HALIFAX, TUESDAY, MARCH 10, 2020
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE ON SUPPLY
THE CHAIR: The Committee of the Whole on Supply will come to order.
The honourable Deputy Government House Leader.
KEITH IRVING: Madam Chair, will you please call the Estimates for the Department of Community Services.
Resolution E4 - Resolved, that a sum not exceeding $1,002,202,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of the Department of Community Services, pursuant to the Estimate.
THE CHAIR: I now invite the Minister of Community Services to begin with some opening comments and to introduce her staff.
The honourable Minister of Community Services.
HON. KELLY REGAN: Madam Chair, I am honoured to be here to present the 2020-21 budget for the Department of Community Services and the Advisory Council on the Status of Women. Seated with me are Tracey Taweel, Deputy Minister of Community Services, making her first appearance here in the main Chamber at Budget Estimates; and Rob Hill, director of budgets and results for the Department of Community Services. This is Rob’s first time doing Budget Estimates. Also, Stephanie MacInnis-Langley, executive director of the Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women may join us later. She is currently up in the gallery, as are a number of DCS staff.
Madam Chair, to add context to the work and programs that I’m about to outline, I’ll first provide some background about the department and the people we work with. The Department of Community Services is committed to a sustainable social system that promotes the long-term independence, self-reliance and security of the people we serve. The Advisory Council on the Status of Women serves to educate the public and advise government on issues of interest and concern to women.
Collaboration and partnerships are essential in delivering wraparound services to clients. I want to personally thank the many stakeholders, volunteers, community organizations, non-profits and service providers who work tirelessly in communities across the province.
We believe all Nova Scotians want to provide for themselves and their families, contribute to their communities and lead fulfilling lives. At times, however, the challenges of doing so can be overwhelming. Sometimes these challenges are economic - for example, a lack of access to food, shelter, or transportation. Other times, it can be a need for services or family supports - for example, to help parents raise their children and keep them safe and healthy, or a need for services to help heal after fleeing domestic violence.
Poverty affects people in different ways and our role is to provide effective supports and assistance for people so they can live happy and fulfilling lives. The services we provide play a significant role in contributing to better futures for Nova Scotians and improving the overall health and well-being of communities throughout this province.
Nova Scotia is experiencing unprecedented success. Our economy continues to grow and our population is at an all-time high. However, not everyone is sharing in this success, and that’s what our government is focusing on. Lifting up and wrapping our arms around families, children and some of our most vulnerable population through significant investments today should have a long-term positive effect felt well into tomorrow and beyond.
The budget for the Department of Community Services this year is increasing by $54.3 million to more than $1 billion in support of Nova Scotians who need it most. These investments will affect the everyday lives of Nova Scotians. They will support young people so they can become the first graduate of a post-secondary program in their family. They will support families and help lift people out of poverty. They will ensure Nova Scotians living with a disability have more opportunity to participate in employment, volunteer work, and to live in their community.
For far too long, some Nova Scotians have not had access to the same benefits and opportunities as others. In order for this province to thrive now and in the future, we need to ensure people receive the assistance they require to live their best lives in strong, supportive communities.
Supporting healthy children, youth and families is key to building a stronger province. That is why in this budget we are investing $18 million in the enhanced Nova Scotia Child Benefit.
I should just warn folks that I’m battling a cold or allergies, I’m not sure which. The sneezing has reduced from yesterday, but I’m fighting one off right now, so I just want to warn you.
This investment will expand eligibility and families will also see an increase in what they receive. This is the largest financial increase for families through the Nova Scotia Child Benefit since its creation in 1998. This represents a 71 per cent increase in our Nova Scotia Child Benefit investment. Our significant investment in the enhanced Nova Scotia Child Benefit will put more money directly into the hands of families who need it most. Currently, a family receives full benefits for up to $18,000 a year and under, and partial benefits for income between $18,000 and under $26,000. The full benefit maximum for the first child is $625 annually. With this new investment, all families earning $34,000 and under will receive full benefits for the first child, a total now of $925 annually. This will have a significant positive impact for families who before now were not eligible for the NSCB.
In addition, all families will see an increase in their total Nova Scotia Child Benefit. This tax-free monthly benefit will roll out July 1st. Expanding eligibility means close to 30,000 families and 50,000 children will be included in the investment. That’s an increase of 6,000 families and 10,000 children.
