Foster Home Overcrowding

Issue

Beginning in July 2005, the Children’s Advocate Office began to receive complaints from concerned children, youth, foster parents, professionals and citizens that many of the children in the care of the Minster of Community Resources (now Social Services) were being placed in overcrowded foster homes in the Saskatoon Service Centre area. The primary concern was that the Department of Community Resources (now Ministry of Social Services) was compromising children’s safety.

Background

Between 2005 and 2007, the Children’s Advocate Office engaged in individual and group advocacy on behalf of children placed in overcrowded foster homes without significant resolution to the systemic nature of the issue. Concerns reported to the office included the lack of placement matching, inappropriate placement of children in overcrowded foster homes and lack of adequate case management for those children. Based on these continuing concerns and the perceived lack of resources, capacity and ability within the Department of Community Resources to manage foster home overcrowding in Saskatoon, a decision was made in April 2007 by the Children’s Advocate Office to launch a program and services systemic investigation into the issue.

The Report

On February 25, 2009, Saskatchewan’s Children’s Advocate, Marvin Bernstein, tabled  a special report in the Saskatchewan Legislature entitled: A Breach of Trust: An Investigation Into Foster Home Overcrowding in the Saskatoon Service Centre. This report included 49 findings and 45 recommendations made to the Ministry of Social Services. The CAO investigators found that the issue of foster home overcrowding was not new and had been raised, criticized and condemned by the offices of the Provincial Ombudsman, Children’s Advocate and Provincial Auditor for over two decades. With each successive child death review, systemic investigation or audit of the Ministry of Social Services, the same themes had emerged swiftly and clearly time after time, as they did once again in this investigation:

  • Current foster home resources do not meet the specialized needs or numbers of children coming into the care of the Minister.
  • Many foster homes are significantly overcrowded and exceed the capacity of the homes ability to safely accommodate the number of children placed in them.
  • Children in care of the Minister who are placed in overcrowded foster homes are at increased risk of physical, sexual, emotional and/or psychological harm.
  • Foster parents do not receive adequate supports, resources and respite services from the Ministry of Social Services.
  • Inadequate case information is documented in Ministry of Social Services files and communicated by Ministry caseworkers to foster parents regarding children placed in their care.
  • There exists a Ministry of Social Services' culture of non-compliance with policy and best practices related to: the maximum number of children to be placed in a foster home; placement matching between foster home capabilities and foster children’s needs; and the reporting and documenting of serious case incidents and investigations into complaints of abuse and neglect in foster homes.
  • There is a high turnover in Ministry caseworkers, not enough caseworkers, and not enough contact between caseworkers, foster parents and children in care.
  • Children of Aboriginal ancestry are significantly over-represented in child welfare care.

Ministry of Social Services Response

On February 25, 2009, the Minister of Social Services, Hon. Donna Harpauer held a media conference to release the Ministry’s immediate response to the report. There she announced that the Government of Saskatchewan would adopt the Children’s Advocate Office’s Children and Youth First Principles as part of its plan to strengthen the province’s child welfare system. Other announced plans included:

  • Investing in initiatives to add spaces for children and youth needing out-of-home care.
  • Undertaking a series of foster home recruitment activities in partnership with the Saskatchewan Foster Families Association.
  • Initiating a series of foster family retention initiatives.
  • Taking steps to improve leadership within the Child and Family Services Division of the Ministry of Social Services.
  • Initiating a policy compliance review of the Saskatoon region.
  • Concluding the review of The Child and Family Services Act and The Adoption Act, 1998 with the intention of introducing amendments for the next session of the legislature.

Read the media release and media backgrounder.

Progress Report I

The Children’s Advocate Office committed to ongoing advocacy and tracking of the Ministry of Social Services’ acceptance and compliance with the recommendations contained in the report. The first public update was provided by the Office in a Progress Report on Foster Home Overcrowding in Saskatchewan released on November 12, 2009, which included the following information:

  • Of the 45 recommendations made in A Breach of Trust, the Ministry of Social Services had accepted 17, partially accepted two, not accepted nine and deferred 17 until such time as the planned review of The Child and Family Services Act has occurred. The Children’s Advocate Office’s analysis of the Ministry’s response to the recommendations led the Office to close with adequate action taken eight recommendations, close by discontinuing three recommendations and keep active the remaining 34 recommendations as requiring further action by the Ministry of Social Services.
  • An assessment by the Children’s Advocate that the Ministry had taken many first steps since the release of the report, which included many positive developments, such as the adoption of the Children and Youth First Principles; increased support for foster parents and the Saskatchewan Foster Families Association; increased efforts to recruit and retain foster homes; funding of new residential resources development; work to recruit and retain social workers; investment in new information technologies; improved communication with children in care and foster parents; increased compliance with policy relating to physical accommodations and placement considerations; a statement of commitment to broad consultations as part of a legislative review; commitment to conduct mandatory education for Ministry staff on the rights of children and youth; and a small reduction in the number of children and youth placed in overcrowded foster homes.
  • The Children’s Advocate also expressed in the progress report continuing concerns that included the fact that as of June 30, 2009, 18.2 per cent of all active foster homes were overcrowded and 43.5 per cent of all children and youth placed in foster care lived in an overcrowded home in Saskatchewan; there was significant overcrowding of foster homes in the three major cities of Saskatoon, Regina and Prince Albert; a lack of a reliable electronic information management system to provide comprehensive, accurate and timely data when requisitioned and to inform the quality assurance efforts of the Ministry of Social Services; a lack of comprehensive statistics and reporting on recruitment and retention of foster homes; delay in conducting a comprehensive review of the cases of children and youth currently placed in overcrowded foster homes in the Saskatoon Service Centre; and deferral of all of the recommendations calling for legislative reform without consideration of some legislative amendments, which are so urgent that they should be fast-tracked in order to avoid the serious risk of harmful impacts for children and youth in receipt of government child welfare services.

In November 2009, the Ministry of Social Services announced that the Government of Saskatchewan will undertake a comprehensive review of child welfare in the province.

Read the media release and visit the review website here.

Progress Report II

The second public update was provided by the Office in a Progress Report II on Foster Home Overcrowding in Saskatchewan released on August 18, 2011. The Children's Advocate Office continues to monitor and evaluate progress made to address the issues and implement the recommendations made in the original foster overcrowding report. Future updates will be included in our annual reports.