Nova Scotia Must Do Better for Kids in Its Care - AG

                                                Nova Scotia Must Do Better for Kids in Its Care - AG

For release May 7 – Nova Scotia’s Department of Community Services needs to do a better job of overseeing the health, safety, and well-being of the hundreds of kids in its care.

“The weak oversight of children in child and youth care homes and temporary emergency arrangements could put an already vulnerable population at greater risk,” Auditor General Kim Adair says in a new audit.

The Department of Community Services is responsible for the Children and Family Services Act, a provincial law which provides protection for children at risk of abuse or neglect by enabling the Department to intervene on their behalf.

The Act provides for the court to grant care and custody orders when it determines a child cannot remain at home.

During our 2021-2023 audit periods, the Province placed 271 children in child and youth care homes and another 227 children in temporary emergency arrangements. Temporary emergency arrangements are a short-term solution until a placement, such as foster care or a child and youth care home, can be found.

Department policy states a temporary emergency arrangement is not intended to last more than four days except in exceptional circumstances, but our audit testing reveals a growing reliance on these interim measures that now last, on average, longer than eight months.

The Department does not license these service providers, in contrast to the child and youth care homes which must be licensed and regularly inspected by the Department of Community Services.

However, the Auditor General found that the provincial contracts signed with child and youth care home operators do not include performance standards or staff qualifications.

“The absence of strong agreements with service providers creates a significant risk to the Department that could impact the health, safety and well-being of children living in child and youth care homes.”

The department has meeting frequency standards for social workers to visit kids in homes and in temporary emergency arrangements, but our testing found that in almost half of our samples, social workers are falling short of the standards. In one instance, a child was not contacted for over three months.  

These significant gaps in contact make it difficult for the social worker to develop a relationship with the child and to make sure they receive the support they need.

As a result of the audit, the Auditor General makes 20 recommendations, including that the department monitor the frequency of social worker visits with children and take corrective action if required.

“Without planning and support, the transition to being in care may be made more difficult and potentially impact the child’s ability to adjust to the child and youth care home.” 

Three of the Auditor General’s recommendations centre around the 1,900 critical incidents and serious occurrences recorded in child and youth care homes over the audit’s two-year period. There’s no accompanying mechanism to track, analyze or even assess the seriousness of these events.

“We find it concerning that child and youth care homes are experiencing so many critical incidents and serious occurrences and there’s no analysis to identify trends or patterns that need to be addressed by the Department.”

French news release - communique