adapt policies when evidence shows us something isn’t currently working. Our system needs to be flexible to deal with individual cases and there needs to be open dialogue between all parties that are involved with a child. Not only rely on the “experts” to decide the course of action for the children. And we need to ensure the children themselves have a safe space where they can feel free to discuss their fears openly. 

Yellowknife North

Rylund Johnson

1) As a Member of the 19th Legislative Assembly, will you work to ensure the territorial government implements changes in response to the 2018 Auditor General’s Report on the Child & Family Services in the NWT during the first year of the 19th Legislative Assembly?

Yes. Currently many of the 70 action items which are on track will be completed in March of 2021 bringing us just beyond the first year timeline as proposed by the question. At this point I am not sure that revisiting that plan is advisable, as it will just result in further delays. I believe the best course of action is to ensure we remain on track and make adequate funding a priority. Many of the changes as per the Auditor General's  report were administrative in nature and without the resources behind these recommendations we are just setting ourselves up for failure again. We must ensure we provide adequate funding to ensure care of children within the system and implement measures in place that in time lower the number of apprehensions. 

2) Please state the actions that you will take in the 19th Legislative Assembly that will improve the welfare of children and youth in care in the territory.

Beyond the 70 action items as set out by the Ministry there are numerous steps we need to be taking. I believe universal daycare and focusing on early childhood development will significantly improve the welfare of children in our territory and in time lower number of apprehensions. Additionally I am committed to the NWT in time becoming the first jurisdiction in Canada to adopt a guaranteed minimum income thus ending poverty, and in time eliminating children who are raised in poverty. We must work to ensure that we are addressing roots causes of trauma and addictions to help increase the number of stable families. 

3) How will you ensure that the voices of children, youth, foster caregivers, adoptive families, and biological families involved with Health and Social Services are heard?

The apprehension process inherently leads to the siloing of GNWT departments and conflicts between those involved in it. However we must ensure that all parties are heard and encourage decision making that is from the community level up, not top down. The mandatory inclusion of interviews and ensuring children in families are contacted is only meaningful if those workers have the time and resources to manage their cases. We must give people the resources such that contact and communication is not just meeting a checklist but is meaning more time spent caring for children. I believe a child and youth advocate can play a key role in this, however such a position must be arms length from the department and independent to ensure they can listen to all parties. We must also recognize that the key funding priorities for Child and Family Services have to be aimed at the people who spend the most time with the children, the foster families and social workers. Ensuring our foster families are adequately funded and our social workers given manageable caseloads is the key to ensuring there is room to listen to all parties.

Yellowknife Centre

Julie Green

1) As a Member of the 19th Legislative Assembly, will you work to ensure the territorial government implements changes in response to the 2018 Auditor General’s Report on the Child & Family Services in the NWT during the first year of the 19th Legislative Assembly?

Yes.  I have been one of the Assembly’s most forceful advocates for improvement in response to Child and Family Service audit issues even before the latest Auditor General’s report on significant problems in service delivery. I was part of a successful lobby effort to have an additional $3 million invested in CFS. I will continue to monitor the effectiveness of the Quality Improvement Plan introduced this and lobby for resources to deliver the required level of services, as recommended in the last two reviews of the child and family services function.

2) Please state the actions that you will take in the 19th Legislative Assembly that will improve the welfare of children and youth in care in the territory.

The NWT is the only jurisdiction in Canada without a Child and Youth Advocate.  I have made statements in the House about the need to establish this office in order to promote and safeguard the rights of children and youth. As stated above, I will act to see that the adequate resources called for by repeated reviews of the child and family services.

3) How will you ensure that the voices of children, youth, foster caregivers, adoptive families, and biological families involved with Health and Social Services are heard?

As a parent of an adopted daughter who was once in foster care, I know how important social workers, extended family and advocacy organizations like the Foster Family Coalition are for families. It is so important to have ready access to social workers to help with questions and concerns. It is helpful if there is an ongoing relationship with one social worker rather than constant change because of staff turnover. The Auditor General’s most recent report on CFS revealed that not enough time is spent on relationship-building between social workers and families because social workers have a heavy load of paperwork and new information systems to learn. My hope is that the additional staff will allow social workers to spend more “eyes on” time with clients. This is the fundamental step to quality improvement.

