Saskatchewan Advocate remains concerned about group home care, report says

The Saskatchewan Advocate releases a progress report as a follow-up from the release of a special investigation called "Someone to Watch Over Us" that looks into group home care. Slavo Kutas / Global News

The Saskatchewan Advocate for Children and Youth released a progress report on recent concerns involving group home care.

Lisa Broda‘s Someone to Watch Over Us – Progress Report, is a follow-up that provides an update to the Ministry of Social Services’ responses to the Advocate’s March 2021 recommendations, and steps taken since that time.

Read more: Report calls for better oversight at youth group homes in Saskatchewan

The progress report provides the basis for the advocate’s ongoing concerns with the oversight services provided by the ministry for children in group home care, especially those with high medical and developmental needs. It also highlights a few cases, with names changed for privacy reasons, where issues of concern were detailed. The children in the investigation cases were those of high medical and developmental needs.

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“It is unbelievable how this can continue to occur with children who require the most intensive care and supervision to ensure their safety and protection, or any child for that matter,” said Broda in a media release.

“Until the ministry adopts an oversight model to its 139 licensed contracted group homes in Saskatchewan, I have little confidence in the ministry’s ability to keep children in these homes safe. There must be immediate, proper and appropriate resources, top down, to ensure group home oversight.”

Back in March 2021, the Saskatchewan Advocate released the report Someone to Watch Over Us, urging the government to address oversight deficiencies in group homes. The Saskatchewan Advocate stated in the summer of 2021 that numerous serious incidents occurred in a ministry group home in Prince Albert where high-needs children faced a lack of nurturing, harsh treatment and medical neglect. These children were between the ages of five to 11 and were relocated to new homes.

Read more: Spike in deaths, majority Indigenous children, reported to Saskatchewan child advocate

The advocate’s findings led her office to make three recommendations to the Ministry of Social Services, with the objective of ensuring the ministry improves group home resources and redesigns how it oversees them:

  • enhance and re-design its group home oversight and accountability structure
  • develop a permanent resource for group home operators, which provides a clear point of contact, support, and resources such as skill development
  • enhance its process for approving group home openings to include identifying and verifying the qualifications and training of staff and examining the unique needs of the children who are the intended residents to determine what unique features should be included in the group home.
Click to play video: 'Report calls for better oversight at youth group homes in Saskatchewan' Report calls for better oversight at youth group homes in Saskatchewan
Report calls for better oversight at youth group homes in Saskatchewan – Mar 3, 2021

Since the release of Someone to Watch Over Us report, the Saskatchewan Advocate says there has been slow movement on achieving the recommendations and will continue to place children with highly specialized needs in harm’s way.

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“Ultimately, we must have confidence that the ministry will find an effective governance model before an even more serious tragedy occurs,” Broda said.

In response, the assistant deputy minister of child and family programs told Global Regina that the ministry accepted the recommendations in the special report when it was first released in March.

“We are continuing our work to support group homes and enhance standards to ensure the safety of all children,” Tobie Eberhardt said. “We will continue to provide the Advocate with details on how we are working to strengthen our programs and services based on these recommendations.”

The ministry said it has developed a strategy to resolve short-term and high-priority operational issues for group homes. The ministry also said it is moving forward with a new group home operational support unit where group care homes will have operational and training oversight.

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