Child and Youth Strategy
Printed and Published by Nova Scotia Hansard Reporting Services
COMMUNITY SERVICES COMMITTEE
Mr. Jim Morton (Chairman)
Mr. Gary Ramey (Vice-Chairman)
Mr. Leonard Preyra
Mr. Trevor Zinck
Ms. Michele Raymond
Mr. Leo Glavine
Ms. Kelly Regan
Hon. Chris d'Entremont
Mr. Alfie MacLeod
[Mr. Alfie MacLeod was replaced by Hon. Cecil Clarke.]
Ms. Kim Langille
Legislative Committee Clerk
Department of Community Services
Ms. Judith Ferguson, Deputy Minister
Mr. Robert Wright, Executive Director - Child and Youth Strategy
HALIFAX, TUESDAY, JANUARY 5, 2010
STANDING COMMITTEE ON COMMUNITY SERVICES
Mr. Jim Morton
MR. CHAIRMAN: I'm going to call the meeting to order. It is 1:00 p.m., I think we are mostly assembled. I think Mr. Clarke may be coming soon.
My name is Jim Morton, I'm the chairman of the committee. I think first we'll just have some introductions of the committee members and then have some introductions for our witnesses. We'll begin with the clerk.
[The committee members introduced themselves.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: We have guests today from the Department of Community Services; Ms. Judith Ferguson who is the deputy minister and Mr. Robert Wright, who is the executive director of the Child and Youth Strategy. I think, Ms. Ferguson, that you have some other members of your department here as well. Would you like to introduce them?
MS. JUDITH FERGUSON: Sure, I'd be happy to, Mr. Chairman. We're here today to talk about the Child and Youth Strategy and we're very pleased to be here.
One of the most important things about the Child and Youth Strategy is that it's truly a cross-departmental initiative. There are five departments involved. I'm thrilled that we have staff from a number of our partner departments. So although we are here, Robert and I, as members of the Department of Community Services, it truly is a cross-governmental initiative.
I'll take a few minutes and introduce Linda Atkinson, who is the director with the Child and Youth Strategy and Lucas Wide, who is our communications advisor, is here as well somewhere. Then we're really pleased to have with us Don Glover from the Department of Education, and Heather Christian from Health Promotion and Protection, Judy McPhee from the Department of Justice, and Linda Smith from the Department of Health. I think their presence here today speaks to the commitment that all of the departments have, in terms of really ensuring that we're delivering these services from a cross-governmental perspective.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. As Ms. Ferguson said, we are here today to focus on the Child and Youth Strategy. I think to begin, you'll be making a presentation.
MS. FERGUSON: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. We have done a presentation. There's a fair bit of detail in it and I think the value really is in leaving it with the committee members, so I'm going to take a couple of minutes and go through it. I'm not going to go through all of the details for you and I leave that up to you later. If there are questions after the fact, we're always happy to go through them. I'm sensitive to the time so I'll very quickly flip through it and just go through the highlights.
Quickly, this is basically what the presentation is so we're going to go through the vision, the expected outcomes, talk a little bit about the division, key partners and stakeholders, what we've done in the first couple of years, a progress report and talk about the beginnings of the development of our five-year plan.
As everyone here would know, the Child and Youth Strategy is part of government's response to the Nunn Commission of Inquiry. It's a significant step for government's commitment to work towards a better Nova Scotia for children, youth and families and it's a comprehensive, multi-year strategy that has a number of areas that we're focusing on - early intervention, supports for families and supports for youth at risk.
Just briefly to talk a little bit about the team, Robert is the executive director and you'll hear from him. We also have four specialists and these are staff located in the regions who operate within the regional teams of the Department of Community Services. Their job really is to liaise with our partner departments and ensure that we're really making sure that we're coordinating our services and also to work with the communities to identify any gaps. And our director and research analyst, who work primarily on promoting youth engagement, advise government on a much broader base, I should say, on youth issues and how to engage youth and support corporate functions, planning, communications and research for the strategy.
Then, just a nice little map that Robert and his team did, really this was what we could hand out to all of our colleagues across departments, so people could see who the specialists were in the regions and put a name to a face.
This is our governance structure and I want to spend a few minutes talking about this because we've made some revisions to the governance structure. We talk a lot about horizontal government, we talk a lot about doing work better. I think the commitment that everyone has had to the strategy, as seen by the presence today, has really been. But we've learned some lessons along the way in terms of how to make sure we're really doing the best we can and making sure that we're taking advantage of everything we can and when we first started out this was not our governance structure.
We had the social prosperity deputies which the Deputy Minister of Education and I chair; we have the Child and Youth Social Policy Committee which the members here today are members of, so that's a senior level government committee, I would say; and then we had community level committees. What we've done though in the past years is, we've instituted formalized regional committees. So we have four regional committees across the province, they're chaired by the regional administrators of DCS, they have a school board superintendent chair one of the DHAs and the senior employees from HPP and DOJ on those. They are now sitting as a group and that has really helped us in terms of really making sure that our operational piece in the regions is reflective of what's going on and gelling with what's going on in our head office piece.
