In his final annual report to the government, Saskatchewan’s child and youth advocate delivered some harsh criticism and expressed disappointment in the lack of progress during his five-year term in office.
Bob Pringle says he has observed a waning commitment by the government to a comprehensive child welfare agenda first proposed in 2010.
“The magnitude of the transformation that was envisioned has not occurred and appears to be abandoned,” he says in his annual report for 2015. “At this point, it appears our vulnerable children are not prioritized in our social and economic polices.”
He made the comments as he delivered his sixth and final report to the legislature.
Pringle says the number of children in foster care has increased, but the number of foster homes has decreased, resulting in children being placed in hotels, or in overcrowded foster homes. The number of foster homes in the province has dropped from 626 in 2011 to 498 last year. More than 4,700 children were under the care of Social Services last year, most of them Aboriginal.
“So let’s just be honest about this,” he said. “Let’s not get defensive, let’s not deny it, let’s not wish it wasn’t so. Let’s recognize, acknowledge and address it, let’s do more to help that child in Saskatchewan that does not have the opportunities.”
Pringle’s office closed the files on 26 deaths and 36 critical injuries to children in foster care last year. Four of the deaths were homicides. As well, Pringle says 25 per cent of the cases of death or injury are the result of suicide attempts or self-harm. That is down from 44 per cent in 2014.
Social services minister Donna Harpauer took the criticism in stride. She says there has been a great deal of progress over the last five years, especially in the area of early intervention and support for foster parents.
“Child protection will always need continued improvement, there is always more that we could do,” she said. “Ideally we would have all strong, healthy families and we wouldn’t be bringing children into care. To say there is no progress, we are one of the few provinces, if not the only province that brought down the number of children coming into care.”
This is Pringle’s final annual report. His five-year term was not extended, although he was told he can re-apply for his job if he wants to. Pringle says he won’t be doing that, but will stay on until October.
Harpauer was asked if she had lost faith and confidence in Pringle.
She replied, “I can’t answer to that. He has put out some very good reports, and the board of internal economy will make decisions on his future; I don’t have those discussions.”
Pringle said he is disappointed that his term was not extended but says he does plan to continue working to advocate on behalf of children in one capacity or another.
He will deliver a couple of special reports before he leaves his job.