Action to protect foster children needed

With the release of yet another special investigation into the death of a foster child in Saskatchewan, NDP Social Services critic David Forbes is again calling for concrete changes to protect children in the province’s care.

Wednesday, the Advocate for Children and Youth released No Time for Mark: The Gap Between Policy and Practice, an investigation into the death of a 20-month-old foster child who drowned in a bathtub just two months after entering foster care.

“Saskatchewan was deeply saddened by the death of this little boy. Our hearts go out to his parents and those who loved him,” said Forbes. “This is yet another special investigation by the Advocate for Children and Youth, and with each one the Sask. Party has patted itself on the back for any small steps it has taken, and has been dismissive of the need for major change.

“The fact is, the child protection system in Saskatchewan is far from good enough. It doesn’t need tweaks – it needs an overhaul.”

In his report, Children’s Advocate Bob Pringle says in the case of the 20-month-old boy, Social Services didn’t follow the standards it had in place, and failed to make good decisions.

Pringle reports that today, “systemic issues remain, pertaining to the lack of quality case management and supervision, lack of policy compliance generally, adherence to required contact standards when a child is placed into an out-of-home resource, the quality of investigations, and the continued need to place children in foster homes which are over their recommended capacity.”

Pringle makes nine recommendations to the government and its Ministry of Social Services, including that the ministry offer an immediate, formal apology to the parents of the child. The Opposition agrees with the recommendations, and is calling for specific and significant changes to the child protection and foster care system in addition.

  • The Opposition wants foster homes to be licensed, with required training and initial inspections taking place before a license is awarded.

  • All child protection workers should be required to be social workers licensed by the Saskatchewan Association of Social Workers. Licensing ensures the qualifications of social workers providing care to children; and it also gives the professionals who care for foster children a safe way to raise concerns and insist on professional standards of practice in their work.

  • The number of font-line care workers must be increased to decrease workloads.

  • Not only should the current cap of four foster children per home be followed; the number of other children living in the home must be taken into account. Under the current system, a foster parent could be responsible for not only four foster children; but also any number of children not in the foster system, including the foster parent’s own children, nieces and nephews or grandchildren.

From 2010 to 2014, 97 children in the care of Social Services died from unnatural causes including homicide, suicide and accidental death.

That number is significantly higher than in the five years prior. From 2005 to 2009, 54 children died from unnatural causes.