We also have a directors forum, so these would be people at the director level, primarily in the policy piece who are actually doing the work developing the policies, so we felt it was really important to have them involved as well. They are a key conduit, in terms of ensuring that the work is really getting done.
We spent a lot of time rejigging this governance structure because as I said, the work of horizontal government isn't always easy. We have found that it takes a lot of communication and making sure that you have the right people at the table, so we're really excited that we've now formalized the structure, it's up and running, it's working quite well and we're already starting to see the benefits.
In addition to the structure, you'll also see we've placed really what the roles of the various committees are and how the feedback loop goes back. It's really important that the social prosperity DMs hear what the feedback is in the community and what the needs are in the community, so we really wanted a structure that was reflective of that. I won't go on with that in any further detail, but I did just want to highlight that we've made some changes there.
Where we want to go - our vision, that the children and youth are healthy, safe, nurtured, responsible and given the right opportunities to be the best that they can be. This has been the vision of the strategy since our inception. Measurement has been something that we started talking about almost before we started talking about the vision because it's really important that we're able to measure what we're doing and if things aren't going the way we want them to, or if things aren't working, that we stop them and we do the kinds of things
we need to do. The team has really led the way in terms of government, I think - in terms of really making sure that we're looking at outcome measures from the start.
I'm not going to go through the list of them because that's not where we are, but what I think is important is those are the outcomes of the Child and Youth Strategy. You will see similar outcomes for the crime strategy, you'll see similar outcomes for the Poverty Reduction Strategy. Obviously, there's a population health basis to all of this as well and there's a coordinated approach that needs to be taken because things that we're doing in child and youth, things that our colleagues at Justice are doing in crime, things that we're doing on the Poverty Reduction Strategy are often impacting the same youth, the same children and the same families. If we have success in one we'll have success in others and obviously, we need to do things through those strategies that are complementary to each other and that are working together.
Our plan to get there - this was just a page taken out of our original strategy on the programs and services aligned with the goals that we had when we first rolled out the strategy.
Highlights of our first-year initiatives - we can go into this in more detail if there are questions. There were a number of pilots that we instituted across the province really looking at all different aspects of the strategy - prevention, families, youth in crisis and these are what the pilots actually were.
Second-year initiatives - similarly we were lucky to receive some additional funds, so we were able to fund some additional pilots as well.
This was a map that we prepared that is in your presentation and it shows where all of the pilots are located and how many of them we had across the province. So we looked to need; we looked, obviously, to geography; resources that already existed in the community, so what would be a good fit with what's already there; challenges that certain communities were having that we tried to address with the pilots. So I think people have generally found this map quite helpful in terms of knowing exactly what's going on with the strategy.
We'll spend a few minutes talking about the five-year plan. The senior group of officials has been talking a lot about next steps of the strategy because the strategy is much more than pilots. The strategy is really about how government works better together and if you remember what Justice Nunn said in his report, he was quite surprised when he heard about all of the services that government actually was offering for youth, for families and for children, and really felt that we need to make a much more concerted look at making sure we provide those in a horizontal manner and knowing that people actually know that those services are available.
A big part of the strategy is actually how we do our work better within government, so that will be a specific focus of the five-year plan. Not to undervalue at all the value of the pilots as they are hugely valuable, but that's not the only role of the strategy. The strategy is really how we do the best work we can to ensure that as a government - not as individual government departments, but as a government - we're serving the needs of families, children and youths.
There are a couple of pieces that we're looking at in the five-year plan. Obviously to track, evaluate and make decisions about all of the pilots. So if the pilots should become programs within departments, that they become programs and if the pilots aren't working, what do we do? We have evaluations that will be going on for all of the pilots.
Develop and practise a shared understanding of a governance model - I talked a bit about that. That's really looking at our own internal structure, how we work and the changing around and adding the new groups that we did within our own governance structure to really make sure that we have everyone at the table from the various departments and partner groups that we need to have.
Robert and his team, which includes everybody here, have been looking at a well-child system in terms of what that would mean for Nova Scotia and how could we begin to look at that, so they've begun to do some work on that. Also, an interdepartmental youth services review - so in terms of government, looking at all of the services to youth that we provide.
Really looking at projects that engage local communities in local issues - so what is the role in the strategy in really making sure we understand what the challenges are, what the needs are, and what the strengths are in the various communities. How do we go in and build on the strengths and work because there are lots of fabulous things already going on in the communities that can help us in terms of the work that we do and we can help them as well.
In terms of progress reports, as you're aware, the strategy was released in December 2007, we filed our first annual report in December 2008, and within the next week or so we'll have our second annual report ready to go as well. We're working in partnership with the Health Research Foundation to develop what I would call a fairly aggressive evaluation framework, to make sure that we can measure our success. And obviously continued efforts toward enhancing communication between government departments and government and community, because that's really what the horizontal piece is all about.