In addition, with the expansion, more children will be eligible for drug coverage under the Low Income Pharmacare program. Through the program, families pay $5 per prescription. Take, for example, a family of five - two parents and three children earning $30,000 per year. Currently, they are not eligible for the Nova Scotia Child Benefit. With this investment, that family will see an increase of $1,750 per year. Or let’s take a single parent with two children earning $22,000 per year. That family currently receives $725 per year through the Nova Scotia Child Benefit. With the investment, that family will see an increase of $1,025 annually - a total of $1,750 per year.
We want Nova Scotia families and children to be set up for success and the enhanced Nova Scotia Child Benefit will help do just that. We understand that Nova Scotia families need our support. This investment, combined with a number of other recent investments, should help reduce child poverty across Nova Scotia.
No amount of child poverty in our province is acceptable, and we recognize that more work needs to be done. Across government, several important changes have been implemented to help address poverty in Nova Scotia. We introduced a free universal pre-Primary program for four-year-olds, with full implementation coming this September. The Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development has spoken at length - and quite eloquently, I believe - outlining the benefits of a pre-Primary program and how it works as an anti-poverty program.
We capped increases to parent fees for child care. We’ve made annual investments of $1.7 million to support healthy eating programs. We’ve exempted child support payments from income assistance calculations, an average of $322 per person per month for those it impacts. The Department of Community Services introduced a new standard household rate, which will provide more support and autonomy for those on income assistance.
A key component of our work is helping people receive income supports to meet their basic needs and build the income security they need to live independent lives. That’s why in January of this year we introduced the standard household rate, with the first payments received by clients in late December. The new standard household rate will see every client receive the policy maximum. In addition, all income assistance clients saw an increase of either 2 per cent or 5 per cent. This change is the largest increase to the income assistance budget ever.
Single clients who own or rent their shelter and have a disability; are fleeing an abusive situation; have a chronic mental, cognitive, or physical condition that limits participation in employment services; are 55 years of age or older or are youth aged 16 to 18 - all of those folks saw a 5 per cent increase. For context, people who meet these criteria represent 45 per cent of Nova Scotians receiving income assistance. All other clients saw a 2 per cent increase. That is, of course, on top of moving to the top of the policy maximum.
Here is an example. Under the new standard household rate, a single person with no children and who has a disability will receive $40 more a month at a minimum. When you factor in other increases, such as the personal allowance increase, the doubling of the poverty reduction credit, it’s an increase of $83 per month or $996 more per year than that person would have received in 2015-16.
With each change we’ve made over the years, whether it’s the introduction of a child maintenance exemption, introducing a new wage exemption or doubling the Poverty Reduction Credit and allowable assets, we are assisting people as they work hard to build income security.
In 2016, we increased the personal allowance by $20 per month for people receiving income assistance. That was an investment of $7.1 million. Our investment in the Standard Household Rate, once it’s in place for a full year, will be three times that amount, at $22.9 million annually.
We are putting more money in people’s pockets to help them better meet their basic needs. In January, we implemented the essentials allowance with a rate of $280 per month to support clients who are in temporary living arrangements such as a homeless shelter, transition house, hospital or rehabilitation program. This particular allowance replaces the personal items allowance of $110, which we introduced because before that there was no allowance like that for people who are living temporarily in shelters.
In 2018, we introduced phase one of the Standard Household Rate with a new wage exemption. This is an improved earned income exemption structure, which is the most progressive in the country. It allows people on income assistance to keep more of the money they earn before seeing a reduction in their assistance. This change is helping our clients stabilize their income while they transition into the workforce. The more they work, the more financially stable they’ll become. With this change, more people on income assistance are working and earning more, and more clients are beginning their journey toward employment.
The Employment Support and Income Assistance program continues to work closely with the Department of Labour and Advanced Education on alignment and standardization of employment supports for all Nova Scotians, ensuring equity of access and service. In the year ahead, the Employment Support and Income Assistance program is also implementing a new online application. This new system will provide clients with more choice in how they interact with the department and will better help them connect to the most appropriate services and supports.
Investments in our youth are fundamental to breaking the cycle of poverty that manifests generation after generation. We know there are a number of measures that help children in low income families achieve success as adults. Employment Support Services is focused on providing access to skills upgrading, training, education and job opportunities to help young people avoid the need for income assistance.
Within the Employment Support and Income Assistance program, there is a suite of services that help young people as they move into adulthood. They are supported through this transition into the workforce with a continuum of programs. In recent years, we have invested significantly in targeted interventions focused on better meeting the needs of youth.
