WINNIPEG – Manitoba does not have adequate systems in place to ensure sufficient and appropriate funding for foster home services and to ensure compliance with foster home standards, says Auditor General Norm Ricard. The findings are contained in a new report, Management of Foster Homes, released today.
“To ensure the safety and well-being of children in care, it is imperative that foster homes and places of safety be properly managed by the child and family service agencies, and that children are placed in homes that can appropriately deal with their identified needs,” said Ricard. “Unfortunately, practices in place do not ensure that this is always the case.”
Funding for foster home services
Ricard found that the Department of Families did not explicitly fund child and family service (CFS) agencies for the work required to meet provincially-set standards for licensing and case managing foster homes. This work includes completing home inspections and assessments, conducting reference checks, obtaining criminal record and child abuse registry checks, as well as monitoring foster homes and supporting foster parents. “To comply with the standards, CFS agencies must finance this work using funds designated for other purposes, causing higher than planned caseloads in other areas,” said Ricard.
The audit also found that each of the four CFS agencies audited had a unique method for assessing a child’s needs and for setting the related funding rates paid to caregivers. The report also notes that a child’s assessed needs and the related funding rates for caregivers were often not supported with proper documentation. “These unique systems and weak documentation practices resulted in some inconsistent service fees for children with similar needs, creating inequities between caregivers at different CFS agencies and within an agency,” said Ricard. “In addition, not requiring proper support for the assessments made, and for the related rates, increases the risk and likelihood of rates being manipulated to meet foster parents’ demands for a specific rate.”
Compliance with foster home standards
In examining the management of new and existing foster homes by CFS agencies, Ricard found inadequate systems for ensuring that foster home standards were initially and consistently met.
With respect to new foster homes, the Auditor General found that some were licensed even though they did not comply with certain licensing requirements. “We recognize that licensing a home with minor exceptions can be justified. However, for eight of the 40 newly licensed foster home files we examined, given the number and type of licensing requirements that these applicants had not met, we concluded that the decision to issue the license was not properly supported,” said Ricard.
For the renewal of existing foster homes licenses, the Auditor General found that annual reviews were not always done, and when they were done, the review forms were frequently incomplete. He found that many security checks were not done as required, many home inspections were not thorough, subsequent follow-ups were not done for items of non-compliance, and actions not escalated for repeat offenders.
In the report, Ricard noted that while foster care workers conducted annual review inspections of foster homes as part of the relicensing process, they conducted few home visits throughout the year, and rarely made unannounced visits. “More frequent home visits, with some unannounced, would help ensure foster care workers get an accurate sense of how a home operates,” he said.
With respect to places of safety, the Auditor General noted that while there are no regulatory requirements for the screening, approval and monitoring of places of safety, Department policies covering these areas were in place. The Auditor General found weaknesses in how CFS agencies assessed places of safety for suitability, noting there was a lack of guidance on how to do this. The report notes that required documents were not always prepared or obtained and that thorough assessments of the information obtained were often not done.
While places of safety are intended to be for short-term emergency placements, the report notes that this was often not the case. As of June 2017, nearly 400 places of safety in the four CFS agencies examined had been operating beyond the six-month time limit. “Longer term placements in a place of safety is a concern because each of these homes is essentially operating as a foster home but without the same safety standards, supervision and support,” said Ricard.
Ricard found that the Department had taken some steps to address foster home supply issues, but risks remain. “Some officials told us that child placement decisions were sometimes made out of desperation rather than best fit, and that supply issues had led to a reliance on more expensive placements,” Ricard said.
In Manitoba, there are more than 9,600 children in foster homes and places of safety. Foster homes provide care and supervision for children in care, but not for the purpose of adoption. Places of safety are intended to be temporary, short-term placements, and are often the homes of relatives.
The report contains 43 recommendations.
To view the Auditor General’s report, please visit the audit report page.
About the Auditor General of Manitoba
The Auditor General is an officer of the Legislative Assembly mandated to provide independent assurance and advice to Members of the Legislative Assembly. Through its audits, the Office of the Auditor General seeks to identify opportunities to strengthen government operations and enhance performance management and reporting. For more information visit http://www.oag.mb.ca./
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Frank Landry, Communications Manager