The group has also done a lot of work saying what has worked well and what hasn't worked well, so what are the kinds of things we need to have success when we have a horizontal initiative.
I won't go through all of these but they've looked at a number of things that we need and I think this is important work that we can use not only for the child and youth strategy, but we can use these factors as we go on to look at other pieces of work that we want to do horizontally across government. Obviously, sponsorship at the deputy's level, so buy-in from the senior teams in the department; regional and district level buy-in with school boards, health authorities, our child welfare offices and agencies - people really need to understand and know what's going on; priority setting, coordination; for us in this strategy, deciding what's going to happen with the various pilots; and clear decision making, communication, and evaluation.
Sorry to rush through that, I talked kind of fast, but I'm sensitive to the time and happy to answer any questions.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Ms. Ferguson. I'd just like to recognize that while you were presenting, Hon. Cecil Clarke took his chair - welcome. Are you now ready for questions?
MS. FERGUSON: Yes.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I see Mr. Preyra's hand initially.
MR. LEONARD PREYRA: Thank you very much, it was very quick but also a good overview of the strategy itself. I think some credit should go to the former government for setting up this very ambitious strategy in light of the Nunn inquiry.
One of the great promises of the strategy is that it's interdepartmental, a region, it's a comprehensive strategy that's aimed at horizontal collaboration. I just want to ask this question in light of experiences in my constituency, two examples.
On Spring Garden Road and Barrington Street we have this navigator program that looks at young people on the street and asks them what they're doing and what their main challenges are. It seems like a lot of the trouble starts outside Halifax and you get young people in trouble with the school or in trouble with Community Services and the justice system. They come along on Spring Garden Road, they end up panhandling, they end up couch surfing, they end up in trouble with the law. They seem to drift in and out of the system without anyone knowing what they're doing or where they go.
Similarly, with the Out of the Cold Shelter, the most recent findings that they found at St. Matthew's is that many of these are young people and young couples and one of the young women is pregnant, she's 16 - you don't know what happens to those people. I'm wondering if there's any mechanism in place to deal with that kind of horizontal collaboration so that someone in the school board can say, here's this student who has
disappeared from this system, what happened to them there, or the justice system says this person was put out on probation or - you know.
It just seems to me that it's a huge challenge and I admire the department and I admire the government, the former government, for saying we're going to try to tackle this. I'm wondering, what lessons have we learned through this Child and Youth Strategy and what are the big challenges? How are you addressing those kinds of hard-to-reach, at-risk, street-involved kids, especially as it relates to homelessness or mental health even?
MS. FERGUSON: Maybe I'll start and then Robert can jump in because he can give you the details. Part of why the strategy obviously is across five departments is exactly the point that you made. If you remember in the Nunn strategy, there was a triangle and it kind of showed numbers of youth and the kinds of challenges that they have. At the top there's a very small percentage of youth who take up a very large amount of resources but their numbers actually aren't that great overall, yet they are youth that are attached at some point in time probably to every system for the departments. So the point about having a cross-departmental strategy was exactly your point: how can we make sure, as best we can, that we can provide services - now it's never perfect, but best we can that attach to those youth.
Part of that is, again, making sure that we know where those youth are in the system, not just in one department but for a number of departments. So our regional teams that we have, the youth navigators that we have, in addition to the youth advocates, I think, that are in HRM, part of their role is to really help us be aware in terms of the different systems. We've also been doing a lot of work, and Robert can speak to this, so that we can share information. So when it's appropriate we can share information so that we know between departments, so we can help these various youth.
The other piece of this, and then I'm going to turn it over to Robert, and Justice Nunn found this as well - these youth that we're talking about, there's no one program or one service that fits all. Their situations are very unique as a result of a number of very difficult life circumstances. So as opposed to creating a program that can help them, that's not where we need to be. What we really need to do is look at their circumstances and look at the kinds of services they need and deliver those services in a way that will enable the youth to take advantage of those services.
I'll get Robert to speak to that a bit in a minute because that becomes part of the problem, as well, in terms of even wanting to come in the door to get the services. So I think we've made strides in terms of the work that's going on now, the ability to information share and the role that the youth navigator plays. I think we have learned some lessons in terms of how we can make sure we're providing those services in a way that those youth can actually take advantage of them, because I think that's still the point that we really need to do some more work on. I'll turn it over to Robert.
MR. ROBERT WRIGHT: I think one of the things that we've certainly been learning about this youth population, and I think we've been learning about it through programs like the Youth Navigator Program that we initiated in the strategy, which we've recognized we need to change it, morph it, but we've learned something about this population that these young people don't fit typical profiles. These are young people who are often well-known to our many systems yet they are not fully engaged with those systems.
One of the things that you recognized in your question is that many of the young people who we see on the streets of Halifax are from outside of Halifax. So part of the strategy needs to be asking the question, how do we engage young people as active agents within their communities, instead of having them migrate to what they might see as a greater number of services that exist in metro? So that's why if you look at the map, we've been really working hard to initiate activities outside of HRM and even outside of industrial Cape Breton, to try to get at some of that.