For example, our EDGE program, now in its second year, provides youth aged 18 to 26 with wraparound employment services, delivered through an innovative one-door approach via peer groups and individualized mentorship. This job search and readiness program is for young adults who receive employment supports and income assistance. The program, which was a first for Nova Scotia, was designed in part by young adults. It helps them develop skills and gain access to the resources they need in a peer environment designed to meet their needs. It is critical that these youth see the possibilities, see that they can make a future for themselves, their families, and be part of Nova Scotia’s economic success.
Giving vulnerable youth opportunities to further their education and gain practical work experience helps them develop their job skills. It also opens young minds to possibilities they may not have been aware of and helps shape futures filled with prosperity and opportunity.
Through our Educate to Work Program for dependants, we cover half the cost of tuition and 100 per cent of the cost of books, fees, health and dental to dependants of ESIA clients who want to study at the Nova Scotia Community College. Since the program launched in 2018, 64 dependants of people on income assistance received financial support to study at the Nova Scotia Community College. We are incredibly optimistic about the long-term impact this will have on supporting these youth to attain their career goals, many of whom are the first in their families to attend post-secondary.
Another example is our Career Rising program. Dependants of clients receiving income assistance and youth who are in care can gain work experience and explore careers within their community and save for post-secondary through the Career Rising program. This is offered to youth between the ages of 16 and 18 and is in partnership with the Nova Scotia Co-operative Council.
These programs are helping to reduce and eliminate barriers so that our youth and our clients can get the life skills, education and work they need to succeed. Madam Chair, I wish you could have been there with me when we had the first anniversary of this program because talking to the young people who had been involved in the program, who were so proud of themselves, and their employers who were telling me things like: This is the first time I was actually able to take a Summer vacation because these young people stepped up and actually ran the business while I took some time off. It was huge for the employers and it was also huge for the young people.
We are committed to helping young people build connections to communities, build self-confidence, develop a career path and free themselves from the need for income assistance.
Another key area of our work at the Department of Community Services is supporting Nova Scotians with disabilities and their families. The Disability Support Program is committed to providing participants with the ability to live in community and the choice of services that will allow them to do so. We recognize that people are best supported when they are living in a community, where they are true community members with opportunities for personal growth. That’s why we’re investing $7.4 million in 2020-21, increasing to $11.4 million annually in 2021-22 and future years, to create 50 new community-based living placements.
In addition, government has committed to increasing these numbers and investments in each of the following three years and beyond. Through this investment we are taking concrete steps to ensure Nova Scotians living with a disability have more opportunity to participate in employment, volunteer work and to live in their community. These moves signal the province’s desire to phase out large institutional settings over time in recognition of the positive impact community living can have on participants and communities alike.
This work is not done in isolation. We are working directly with Nova Scotians in our programs, and their families, as well as the adult residential centres, regional rehabilitation centres and communities to understand what we need to have in place so that people can live safely and successfully. We will work hand in hand with each participant and in collaboration with their families and service providers to honour the strengths, needs and capacities of each individual.
This is a significant investment, not just financially, but in individuals. It’s about creating homes for people, where they are part of a community and surrounded by resources that support their needs.
Every individual’s circumstances and support requirements are unique. With the new respite and supports navigation service, we’re helping to match participants and their families with respite workers so that individuals living with their families have the supports they need to remain at home. We’ve seen positive uptake to date.
We also recognize there can be a gap for those with combined health and disability support needs. That’s why we are working with the Department of Health and Wellness to collaborate on a new pilot project to help young adults with disabilities live more independently in their communities. We are currently establishing criteria for determining participants and then we will look at living arrangements. Learnings that emerge through the pilot will help guide future program design.
Madam Chair, as you know, our government committed to developing eight small options homes. I am pleased to report that three of these homes are now open with the remaining five set to open this year. Government committed $5 million annually, beginning in 2017-18, for the eight new small options homes. We are working closely with our partners in the community, as well as future residents and their families.
In addition to living as part of a community, we want people with disabilities to have more opportunities to meet their goals, whether that’s volunteering, recreational, or skill-building for future employment. This year, we have made a number of capital investments for a total of over $6.1 million in facilities across the province that provide day programs for adults with disabilities. This includes $500,000 to the Flower Cart Group in New Minas to help more persons with diverse abilities access supportive employment and training opportunities. This investment supports the group’s capital campaign to bring all the social enterprises together under one roof. The new facility will allow the Flower Cart Group to double its space.
