MLAs grill deputy minister on failure to deliver plan for group homes

·4 min read
Eric Beaulieu, deputy minister of the Department of Social Development, left, was questioned on his department's handling of a number of files, including the improvement of conditions for youth in group homes.  (Jacques Poitras/CBC - image credit)
Eric Beaulieu, deputy minister of the Department of Social Development, left, was questioned on his department's handling of a number of files, including the improvement of conditions for youth in group homes. (Jacques Poitras/CBC - image credit)

Officials from the Department of Social Development faced a barrage of questions from MLAs on Friday about recommendations not yet implemented and plans still not released.

Green Party Leader David Coon was clearly frustrated and impatient as the department's deputy minister, Eric Beaulieu, tried to explain why a plan on group homes that was due almost a year ago still hasn't been delivered.

He was also angry that recommendations completed in January 2020, on helping children in care who'd suffered sexual harm, haven't been released to all MLAs.

Coon pointed out that members of the legislature met with children in care in November 2019, an event that was supposed to provide an impetus for faster action.

Green party Leader David Coon asked tough questions of Beaulieu, such as why a plan on group homes due almost a year ago still hasn't been revealed.
Green party Leader David Coon asked tough questions of Beaulieu, such as why a plan on group homes due almost a year ago still hasn't been revealed.

"They told us their stories at great emotional costs to themselves so that we would do something, so that we would act, because we're the adults in the room," Coon told Beaulieu.

"We're the decision-makers. We're the frigging lawmakers, and yet every step of the way, we're boxed in. Reports don't show up. Recommendations never see the light of day."

Coon's pointed comments came after Beaulieu said legislation that was being worked on in January 2020 would not be ready to be introduced until this coming fall or winter.

Beaulieu promised the Green leader that he would check with the Department of Public Safety, the lead department on drafting the year-old recommendations, about releasing them publicly.

It was just one of several exchanges in which Beaulieu had to defend his department's work in several of its myriad responsibilities, from support for affordable housing to oversight of nursing homes.

Earlier this week, auditor general Kim Adair-MacPherson said the province has not been building nursing homes fast enough to keep up with demand from an aging population.

She also criticized the department for claiming that three recommendations from her 2016 report on the same issue had been implemented when, in her view, they had not been.

Beaulieu tried to explain that discrepancy Friday in responding to Liberal MLA Robert Gauvin.

Robert Gauvin, Liberal MLA for Shediac Bay-Dieppe, was among the MLAs questioning Beaulieu on the goverment's response to the earlier auditor general recommendations. .
Robert Gauvin, Liberal MLA for Shediac Bay-Dieppe, was among the MLAs questioning Beaulieu on the goverment's response to the earlier auditor general recommendations. .

The deputy minister said it was the department's position that the recommendations were moving ahead, with new homes "under development" and a comparison of privately run nursing homes and traditional publicly funded homes coming alone.

"There's a lot of work being done," he said.

Beaulieu said in December 2020 that there were 587 children in the temporary care of the province and another 476 in permanent care, meaning in foster homes, group homes or under kinship care with a relative.

That's an increase over the numbers in the 2019-20 fiscal year.

Coon noted that the auditor general concluded in December 2019 that the province needed to do more to manage group homes and improve standards.

MLAs from all four parties unanimously approved a motion calling for the government to table a plan for that by March 31 of last year, but the plan never materialized, Coon said.

"Where is the plan, the plan that you were supposed to table in the legislature at the end of March?" Coon asked. "COVID only started towards the end of March. The plan should have been tabled. Where is it?"

Beaulieu said consultations were happening in February 2020 but the department didn't want to finish its work without meeting with MLAs, which hadn't been possible because of the pandemic.

But he said the department has still been working on the issue, increasing payments to foster families by 25 per cent and getting a bill to legalize kinship care through the legislature.

Coon pushed further, demanding the plan be submitted when the legislature returns March 16.

"Children and youth who do not have parents who can speak for them, who are in the care of this province, depend on us, in the end, to speak for them," he said. "The buck stops here."

Beaulieu finally told Coon that after a followup consultation session March 23, he would commit to submitting "a document for review" by the end of March.