We've all, in all of our departments, been working really hard to make programs flexible, accessible and engaging for the kind of population of young people that you're talking about, so that there are fewer barriers, in terms of eligibility criteria and the like. I think we need to engage with young people and help them to build relationships with the people who work in these programs because it seems to me that those relationships are the real sustaining piece for these young people.
Just to say again, to reiterate what Deputy Ferguson said, that there is no one service for these young people. We really need to continue to work on developing flexible, accessible and engaging services to help these young folk to stay connected with their families and, if that is not possible, to help them stay connected to their communities, so that's the challenge.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. Mr. Glavine.
MR. LEO GLAVINE: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. Actually we could have shared the first question with my colleague because that, indeed, is one of the troublesome areas that over time will have to be addressed - that is, how and when do we ultimately identify the young people at risk. If I could just take from my own community, obviously without names, a 16-year-old who has only been in school 20-something days so far this year, on the street, three probations during that period of time, who again is kind of ultimately saying yes, we need to target some supports and helps.
I'm not going to linger long but I personally think - and it is one of these situations where I linger on something too long and my wife has to tell me to get over it - I thought Education should have had the lead role in the youth strategy. We take a look at 133,000 young people, one-third of their day is encapsulated inside the school system. You know
when there is a change in behaviour, when attendance is poor, all of these kinds of areas, school and school personnel can pick up very, very quickly.
I just attended a session with the Annapolis Valley Regional School Board and when I came out of that meeting, I said oh my gosh, why aren't those engaged in this support team talking to the discipline committees that each school board has? I'll tell you, they have a great profile of troubled children and the number of times that they're back for discipline which, if you know some way of getting to them after two or three occasions of requiring discipline, that again we can have a team.
I think this is where we need to get back on track, I believe, with the Nunn Commission - having the school as the central identification mechanism resource people to target and work with these young children before they're drop-outs in junior high and before they are causing enormous behaviour problems in our communities and then on to the law.
I think there's still too many bouncing around, if you wish, right, without the kind of targeted helps that they need. I'm just wondering, are we going to have some equitable means in all parts of the province to deal with these young children at risk?
MS. FERGUSON: Maybe I can back up a little bit and talk about the school piece. Obviously, the Department of Education is a huge part of the strategy and has been since its inception. I think everyone would agree with you that the school, as a place and an opportunity provides, is in a unique situation to provide us with insights into what's going on with children and their families and provides a bit of a neutral opportunity for us in terms of where that fits.
We actually have a pilot that we rolled out in year one and it's called Schools Plus and that's really what the vision of the pilot is, to look at the school and the role of the school and to say is this a way that we can look at providing resources to children, but not just children, in fairness to their families, and use the school as more of a community-based model for that. So we're doing that in a number of locations and Don has been integral in that and the Department of Education has actually hired a facilitator to do that work. So that's working very well, it's starting and we still have a way to go.
The vision for what you're talking about around the opportunities in the school and how we can focus that, we're really looking at. The current Deputy Minister of Education has been a huge champion of that piece. He and I went and spoke to all of the school boards within the first couple of months, I think, of the strategy even being rolled out to talk to them. When we started talking about the Schools Plus model, I remember people, as I was leaving the meeting, were handing me pieces of paper and when I opened them later they were saying, our school board would really love to do this, we would really like to do this.
So we're getting there in terms of that and that's part of that horizontal piece. That's a place to offer services regardless of department, whether it's Community Services, Education or Justice, or mental health, providing them in that school setting and not just for the youth but for the family. I don't think we've accomplished everything in your vision at this stage but I think we have a mechanism that we're continuing to work on that I think will look at that and obviously, having the school board superintendent sit on those regional committees that I talked about earlier, has really helped us move that piece forward and I do know that they're all very supportive of the role that the schools would play in that piece.
MR. GLAVINE: Is there time for one more?
MR. CHAIRMAN: I think I've had several hands, so I think I'd like to share the time.
MR. GLAVINE: Absolutely.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I think I'll go to Mr. d'Entremont next.
HON. CHRISTOPHER D'ENTREMONT: Maybe it's more of a comment to the member for Kings West. It was definitely a challenge as I had the opportunity to sit at some of the original meetings as we really tried to design these things. Sure we have children encapsulated for one-third of their day in school, but once they go beyond that door there is no real legislative mechanism that we can reach out and make some of those positive changes. In some cases these children, the only normal part of their day is that school, it is the only place where they might get some breakfast or where they are going to get some lunch. The challenges that they have are at home or in their own community.
The challenge is to try to get the pilots out, the family resource centres, parent coaching and all those things sort of fit under the auspices of the Department of Community Services because that's where the legislation really stood. Not to say that there can't be some legislative changes later on in time to make those adaptations, but I know from the school teachers that I have talked to, in today's mechanisms, in today's world, you can call a parent and you can say, listen I'm having a problem with little Johnny or little Julie, but quite honestly they kind of look at you funny or say well, okay, whatever and they hang up the phone on you.
