FREDERICTON (GNB) – In her latest report tabled today in the legislature, auditor general Kim MacPherson found poor planning, ineffective standards and weak monitoring by the Department of Social Development. As a result, vulnerable children in group homes and specialized placements across the province are at risk.

“The department does not adequately manage the placement and care of children in group homes and specialized placements,” said MacPherson. “This can lead to disastrous consequences contributing to suicide attempts, addictions, long-term mental health challenges and homelessness.”

The report found the continued decline in foster home availability across the province combined with increased behavioural challenges of children has led to increased use of group homes. Fewer options means more children and younger children are being housed at group homes.

“The recent increase in children five and under is even more troubling,” said MacPherson.

The report found group homes are used even though, for certain children, foster care would be more appropriate and likely result in better outcomes. In addition, group homes are a lot costlier for the province.

“We estimate every 10 children placed in a group home instead of a foster home costs $1.6 million more annually,” MacPherson said.

The report also found an increasing use of specialized placements to house children with complex behaviours. Such placements cost about three times more than group homes. In one region, these costs averaged over $420,000 per child annually. The report also identified weaknesses in training for social workers and group home employees as well as high turnover. MacPherson also pointed to inadequate preparation for children leaving care as young adults.

“Since children in temporary care can leave a residence at 16 years of age, we expected group homes to begin preparing children for independent living and adulthood well in advance of their 16th birthday,” said MacPherson.

Instead, the report found no clear direction on when and how this should happen. In addition, the audit found the department does not monitor and report on outcomes achieved for children who have left care.

Overall, MacPherson made 16 recommendations aimed at the findings raised in the report.

The Department of Social Development – Group Homes and Specialized Placements chapter can be found in Volume II of the 2019 Auditor General Report. Volume II contains performance audit chapters. Volume III, also released today, focuses on matters arising from the annual financial audit of the province and Crown agencies. These volumes and one-page summaries for select chapters are available online.