Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, later on today I will table the document, It Takes A Community: A Report to the Department of Health and Social Services on Child Welfare Services in the Northwest Territories.
When we collectively identified our priorities and strategies for the next four years in Towards A Better Tomorrow, we did so based on a shared vision of the NWT. This vision includes a desire to uphold safety, security and respect for all citizens, with a focus on those who may be especially vulnerable, including children. The well-being and safety of our children is critical and we want to continue to strive to do the best possible job we can in ensuring this.
The department commissioned this report to provide a pro-active, system-wide review of child welfare programs and services. We wanted an overall assessment of the NWT system and the linkages with service partners. Additionally, the department was seeking practical, doable recommendations which would strengthen existing child welfare programs and services.
Mr. Speaker, this is the first time we have undertaken such an extensive, system-wide review. We selected the Child Welfare League of Canada as consultants based on the fact that they have the expertise. They are North America's oldest and largest voluntary organization devoted entirely to protecting and promoting the well-being of children. They have worked in all regions of Canada, including the Yukon, and they have experience addressing circumstances that are similar to ours.
Because of this expertise, the Child Welfare League of Canada was able to gauge how we are doing in comparison to national standards. They gave us a fresh viewpoint and their review has provided us with a tool for setting future direction.
Undertaking a pro-active review is evidence of the department's commitment to providing the children of the Northwest Territories with a quality child welfare system. The report gives us the opportunity to pinpoint weakness and develop remedies where there are inadequacies.
The report found a number of areas we need to improve, but it also paid tribute to the strengths of our current system. The report acknowledges that we are on the right track:
- • our new legislation introduced in November 1998 is progressive and we have solid policies, standards and protocols that support it;
- • on the front lines, our NWT foster parents are informed, caring and dedicated to the children in their care and their communities; and
- • NWT child protection workers, who are primarily aboriginal, bring enthusiasm, loyalty and commitment to the job of bettering the lives of children.
The report has provided a number of recommendations for strengthening our services, and in many cases, the suggested actions are already underway:
- • information pamphlets are being produced to help raise public awareness and understanding about the Act and services provided;
- • there is on-going education regarding the new Act, and competency-based training is being developed for supervisors and child protection workers;
- • a Child and Family Information System has been designed in consultation with child protection workers and supervisors, and training and implementation will begin in the next month;
- • we are developing standards for foster parents and we have already developed standards for children's treatment centres; and
- • we are exploring other options to empower and protect children in the system.
Mr. Speaker, for those areas we have not yet addressed, we intend to take an organized, multi-year approach starting with the prioritizing of issues based on the most critical needs. We are already at work, planning our response to this review. It will be in the form of an action plan that includes costing. Preliminary activities will be included in our next business plan.
At this time, the report is being provided to health and social services boards for distribution to their front line workers and program directors, as well as to agencies with an interest in child welfare services. The department is requesting feedback on the observations and recommendations of the Child Welfare League so that we can determine what system-wide actions need to be set in motion immediately and over the next few years.
I invite Members to contribute to this work by providing comments on the report. The welfare of our children is paramount and the interest demonstrated by Members in this review is most welcome. I look forward to providing Members with updates on our progress. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.