It is likened to a thing, my wife is a school teacher and she has a really nice little cartoon on her home page, on her computer. In 1970 there's this picture of a mom and her son and basically the mom says to her son, were you good to the teacher today? Today it's the same picture but the question that the mom is asking is, was the teacher nice to you today? So there's a different connect of the opportunity, I think, that the Department of Education has.
So that goes to my question and the question really is, how are the pilots working that do reach out a lot further? We've got two problems and the problems are, the kids we have today who are having issues to the kids who might have an issue later on. Those are the ones that we really need to try to stop from getting into the system to begin with. What kind of outreach programs are there right now? Are we getting the parenting, the outreach or the coaching and those kinds of things that really get into homes and into families?
MS. FERGUSON: I'm delighted to tell you that the Parenting Journey pilot, the Place to Belong pilot and the Family Help, which is the mental health pilots, are all doing exceptionally well. There has been a lot of uptake for the pilots and in fact, in some areas, waiting lists. The Family Help pilot is a pilot that we did in Cape Breton, similar to one we have here in the IWK, through our friends at the Department of Health, and it has actually resulted in 25 per cent more families and youth actually having mental health assessments, so that's a wonderful thing.
The Parenting Journey pilot, we've actually evaluated that, it's now a program, it's become a program and it's embedded within the department. We've seen significant impact on that both in the community and with the families; similarly with the Place to Belong, which is an after-school pilot for youth and children to have activities after school. So those pilots have actually been working very, very well. Robert, I don't know if there's anything you want to add to that.
MR. WRIGHT: The one thing that I would add to that is that we need to remember that the Child and Youth Strategy is not just about the initiatives that were rolled out with the Child and Youth Strategy. We've really worked to try to ensure that we were connecting that work with all of the work that is happening within our government departments.
It might surprise some people to know that nearly all of the children born in Nova Scotia are screened at birth with a comprehensive psychosocial assessment to determine what level of risks they have in their families. Then we have postnatal programs to support those families. So the Parenting Journey Program is really just a supplementary program to the work that has been going on there. We're looking for ways to build on and expand those services.
When we talk about education and education's role, certainly education has a very large role to play in the Child and Youth Strategy but they begin to meet with and identify students at the age of five or four-plus, now, I'd say, with the change in our - so we need to really be thinking about what's happening in our communities and what services are we providing families, long before they arrive at school. We've been doing a lot of that and I think that's one of the well-child initiatives, which is geared at taking a look at all of the things we're doing for children, youth and families in those early years, and trying to knit that into a much more powerful and comprehensive network of services.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I've had several signals. I think I'm going to go to Mr. Zinck next and then Ms. Regan.
MR. TREVOR ZINCK: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you, deputy, Mr. Wright, and all of the staff today, for coming in and giving us an update again on an important issue. The SchoolsPlus program, my community has definitely benefited from this pilot program. One of my local elementaries, Harbour View Elementary, I guess the bulk of the work that gets done there is the actual outreach piece which, you know, an outreach worker will go into a home and identify gaps for the family potentially. I've had a great success working with the facilitator and the outreach worker, through my office.
In keeping with that, how has the strategy made a difference at the community level? How has the community been made aware that this program is here, you can access this?
MR. WRIGHT: Well, certainly, I think I'm glad for the question. I would say that the strategy is having its greatest impact there, on the ground level. Certainly SchoolsPlus is one of those initiatives that has had a dramatic impact on the communities where it has been initiated. I would say that it is significantly changing the way we think about schools as centres of service delivery, that this is giving us the opportunity to develop the model for what schools should be. Rather than just initiating a pilot, it's really about reshaping the way we think about the schools and how schools can have a more integral part of being centres for service delivery.
I would say that where SchoolsPlus is, those communities are experiencing tremendous impact. I think you would find in most of those places a new spirit of co-operation and collaboration among the service providers who are coming together initially around this SchoolsPlus initiative, but then finding other opportunities to work and collaborate together. They are beginning to identify even more the needs of the people who live in their communities. I think that's one of the things that we have been learning through the strategy. When we bring the various partners together - both community and government partners from various departments - they're able to look at the challenges of people with a more focused lens. That's the good news. The challenge, of course, is the more you see the more work there is to do.
MR. ZINCK: Absolutely. I'll just end off by saying that it has opened up a lot of folks' eyes. Some of the families that have been acquainted with the program have built up a new faith, a new trust in the education system in government as a whole. They know now that somebody is willing to go out there and help them find the services sometimes which they didn't maybe even know existed.
Also the other benefit, I think, has been overall to the educators, to the principals and teachers, who now can focus on the education piece. That burden of becoming a social worker and dealing with social behaviours instead of teaching has enabled them to see some
progress in the kids. I believe it's under review. I hope some good recommendations come back and we're able to keep it going throughout the province because it has been an asset to my community. Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Ms. Regan.