Frame Lake

Kevin O'Reilly

1) As a Member of the 19th Legislative Assembly, will you work to ensure the territorial government implements changes in response to the 2018 Auditor General’s Report on the Child & Family Services in the NWT during the first year of the 19th Legislative Assembly?

Yes.  Although I was not a member of the Standing Committee’s that dealt with the Auditor General’s report and the Departmental response, I participated in those meetings to listen, learn and ask questions.  I will continue to push for firm commitments from the candidates who wish to serve as Premier. I will also work to ensure that the response to the audit is one of the priorities for the next Assembly and that it be incorporated into Cabinet’s mandate.  Regular reports on progress and performance should be made to the Legislature and public.

2) Please state the actions that you will take in the 19th Legislative Assembly that will improve the welfare of children and youth in care in the territory.

Repeated reviews of the child and family services function point to the inadequacy of the financial and human resources devoted to child and family services.  We must finally ensure the department has the money to do the job, and I will push for this budgetary priority in the first operating budget of the new assembly.  During the audit review, I also raised the issue of how the NWT is the only jurisdictions in Canada without a Child and Youth Advocate. I support the establishment of a Child and Youth Advocate for the NWT.   There needs to be a better link and coordination between the fostering and adoption steams of children and youth in care. I also support midwifery, universal childcare, a greater overall investment in our education system, and improvements to our income support programs.  These are all part of a comprehensive approach to build healthy families.

3) How will you ensure that the voices of children, youth, foster caregivers, adoptive families, and biological families involved with Health and Social Services are heard?

All provincial/territorial jurisdictions in Canada except the NWT have a Child and Youth Advocate.  Given the continuing failure to meet the legal requirements for child and family services functions, an Advocate must be created as an arms-length champion for children, youth, foster caregivers, adoptive families, and biological families.  I will also push for regular reporting to Standing Committee and the public on fulfillment of the recommendations of the Auditor General’s recommendations, including consultations with key stakeholders such as the Foster Family Coalition. Stronger support for the Foster Family Coalition is also required to ensure they can provide the advice and support required by foster parents and families.

Range Lake

Caroline Cochrane

1) As a Member of the 19th Legislative Assembly, will you work to ensure the territorial government implements changes in response to the 2018 Auditor General’s Report on the Child & Family Services in the NWT during the first year of the 19th Legislative Assembly?

It is imperative that children in care are provided the same quality of care that we would expect for our own children and that supports are in place to care for the wellbeing of families and caregivers.  Addressing the 2018 Auditor General’s Report on Child and Family Services needs to be a priority for Health and Social Services. The GNWT Building Stronger Families framework focuses on properly supporting families to be healthy and keep children safe and is on the right path however we need to ensure that programs are adequately staffed and trained, and caregivers are provided the support and oversight necessary. 

2) Please state the actions that you will take in the 19th Legislative Assembly that will improve the welfare of children and youth in care in the territory.

We need to make sure that every decision we make about children and youth in care is part of a long-term plan to keep that child or youth safe and as close to their family and culture as possible.  Where this is not possible, or where a child must spend a long time in foster care, every effort possible must be made to ensure that that child maintains a secure connection to their family, culture and home community.

As I’ve stated many times, prevention is key.  Issues like education, housing, and poverty all create stresses on families that can impact children, so we need to make sure that our social systems are functioning in ways that support families and avoid adding to the stress. We need to ensure that we prevent as many children and youth from entering care in the first place, so that we can focus system resources on those that do not have an alternative to ensure they have the best start possible.  

3) How will you ensure that the voices of children, youth, foster caregivers, adoptive families, and biological families involved with Health and Social Services are heard?

During my last four years in office, I have tried to engage stakeholders as much as possible as evidenced with the NWT wide housing survey and the gathering of NGO’s and people accessing services for both the YK homelessness solution exercise and the identifying of solutions to address income support.  I believe in the philosophy “nothing about us without us” and if elected I will continue to uphold this principle in my own practice and advocate for every minister to also abide by this principle. We also need to ensure that there is a voice for those involved with H&SS outside of the system, to bring forward and follow up with these concerns, as it is too much to expect children, youth, caregivers and families to have to constantly advocate their way through the system.  What form such a voice would take, be it through a Child and Youth Advocate, or another type of position, requires more discussion, as we would need to seriously consider how such a position or office would look like and where it would need to be positioned to best serve children and families in the NWT.

2019 FFCNWT

 

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