Nunavut vows review of costs, more checks on kids sent south amid Global News investigation

Click to play video: 'Anger, disgust, over alleged targeting of Indigenous kids'
Anger, disgust, over alleged targeting of Indigenous kids
Some for-profit group homes in Ontario are allegedly aggressively targeting Indigenous youth, and sometimes charging more to care for them. As Carolyn Jarvis reports, the claims have prompted anger and disgust among some Indigenous leaders and politicians across Canada – Mar 5, 2024

The government of Nunavut said it will launch a review of what it pays different providers to care for its most vulnerable children outside the territory amid allegations of mistreatment and gouging revealed by a Global News investigation.

Family Services Minister Margaret Nakashuk discussed the plan in the territorial legislature Monday after another MLA, Adam Arreak Lightstone, questioned her about the revelations in a special Global News broadcast and online reports.

The months-long investigation revealed serious concerns about the care received by some vulnerable youth in Nunavut’s child-welfare system when they are sent out of territory to group or foster homes operated by for-profit companies in Ontario.

Global spoke with 45 former insiders who revealed allegations that kids were living in highly punitive homes, where they were offered little to no therapy, and in some cases were told not to speak Inuktitut.

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Click to play video: 'The New Reality: The Business of Indigenous Kids in Care'
The New Reality: The Business of Indigenous Kids in Care

The reports also revealed the territory was being charged significantly higher daily fees by some for-profit group or foster home companies than what Ontario children’s aid societies are paying.

In the legislative assembly, Lightstone demanded to know why the allegations revealed by Global News have never been identified by the Department of Family Services in their own annual reports.

“What reporting mechanism is in place to notify the Department of Family Services when children in care in southern facilities are facing such horrific treatment?” Lightstone asked.

Family Services Minister Margaret Nakashuk said her department “faces a lot of issues” but is working to “improve the programs and services.”

“We are continually trying to improve the programs and services as well as increasing our capacity, increasing our staff to provide better support to our children in care,” Nakashuk told the assembly.

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“We have tried making the appropriate steps to make changes to support the youth better, especially the youth in danger.”

Nakashuk said her department’s priority is to implement its new Family Wellness Strategic Framework released Feb. 19, which she said is aimed at improving oversight and care in the territory’s child-welfare system, boosting budgets and increasing financial monitoring.

Family Services Minister Margaret Nakashuk says the department will work to carry out the new strategic framework to address issues with how it cares for children. (Screenshot/Department of Family Services)

Among some of the major announcements included in the plan is a new online information management system for front-line workers and the creation of a full-time inter-provincial case manager’s job to oversee children who are in care outside the territory.

The plan also calls for increased efforts to recruit social workers, as well as foster and kinship caregivers within Nunavut, particularly Inuit families. It will also try to ensure that children placed out of territory receive culturally competent services and maintain connections with their families and communities.

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The Global investigation – based on internal government emails and interviews with dozens of former group home workers, former government staff and other Inuit child-welfare experts – showed that some for-profit companies allegedly target Nunavut because of the lucrative contracts attached to the kids in the territory’s child-welfare system.

A scarcity of services for people with addictions and mental health problems, coupled with a severe housing crisis, often leaves the territory few options when a child is in crisis. The result is young people are often flown to group or foster homes far away in Ontario, thousands of kilometres from their friends, relatives and culture.

“Ontario group homes are well aware of this gap in services and resources. (They’re) essentially vultures to children and youth who are suffering,” said Cassandra Yantha, a former supervisor with Nunavut’s Department of Family Services.

“They can charge anything.”

Click to play video: 'Ontario for-profit group homes allegedly targeting Nunavut kids'
Ontario for-profit group homes allegedly targeting Nunavut kids

Global News obtained and analyzed approximately 8,000 pages of contracts between the Nunavut government and companies that operate group, foster or staff-model homes outside the territory. The data was compared against spending by Ontario children’s aid societies serving both Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities.

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The analysis showed Nunavut was billed 53 per cent more per day, on average, for a child to live in an Ontario group home compared with what children’s aid societies in Ontario paid.

Last year, 84 kids from Nunavut were living out of territory, according to the Department of Family Services, which included some kids with complex medical needs.

The Nunavut government spent nearly $26 million on group, foster or staff-model companies in Ontario from 2019 to 2022, according to a Global News analysis. Staff-model homes, like small group homes, accommodate up to three kids who are overseen by rotating staff.

Click to play video: 'Nunavut kids in care: Who is watching the children?'
Nunavut kids in care: Who is watching the children?

The Nunavut Department of Family Services said it will be conducting “a review of residential care costs across jurisdictions.” In addition to Ontario, Nunavut also places children in Alberta and Manitoba.

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While some of the initiatives in the framework are underway, others are scheduled to be completed by 2028, according to a report about the framework.

Lori Idlout, the NDP member of Parliament for Nunavut, said she was “shocked” by the allegedly “predatory” practices of some for-profit group homes.

“(Companies) are taking advantage of the plight of Nunavut,” Idlout said. “(Nunavut) needs to be doing better to monitor and evaluate the care of the children that they are receiving. They need to not just allow contracts to be renewed.”

Group home companies contacted by Global News said the contracts for Nunavut are higher because they include extra services – which are documented and approved by Nunavut’s Department of Family Services. The companies denied they were targeting Nunavut kids or charging more to care for Indigenous youth.

Click to play video: 'How Grassy Narrows is fighting to keep its kids out of the child-welfare system'
How Grassy Narrows is fighting to keep its kids out of the child-welfare system

Global’s findings follow a 2023 auditor general of Canada report that highlighted a litany of failures by the Department of Family Services to care for kids in the child-welfare system.

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Auditor general Karen Hogan found the territorial department didn’t properly respond to reports of suspected harm, failed to complete child-welfare investigations, did not adequately monitor kids in care, could not provide accurate numbers of how many children were in its care, and even lost track of the whereabouts of some kids under its care.

Nunavut social service workers also were not properly monitoring kids and youth placed in southern Canada and had not completed annual reviews for these facilities, her audit found.

It marked the third time in 12 years that the auditor general sounded the alarm about the quality of services for children and youth in Nunavut’s child-welfare system.

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