MS. KELLY REGAN: In terms of programs like this, do we have any data on kids helped, kids diverted? I'm hearing positive things but I'm not seeing any data here, so I'm just wondering, what do we have to compare it to?
MR. WRIGHT: Evaluation is part of the strategy. We've been working to make sure that we're evaluating all of the programs. I think part of the challenge of some of these initiatives is that we could give you numbers, for example, in the SchoolsPlus program we could talk to you about the 167 families that have open cases, that are actively engaged in a way that they have not been before, but really the greater power in the data and in the evaluation is in looking at the outcomes. We have begun to see some of that in some of our pilots. I think Deputy Ferguson mentioned the dramatic increase in the number of families that are receiving mental health referrals in Cape Breton as a result of the Family Help Program there.
We really need to give it a little more time for us to be able to see the more comprehensive outcomes in communities. We really should be looking at some of our indicators to guide that - when we start to see greater school engagement, when we start to see greater school achievement. Initially when you take a look at mental health statistics, for example, what you'll see is increased participants, more families engaged, more families connecting with mental health services. So we will see the increase in service delivery before we start to see the benefits of fewer families needing urgent kinds of mental health services and the like.
So we are engaged in tracking and evaluating all of that, but we'll see that those kinds of statistics won't come out for a little while yet.
MS. REGAN: I would think those kinds of statistics would be particularly useful for lawmakers because when we're talking about budgets, if the budget for mental health in Cape Breton goes haywire, there's a reason for it. It is ultimately, oddly enough, a positive reason but if we're looking at budgets we need to know that kind of information. So I am asking you now that we get this kind of information as quickly as possible because we need to know what is working and what is not. To me, having anecdotal evidence that things are working is great but until we actually see the stats, it's not much help to us as we go about our deliberations.
On the Community Services Web site, there's a personal allowance for children listed at $133. A representative from Community Services confirmed yesterday that this is only
disbursed to parents of newborns waiting for the federal child tax credit. So I'm just wondering, is that all we do for newborns, for children, if their family is on social assistance, this $133, and then the federal child tax credit kicks in? Is that how it works?
MS. FERGUSON: No, that is the Nova Scotia Child Benefit, I think that's what you're referring to. Then we pay that and when the papers are formed and the family is eligible for the federal tax credit, then it kicks in. Most provinces would have that so that is why that is done. We pay that until such time as the families become eligible for the Canada Child Tax Credit.
A family still would be entitled - that's in addition to their income assistance eligibility. So the families get income assistance and then if you have children, you get your monthly allotment through the Canada Child Tax Benefit.
MS. REGAN: So what you're saying to me is, Nova Scotia does not kick in anything? Am I misunderstanding that?
MS. FERGUSON: Well no, we pay that portion but then families become eligible for the federal Child Tax Benefit, so that's just to kind of bridge the gap for people until they are eligible. That's in addition to what families, if they're on income assistance, would be eligible from Nova Scotia under income assistance and they would be eligible, depending on - I mean every family is different - but for the adults and the two children. That's just one piece of it, I guess is what I want to say. There is still the shelter component and the personal allowance component, the Child Tax Benefit is separate.
MS. REGAN: So if you are a family and I'm sorry, but I don't run into a whole lot of these cases in my riding, so I just want to make sure that I understand this properly: If you're a family with two parents and you have two children, do you get anything extra from the province because you have children?
MS. FERGUSON: You would get what you are eligible for under our income assistance system. So yes, plus you would also be eligible for the child tax credit.
MS. REGAN: So when you say what you're eligible for under our . . .
MS. FERGUSON: Our income assistance system.
MS. REGAN: Yes, does the amount change between two adults and two adults and two children?
MS. FERGUSON: Yes.
MS. REGAN: It does, because you have two extra children in the house?
MS. FERGUSON: Right, but it's done by shelter rate, personal allowance rate. I apologize, I didn't come with any of those . . .
MS. REGAN: No, no, that's okay and I'm sorry to be thick because I just . . .
MS. FERGUSON: No, I want to be sure I'm saying that, I want to be sure. I know that there's a gap before families become eligible for the Canada Child Tax Benefit, so we bridge that gap, that would be that money. But, in addition, families would be eligible, so that's in addition to what families are eligible for. We take the entire family into account when we're calculating what you're eligible for under income assistance.
MS. REGAN: So a shelter allowance for a family with two adults and two kids would be greater than it is for two adults?
MS. FERGUSON: Yes.
MS. REGAN: Okay.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. I think we'll go to Mr. Ramey.
MR. GARY RAMEY: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. I'd like to thank you, deputy, and Mr. Wright as well for your concise presentation there.
My question relates actually to the Nunn Commission recommendations. I know the Child and Youth Strategy is part of the government's response to that but I believe there were some 34 recommendations that fell into various categories. What I'm trying to get a little more information on is exactly where we are with the implementation of those recommendations.
