The issue: Child welfare system

We say: Kids not faring well

So here we have it: the first real test of the NWT’s new-style, new-hope government. 

After decades of incremental, now-it’s-my-turn change to the political leadership of the legislative assembly, voters last fall completed a sweep that began during the 2015 election, casting aside seven incumbents and electing the most women ever to sit in the assembly – nine in total.

“We have made history in the Northwest Territories. So that’s huge and that’s exciting,” an excited re-elected Range Lake MLA Caroline Cochrane told reporters at the time.

Cochrane was the only cabinet minister returned to the assembly and is the only member of the new executive council with cabinet experience.

The premier put that new hope on display Monday night, meeting exasperated foster parents over coffee at her Tim Hortons constituency meeting. She sat and heard their stories of frustration with a child and family services system that previous governments have failed time and again to remedy.

Cochrane is a former social worker. In fact, Cochrane was CEO of the Centre for Northern Families, a social service agency administered by the Yellowknife Women’s Society. 

So, it was appropriate — if not expected — for Cochrane to approach the broken child welfare system with some new compassion, if not solid policy fixes.

Alas, if foster parents at the meeting were expecting a solid commitment from the premier, they didn’t get one. Some “tough” funding choices will have to be made when MLAs sit down to determine how resources are best allocated, she told them.

Child welfare woes won’t be solved in next four years, Cochrane later told Yellowknifer, noting her biggest takeaway from Monday’s meeting was that foster caregivers “want to be heard.” 

“They want to develop a positive relationship with our government and actually have a voice in what’s happening,” she said. 

So, we have seen the empathetic side of Cochrane, which followed the unfortunate but more typical bureaucratic response delivered in response to the renewed outcry from foster parents and adoptive caregivers earlier this month.

Replying to a letter from Foster Families Coalition executive director Tammy Roberts, Health and Social Services Minister Diane Thom issued the usual boilerplate about working closely with “frontline staff and those accessing our services” and “reviewing quantitative data.”

That didn’t go over well with foster families. Hopefully, she has taken note from Cochrane’s meeting with them Monday for her own promised get-together, which was scheduled to take place after press time yesterday. 

One caregiver at Cochrane’s constituency meeting characterized the last government as an “old boy’s club,” where complaints and requests for meetings often fell on deaf ears. Cochrane has shown she is prepared to listen. It remains to be seen whether she and her all new cabinet can deliver results.

“We’re not going to solve world peace in four years,” Cochrane told Yellowknifer after the meeting. “We’re not going to get all the children in care provided proper services in four years. I just know that.” 

Well, that’s honesty. We’ll give her that much. Hopefully, Cochrane and her government will aim a little higher than that.

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