Despite foster care crisis, government’s appointed politician does nothing

Documents obtained by Freedom of Information laws show the Sask. Party MLA appointed to work on the growing child protection crisis has done not one single bit of work in a full year in that job.

Greg Lawrence was appointed to be the legislative secretary for foster families in January 2014, as hundreds of foster families were quitting and a number of children had fallen victim to preventable tragedies. More than a year later, the Opposition used access laws to request all emails and letters sent, and any reports or work done by Lawrence – and found out that absolutely nothing had been done.

“No emails. No letters. No meeting records. No reports. It’s painfully obvious that in the face of a crisis that is putting vulnerable children at risk, this government feels a little lip service is enough,” said Social Services critic David Forbes. “Foster homes are overcrowded. Tragically, little ones have lost their lives. Yet this government is absolutely not taking this seriously.”

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 nearly double the 54 children that died from unnatural causes from 2005 to 2009.

Since 2010, 250 foster families have quit.

In Regina, every foster home is full, every emergency space is full and since May 23, children coming into the care of Social Services have been put in hotel rooms.

The Advocate for Children and Youth has repeatedly expressed concern about front-line caseloads being far too heavy in an overburdened system, but the government parrots excuses instead of acting on solutions.

Minister Donna Harpauer defends herself by claiming to have hired 90 workers – but never mentions that her government actually cut 100 workers. The minister also dismissed the advocate’s recommendation that a caseload study should be undertaken by saying it had already started one. It hadn’t.

The Opposition New Democrats are calling for an overhaul of the child protection system that includes:

  • Licensing foster homes, with required training and initial inspections taking place before a license is awarded.

  • A requirement that child protection workers 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.

  • Increasing the number of front-line care workers.

  • Capping the total number of children in a foster home – not just the number of foster children per home. Caps should be followed.
  • Aggressively undertaking recruitment and retention of foster families, and inviting an independent party to document the reason so many have left in recent years.

Read the response to all three freedom of information filings here.