Yukon families deprived of right to complain
YUKON - Inaccessible complaints process leaves families and children without options
Social workers at the Yukon government are given more protections than the people they are supposed to help (Image: WN)
A whistleblower at the Yukon's Department of Health and Social Services (HSS) is exposing an underhanded practice within the department's branch of Family and Children's Services (FCS).
The practice in question relates to when a client of FCS wants to lodge a complaint against their own social worker or the FCS branch.
The whistleblower told the Whitewash News that - unlike the rest of Canada - the Yukon government does not provide a complaints specialist or ethical advisor to handle complaints from its FCS clients.
This means that FCS clients in the Yukon must bring their complaint directly to the people they are complaining about.
Not only that, but the Yukon government has also designed the FCS complaint process in such a way that the people who are subject to the complaint also get to decide what to do with the complaint.
Abuse of power
The process was described by the whistleblower as "archaic, crazy" and "a huge reason why FCS's clients probably never complain."
"The social worker that holds their file has the power to withhold money from them, enter data in their file in a biased manner, take their children away, or a number of other serious things that would negatively impact their children and selves."
Clients are afraid to file complaints because of the power the branch and its social workers have over their lives and the lives of their families.
By being forced to bring their complaint about their social worker directly to their social worker, clients risk antagonising the people who can take their children into care and dictate the type of supports families get.
Inaccessible complaints process
Even if a client musters up the courage to bring their complaint directly to the person or people being complained about at FCS, they are up against a biased, dense and inaccessible complaints process.
The official government complaints brochure obtained by the Whitewash News outlines how clients must first bring their complaint to their own social worker, then to their social worker's supervisor, then the social worker's program manager, and finally to the director of FCS who makes the final call on the complaint.
The client is expected to do all of this work on their own time, at their own expense, and without any supports provided that would help them advance the complaint.
On top of this uncomfortable and hefty workload, clients who want to complain are directed by FCS to read the 114-page Child and Family Services Act in order to fully understand their rights. For many clients, this means having to hire a lawyer.
Meanwhile, the government employees being complained about are able to access supports from their workplace and employee union in addition to free and unlimited legal advice from taxpayer-funded Yukon Department of Justice lawyers.
According to the whistleblower, another major unfair advantage that FCS has over its clients is that the clients must adhere to strict deadlines for making their complaint or it will be refused by FCS.
FCS, on the other hand, gives itself literally as much time as it wants to respond to a complaint and faces no repercussions for its delays.
The net result of the government's complaints process is that FCS clients feel too dispirited and discouraged to bother pursuing a complaint all the way to the end or at all.
The Family and Children's Services offices on Whitehorse's 4th Avenue where clients are heavily discouraged from pursuing complaints against employees (Image: Google Maps)
If after the lengthy, uneven and expensive complaints process, a client's complaint is dismissed by the director of FCS, the client is then told they can file a complaint against FCS with the Yukon's Ombudsperson Diane McLeod-McKay.
Filing a complaint with the Ombudsperson, however, is viewed by most Yukoners as a hopeless prospect, especially when it involves HSS or FCS.
The Yukon government under the Liberals has fostered a highly adversarial relationship with McLeod-McKay and is known to instruct its ministers and deputy ministers not to deal with her.
In December 2020, McLeod-McKay was forced to take HSS to court just to get documents that the department was attempting to conceal.
Earlier that same year, she had publicly slammed the same department for ignoring her correspondence and refusing to cooperate with the law.
In 2019, an investigation report by the Public Interest Disclosure Commissioner found that FCS employees were breaking the law and government lawyers were "vigorously" trying to conceal it. None of the employees or lawyers were fired for their conduct.
That investigation report came just days after the Yukon's Child Advocate Annette King also weighed in on the department's misconduct and accused FCS of not following rules that are in place to protect children in care.
The whistleblower says that they raised their concerns about the unfairness of the complaints process with a senior HSS employee months ago and received no response or follow-up.
From the government's perspective, it is in the department's interest to suppress complaints about FCS, especially as the ruling Yukon Liberal Party has been touting political success over its recent amendments to the Child and Family Services Act.
On March 31, members of the Yukon legislative assembly voted to pass Bill No. 11. The bill contains several amendments to the Act that Health and Social Services minister Tracy McPhee described as "groundbreaking, precedent-setting moves to benefit our children."
The amended Act, however, fails to mention anything about a complaints procedure. The word "complain" is mentioned only once in the new Act and that is on page 54 where it simply says that a client has the right to know how the complaints process works.
This means that under the amended Act, the government will continue to have the power to suppress complaints and keep any failures or incompetence at FCS under wraps.
A major cause of failures and incompetence amongst social services in the Yukon is believed to be the government's hiring policy for social workers.
In its social worker jobs listings, the Yukon government offers a starting salary of $85,241 for recent college graduates with little practical experience beyond what they gained through their degree program.
Despite the fact that a significant number of FCS clients are Indigenous, there is no essential requirement for applicants with social work degrees to have familiarity or experience with Indigenous peoples in general, much less Yukon's First Nations.
This lack of understanding and experience invariably leads to misunderstandings, conflicts and power-trips where the non-Indigenous social worker has all of the power over the Indigenous client.
Old-school social workers can also exhibit superiority complexes, sometimes as a result of being educated during Canada's unabashedly-colonial and pre-Reconciliation era.
Whilst researching for a previous story, the Whitewash News came across photographs that were captured and shared online by white former social worker Lee Carruthers in the primarily-Indigenous Village of Carmacks in the Yukon.
Some of the photographs appear to depict community members as drunks while others appear to have been taken without the subjects' consent.
The photographs highlight the problem of privilege in the Yukon's social services industry and speak to the power that some social workers feel they have over the people they are supposed to serve.
Slideshow: Photographs posted publicly on Flickr.com by a former Yukon social worker highlight the problem of privilege amongst non-Indigenous social workers within Indigenous communities (Photos: Lee Carruthers/Flickr)
How to contact FCS
The people responsible for the FCS complaints process are obliged to answer questions from the public on how the process works.
They are also required to make their official contact details public and do so by publishing them across the Yukon government's various communications platforms.
Minister for Health and Social Services Tracy McPhee can be contacted at Tracy.McPhee@yukon.ca or 867-393-7488
Ed van Randen is Deputy Minister responsible for delivery of social services at HSS and can be contacted at Ed.vanRanden@yukon.ca or 867-334-7096
Geraldine MacDonald is the director of FCS and can be contacted at Geraldine.MacDonald@yukon.ca or 867-667-3471
Editors Notes: This story was published in the 'Real News' section of our website. Facts are supported by the links provided within the story. If you have information or a tip regarding misconduct by politicians or government officials, or if you have been treated poorly by the government, please consider sharing your story with us. We fully appreciate the risk of repercussions involved in speaking out and take very seriously your requests to remain anonymous.