After years of criticism for chronically underfunding its child welfare system, the Northwest Territories Government is investing an additional $3.68 million to create 20 new positions in its division of Child and Family Services.
In its 2020-2021 budget, the territorial government allocated almost $34.2 million to Child and Family Services which handles, among other things, child apprehension, the screening of foster parents and support for families struggling to keep their children out of care.
Earlier this month, the territorial government announced it would be investing an additional $3.68 million to the division bringing its total annual budget to over $37.8 million. That's up from $33.8 million during the 2019-2020 fiscal year.
Department of Health and Social Services spokesperson, Damien Healy, said the new money will be used to create 20 new positions across the territory, purchase five new vehicles for on-the-ground program delivery and rent out additional office space.
"Funding will also be used to support engagement activities to make sure the voices of youth and communities are shaping the system and delivery of services to better meet the needs of children, youth and families," Healy said in an email.
The new positions range from supervisory level to case aides who assist frontline social workers.
Understaffed and overburdened
The system has come under fire repeatedly for failing to protect the children in its care and for a lack of support for foster parents.
Two back-to-back scathing auditor general reports in 2014 and 2018 and a damning 27-page letter from a group of foster parents earlier this year all painted a disturbing picture of a system lacking oversight and generally failing to improve upon itself.
The Department of Health attributed those shortfalls again and again to chronic short-staffing.
In a CBC article earlier this year, several front-line social workers said the system was understaffed and overburdened.
But Tammy Roberts, executive director of the Foster Family Coalition, says since February when the Department of Health vowed to work with the coalition to reform the system, things have improved.
"We all know they have been understaffed in a lot of different areas for quite a few years so definitely any new staff that can be brought forward is going to be beneficial for kids and families for sure," Roberts said.
"Anything that spreads the work out is going to ensure that there's more services for people."
Roberts noted that the Department of Health and Social Services has also increased its communication with the coalition and foster parents alike.
"Everything is actually going great. COVID[-19] has changed a lot of things. Just because so many decisions are made really fast we all have to be communicating and on the same page," she said.
The Department of Health and Social Services says it could be a few months before all the positions are filled though it said it is working to fill them as soon as possible.