MS. FERGUSON: Well government accepted all 34 of the recommendations and my understanding is - looking to Judith here - for the most part, a number of them actually had to do with our colleagues at the Department of Justice. My understanding is that they are all completed, or in the stages of being completed.
MR. RAMEY: Okay, and is there some kind of progress report on the whole shooting match there?
MR. WRIGHT: Maybe I can speak to that a little bit, Judith. We didn't come prepared to provide you with this but internally, among our partners, we produce what we call the Nunn Commission Response Implementation Status Report in which we track all 34 of the recommendations. I'd say the challenge in the 34 recommendations was that some of
them were things that could be done, others were things that established a direction for our continued activity.
I would say that Judith McPhee, our colleague from the Department of Justice who's present here today, has been largely responsible for shepherding all of the Justice recommendations through, so she could be best able to speak to that. The vast majority of those recommendations that were specific to Justice are complete. We have just a couple of exceptions, I would call them more process than long-term kinds of recommendations. She would certainly have detailed information about that.
Many of the other recommendations, I'd say there were those that were checklist recommendations, the vast majority of those, all of those are complete. Those that were direction-setting and process recommendations, I would say we are engaged in fulfilling those recommendations.
MS. FERGUSON: And there's none that we don't plan to fulfill.
MR. RAMEY: So we've already achieved a number of them and . . .
MS. FERGUSON: The vast majority of them. Some of them, though, are still in progress.
MR. RAMEY: Okay, thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Wright, is it possible to table a copy of that report?
MR. WRIGHT: We could certainly prepare a version of this for you, yes.
MR. RAMEY: Thanks, I appreciate that.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I think, Mr. Glavine, you had a question earlier so I think in the interests of alternation, we should go back to you.
MR. GLAVINE: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. I just wanted to make maybe a little bit more specific reference than my colleague here did. Very recently, November 20, 2009, in the ChronicleHerald, Dr. LeBlanc, pediatrician at the IWK says: We don't have a good sense of just how our children are doing, except anecdotally. We know that some are not doing well at all.
Again, I'm wondering about that research, that evaluation, especially in respect to child poverty. Child poverty is still an enormous burden for Nova Scotians and impacts very negatively on our whole society. I'm talking about we have pockets of real poverty, not just different levels of inequity in our society. I'm just wondering again, how, if we're going to
make this Child and Youth Strategy really work and come home to have enormous positive dividends for the next generation, how are we going to put our pulse on monitoring the good changes that hopefully will come about?
MS. FERGUSON: I think to speak a little bit to what Robert spoke about, part of the issues with tracking the outcomes for the strategy are that these outcomes are going to be a couple of years down the road and some of them may be a number of years down the road. So we can track the parents who go through our Parenting Journey Program and we can track the readiness of children, say, in that community from Primary but ultimately, if we're going to look at Grade 12 dropout rates, is that a sign of success if we're going to look at fewer homeless youth? Those are pieces that we're going to track but we need a couple of years under our belt to be able to actually track those stats, which is why we're doing the work with the Nova Scotia Health Research Foundation, so that we actually have the groundwork laid that we can do that.
We're going to do the same thing, similar issues under the crime strategy and under poverty, so there are pieces that we can track right away and there are pieces of our system so if we have youth involved in our system right now, there are certain pieces that we can track. But I think to Robert's point, some of this stuff is really long term in order for us to really, really know if we're doing a better job. I know that's not what you're saying, that we shouldn't stop it, but it means that we need to be smart about how we're doing it, that we need to prepare well so that we actually are monitoring and tracking the right kinds of things - it means that the evaluation process needs to be solid.
I think for us right now it's a balance and I found this myself in the department. I know my colleagues, it's tougher sometimes in the social departments to actually put a percentage or track it. So we need to really look at making sure that we're measuring the right thing, too, because it may be several years before we're actually able to come to the table with some real tangible evidence, yet we know that the program is doing really good work. So I think it's a balance between the evaluation piece, having good outcome measure pieces and then having a process in place where we're really able to measure it.
However, what I can say is that the fact that the five departments are working together, where we have intersections between those departments and where now we have better information sharing and the kinds of relationships that we have, we have much better information, for example, at our regional tables. So we can start to get a sense of what's going well and not going well.
I guess the last thing I'll say is that we've actually had a pilot that we stopped, which I think is a huge success sometimes in government - to be able to stop something. We had a pilot and the evaluation showed that it really wasn't needed and the really good news is that it wasn't needed because the government departments and the community partners were working a lot better together, simply because of all of the discussion that had been going on
and bringing people together through the Child and Youth Strategy. So as a result this particular program wasn't getting the kinds of referrals that we anticipated that it needed, because the community groups and the staff of the various departments on the front end were doing a much better job of picking up the phone and talking to each other and solving the problem before it got to that stage. So that has been a bright light for me kind of through this whole process.
I don't want to make it sound like there isn't any information and that we're not prepared to make decisions, because that's not the case, but some of the really hard numbers - and I think the numbers that will really be meaningful down the road, I think we're a couple of years away from.
