Saskatchewan Government needs to take ‘bold steps’ to improve child protection

The Canadian Press [Toronto] 07 May 2015.
NDP criticizes government response to inquest

REGINA – Saskatchewan’s Opposition is criticizing the Ministry of Social Services for its response to an inquest into the death of a six-year-old boy who was killed by an older child on a reserve.

A coroner’s inquest into Lee Bonneau’s death resulted in 19 recommendations which ranged from improving mental health supports to addressing staffing issues.

Social Services Minister Donna Harpauer said Thursday child protection services are continuously being improved and the government has accepted most of the recommendations.

“Some will be under consideration as we try to see if we can address them.”

Harpauer noted that one of the recommendations was to create a facility for children under 12 who have complex needs.

“We already have facilities … we’re not sure we need to build another one.”

NDP critic David Forbes said he’s disappointed by the government’s response. He suggested Harpauer needs to take “bold steps” to address systemic problems.

“She fails to really take how serious this is,” he said. “We have kids who are at risk.”

Lee Bonneau was found with head injuries in a wooded area on the Kahkewistahaw reserve in 2013. He was last seen walking with an older boy outside a recreation complex while Lee’s foster mother was playing bingo.

Children’s advocate Bob Pringle said in a report last year that the 10-year-old boy who killed Lee had behavioural issues and probably should not have been in the community unsupervised. Because he was under 12, he could not be charged under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

The jury’s recommendations were mainly directed towards the Ministry of Social Services and the Yorkton Tribal Council Child and Family Services. They included addressing communication shortfalls and revising the size of service centres for rural offices.

The jury also recommended that fetal alcohol syndrome, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and mental-health issues should be addressed as soon as they are identified in children.

Forbes said better training for foster parents and strict licensing rules should be priorities.

“I would even add using licensed, registered social workers,” he said. “We have not seen this really been addressed by the minister and for her I get the sense it’s business as usual which is really unfortunate.”

Harpauer said the improvements that have been made include a reduction in the number of children in foster homes.

“We still have a small number of homes that have more than four children,” she said. “We have put supports in those homes to help them with the children and mostly they are sibling groups and we’re keeping them together.”

The Canadian Press