N.W.T. premier, health minister say little in response to foster families' allegations

Neither the N.W.T.'s premier nor its minister of Health and Social Services was prepared to offer a response Friday to allegations of widespread mismanagement at the territory's Child and Family Services division, including abuses by front-line workers.

On Friday, CBC published a letter from the Foster Family Coalition of the N.W.T., which alleged child protection workers had verbally abused and, in some cases, intentionally misled foster parents about children in their care.

In subsequent interviews with CBC, foster parents described the department failing to take responsibility for children in their care going missing, or follow up on serious allegations of abuse.

The letter was first sent to Health Minister Diane Thom Monday evening by the Foster Family Coalition. She responded with a generic email pointing to the department's progress in completing a self-imposed three-year improvement plan, and making no mention of the letter or its allegations.

On Tuesday, CBC requested an interview with Thom. She issued no statement until Friday, when a four-line statement attributed to the minister said she "will not comment on [the concerns raised] until we have a chance to … hear directly from [the coalition] and build dialogue going forward."

"Making sure that children and youth in care are safe and supported is something we take very seriously," the statement read.

Tammy Roberts, the executive director of the Foster Family Coalition, confirmed the department reached out to her Wednesday to arrange a meeting. She said no date had yet been set.

Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada

'Don't lose hope': Premier

Reached by phone on Friday, Premier Caroline Cochrane said she had "been running non-stop" and had not read coverage of the letter.

"I do know that if you're talking about the foster family association [sic] than that would be a better question to ask the appropriate minister … Diane Thom," she said.

While deferring specifics to the department, Cochrane went on to say that "the government cares."

"Actions are taking place," she said. "However, the world does not change in a short time."

Asked what she would say to foster parents, Cochrane, a former social worker, said she "value[s] the support that they provide to children and to our communities.

"I hear that they want to have a voice, and this government is more focused on giving all stakeholders a voice," she said.

"Don't lose hope."