Check on child protection claims necessary

Minister of Social Services caught exaggerating progress

The Opposition says the progress reports from Donna Harpauer on child protection need a second look after she was caught exaggerating progress on a critical recommendation.

In May 2014 and again in May 2015, the Advocate for Children and Youth recommended that the ministry undertake a contract to investigate the workload of child protection workers. Twice in May 2015, in response to that and other recommendations, Harpauer distributed a public update that claimed her ministry had already entered into such a contract. But, a tender for the contract was noticed after that claim – proving that Harpauer was, at best, uninformed about what is happening in her ministry.

“Ms. Harpauer is simply not taking the major concerns in the foster system and child protection system seriously enough,” said NDP Social Services critic David Forbes. “When she responded to the coroner’s inquest into the death of Lee Bonneau, and again when she responded to a special investigation into the tragic death of a foster child that drowned in a bathtub, I was concerned about the fact that she was pretty dismissive about how much work her ministry needs to do. But, to find out now that even the incredibly slow progress she claimed was being made was overstated – that’s deeply concerning.”

Forbes has said small tweaks to child protection and foster care are not good enough. The Opposition wants to see a larger overhaul that includes the licensing of foster homes and new requirements for front-line case workers, including that they be social workers licensed with the Saskatchewan Association of Social Workers.

Thursday, he said the ministry’s progress reports need closer scrutiny now, suggesting the advocate step in or appoint someone to look deeper into the actual work behind the progress reports.

“The lives and well-being of vulnerable little ones is at stake here,” said Forbes. “Making it up as you go, or saying some of the right things publicly but not taking the right actions – that’s playing with fire, and I don’t think Saskatchewan families will find that acceptable.”

The workload of caseworkers in social services been raised consistently. While the Sask. Party often claims they recently hired 90 front-line workers, it cut 100 positions at the same time, and the picture of a ministry overstressed and unable to stay on top of the number of children at risk and needing help is painted often, particularly by the advocate.

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.

Government's response to recommendations from Two Tragedies, released May 7 (see recommendation 3)

Government's response to No Time for Mark, released May 20 (see recommendation 2)

Government tender put out May 26