MR. GLAVINE: Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I think we'll go to Ms. Raymond, but I was just noticing it's 1:55 p.m. and we have one hour allotted for this portion of our committee meeting, so this may be the last question.
MS. MICHELE RAYMOND: I'll keep it quick. I'll make a couple of comments. I'm particularly glad and interested to see that there are, in fact, psychosocial assessments going on for most families at birth. I'm not quite sure why it means it's not all families because one of the most striking and disturbing things . . .
MS. FERGUSON: It's all.
MS. RAYMOND: It is everybody, good.
MR. WRIGHT: Like 99 per cent or something.
MS. HEATHER CHRISTIAN: It's part of the screening. It would only be if there was a home birth, and we generally would follow up with that as well.
MS. RAYMOND: Great, because by the time something like Understanding the Early Years comes into play . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: Ms. Christian, you might need to make your comments at the microphone for the purpose of the record.
MS. CHRISTIAN: I'm Heather Christian from the Department of Health Promotion and Protection. It is the standard for all children in the province that are born for there to be an assessment done.
MS. RAYMOND: Great, I was really pleased to hear that because, of course, Understanding the Early Years work has been very significant, but it sort of shows one of the deficiencies in relying on the education system in that it is retrospective, it looks back at five years of issues that can very well manifest and continue to manifest. That's great, I'm awfully pleased to hear that.
I had another question just very quickly. Certainly looking at the Nunn recommendations and everything, there was talk about youth engaged in services. You talked about the challenges of actually engaging youth, getting them to take advantage of the services that are on offer, but at what stage do you begin to deal with a child or youth independent, if necessary, of the family unit? Is that something that is determined in the courts, in which case it's only after an intersection with the Justice Department? How do you actually make the determination that you are going to be working with and recruiting a youth as opposed to the familial context?
MS. FERGUSON: I was just going to say - and it is a great question - I think it's different depending on the context and depending on the service that they're engaging in, so engaging in the education system through services there would be very different, for example, than engaging through our child welfare system. So I guess the answer to that would be it would depend on the circumstances.
What I do think we've learned a lot through the strategy is how we engage is as important as the service we're providing, because these services still for the most part, with the exception of Justice system-mandated services or child welfare-mandated services, these are voluntary services. We need to find a way to do it so that we engage in some cases the family and/or the youth. That's something that Robert and the team have really been focused on.
Within the last couple of years, when the social services deputies got together, we heard a fabulous presentation from a psychiatrist out of Ontario. He said provinces are wonderful at creating these very innovative, fabulous programs, but we're still not getting the families that we need to come to those programs because, of course, they are voluntary. How do we set up these programs in a way that we do the best job we can to engage the people that we need to engage? That's something that we're still working on. It's not a simple answer to that unfortunately, but it's something that we're very aware of and looking at all the time in the design of the pilots.
There are different issues in urban Nova Scotia than in rural Nova Scotia, so how do we do that? What resources are already in communities? Where are the connections already? Who are the people who know what's going on in the community who can help us find a way to get in there to address that gap? I guess the good news is that we're looking at it and I think we'd all agree that we still have some work to do and that it's difficult.
MS. RAYMOND: Yes, it would seem that one of the biggest challenges you would be facing is exactly that.
MR. WRIGHT: But the good news is that we have people on the ground who are looking at just that. I think you acknowledged when you introduced us, Judith, Moe Green from Health Promotion and Protection - he wasn't in the room yet and Moe is here with us - and Linda Atkinson, a director within the Child and Youth Strategy. There are a large number and I would say a growing number of people within government, within Nova Scotia, who are actively talking about how do we engage young people, how do we engage them directly? Although your question asks a very technical and particular question, when can we engage with the young people directly, I'd say that part of the answer to that question is - if we can ignore the kind of legal part of your question - all the time.
Every time a young person is interacting with a helper, that helper has some responsibility and opportunity to engage directly with a young person to better understand their ambitions, their needs, to allow them to be active agents in shaping the kinds of service that they engage in. If we look at recreation services across the province, I think we've been transitioning from producing programs for young people to developing programs with young people. That kind of movement of engaging directly with young people is very much a movement that we're actively engaged in in the strategy. In fact, youth engagement as a principle is articulated in the original document, Our Kids Are Worth It.
In another conversation, we could go down the programs and say in Health this is how it happens, in Child Welfare this is how it happens, but generally, in answer to your question . . .
MS. RAYMOND: Sounds like a great segue into hour two. (Laughter)
MR. CHAIRMAN: I think we do need to make a transition. We've reached the end of our time and I want to thank Ms. Ferguson, Mr. Wright, and the others who came to support both the presentation and the discussion, and to thank everybody who was here to observe and to help with the process.
I think what we'll do is take a break for two or three minutes, just to allow that transition and to allow the next witnesses to come, and then we'll resume. The next part of our discussion is on Youth Health Centres.
[2:02 p.m. The committee recessed.]