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'More work to do' for investigations of child abuse and neglect: Auditor’s report


The Ministry of Social Services has more work to do when it comes to investigating cases of child abuse and neglect, according to the Provincial Auditor’s Report released on Wednesday.

The auditor’s report made five recommendations in 2018, and the ministry implemented only one recommendation from that report by June 2023.

“They have timeframes set but they’re not meeting those expectations with the face-to face, with completing those investigations, doing the risk assessments,” said Tara Clemett, the provincial auditor, on Wednesday morning.

In the 2023 follow-up audit, the report recommends that the Ministry of Social Services:

  • Finalizes investigations of reported suspected child abuse and neglect within required timeframes
  • Monitors the appropriateness of changed screening decisions related to allegations
  • Attempts to make face-to-face contact with the child and family involved in allegations within required timeframes
  • Completes family risk assessments for investigations within required timeframes

Plans to address outstanding investigations have not always been formalized, according to the report, which recommends investigations be finalized within the required timeframe of 45 days.

“Not finalizing investigations within required timeframes and having late supervisor approval may result in delaying ongoing child protection services to families with children who may be at risk of neglect and abuse,” the report read.

The ministry received about 19,100 reported instances during 2022-23, and over 7,200 of those resulted in investigations.

As of May 2023, there were 944 total investigations outstanding for more than 45 days, with almost 34 per cent outstanding for more than 180 days.

Clemett said they found the ministry has a Quality Assurance Unit which conducts annual reviews of children protection files in each area to monitor compliance with the Child Protection Services Manual.

“Potentially staffing is an area where I think they have to make decisions but it is a matter of monitoring whether or not you’re meeting those timeframes and then doing something to make sure that you can,” she said.

According to the report, the Ministry of Social Services does not always follow the policies and procedures for investigating child abuse and neglect, including completing family risk assessments.

“Sometimes, when it comes to completing the investigation reports and the risk assessments, the paperwork side kind of gets left by the wayside,” Clemett said. “That said, if you haven’t completed that, the families that might need ongoing child protection support from the ministry are not getting it.”

“It has to be concluded, supervisors have to review and everything has to be finalized, so it’s an important step,” she added.

The report said face-to-face contact is not always occurring as required, and recommends that the ministry attempt to do that within required timeframes.

During the audit, 30 investigations were tested. For two of 12 investigations classified as requiring immediate response, caseworkers didn’t attempt to make face-to-face contact on the same day as required.

For four out of 18 investigations classified as non-immediate response, caseworkers did not attempt to make face-to-face contact within five days as required. According to the report, it took caseworkers between eight to 88 days to make contact with the children.

“It’s really up to the ministry to step back and go, ‘We continued to not hit the mark in the timeframes they have set, why is that and what should we do about it?” Clemett said.

In those six cases where the auditor found contact was later than required, reasons for the delays were not documented in the ministry’s IT case management system.

For 21 of 30 investigations tested, 15 investigations were completed late, and six investigations were still open at the time of testing.

To help monitor outstanding investigations, the Quality Assurance Unit assesses whether staff completes them within ministry timeframes. According to the auditor’s report, the unit’s finding were consistent with the testing done in the audit. Top Stories

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