On July 27, 2019, a fire destroyed North Sydney’s Haley Street Adult Services Centre’s Martell Hall. The fire was devastating to the community and the people it serves. This year, the province announced that we are investing $1 million to help Haley Street rebuild.
Haley Street Adult Services Centre supports more than 70 people and the centre offers employment training and personal development opportunities to people through social enterprises, such as a thrift store and wood shop, and programs such as art and music therapy.
We invested $800,000 to help renovate a new facility for the Colchester Community Workshops. We also provided $2 million and 2.2 hectares of land to the Horizon Achievement Centre to help support its capital campaign to build a new facility. The centre is Cape Breton’s largest provider of vocational training and employment development services, and a prominent supplier of products and services to the surrounding community.
Government invested $1.5 million in Corridor Community Options for Adults in Enfield toward building a new, larger and more accessible building in the community. I had an opportunity to visit there before we announced the announcement and also the day of, and I can tell you that the folks there were really excited about their future.
Madam Chair, these capital investments are building a stronger Nova Scotia where everyone can grow and succeed, and where people with diverse abilities can live active lives as part of their communities.
We’ve also boosted support for day programs for youth with disabilities. In 2019, day programming expanded through the Youth Day Program pilot, which provided grant funding to 14 organizations across Nova Scotia for programs for youth out of high school. These programs offer important development opportunities, including employment skills, independent living, life skills, education and recreation.
This year, we also piloted the enhanced in-home disability supports project, designed to support families of children and youth with disabilities who are in crisis and at risk of being moved to a residential placement. Through the pilot, supports needed by families are identified and new and innovative ways to provide respite and support are being tested. The project is helping families build confidence in caring for a child or youth living with disabilities. It is helping increase the quality of life for families, increasing social inclusion and is supporting families to stay together.
Safe and healthy children, youth, and families are key to building a stronger Nova Scotia. We need to ensure that children and youth are protected and families are supported. At the Department of Community Services, we often support families and children when they’re in crisis. Our goal is to move to a child welfare system that focuses more on prevention and early intervention, and away from crisis. That is why government is investing an additional $1.9 million this year, increasing to $7.7 million annually over the next three years, to expand and enhance programming in prevention and early intervention. This additional investment will mean that total prevention and early intervention funding will almost double by 2022-23.
New programming in the first year will support children, families, and community in a number of different areas. This includes four new Parenting Journey sites and the expansion of existing sites. Parenting Journey is a home visitation program that provides individual support for families experiencing complex social, emotional and familial changes. Parenting Journey is currently in 27 communities across Nova Scotia and includes culturally relevant program supports for Aboriginal, African Nova Scotian, and Acadian communities.
Year one prevention and early intervention investments will also include two new Families Plus programs. Families Plus is designed to work with families in crisis, whose children are at imminent risk of removal and placement in out-of-home care. The intensive family preservation service uses a holistic approach to addressing families’ needs and in doing so, ensures that the best interests of children and young people are served.
We will invest in three new youth outreach programs, as well as enhancements to existing programs to support increased positive outcomes for youth. This will include leveraging existing community-based youth outreach programs around the province to support youth’s attachment to community and culture, to support adults and peers as they transition out of care.
We will also invest in community family peer support program. This funding will build capacity in two communities for residents to engage and build trusting and supportive relationships with vulnerable and marginalized families in their communities. This new programming will help improve results for young people and families at risk of abuse or neglect, strengthen the communities that support them, and help mitigate the need for more intrusive statutory interventions.
When staying in parental care is not an option, we look to family or people who are familiar to the child. We know children do better if they can stay in a loving home with people they already know, like grandparents, aunts and uncles, or family friends. Understanding this, the province has invested in the Alternative Family Care program, which supports family or close friends who are willing and capable of providing care to a child. Recognizing that costs can be a barrier, we support these important caregivers through funding for up to 18 months, depending on how long the child stays in their care.
Since the program was launched in December 2018 - and you may have missed the launch because it was a really snowy day and we didn’t have a lot of uptake that particular day - 457 caregivers caring for 687 children who might otherwise have come into temporary care and custody of the minister. So, it’s a significant investment in the life of families.
Madam Chair, this year, we are also investing $1.5 million to continue to enhance programming for youth in care who have been, or are at risk of, being sexually exploited. We also work closely with Mi’kmaw Family and Children’s Services to better address the needs of Mi’kmaw children and their families and support on-reserve child welfare services through staff training, consultative services, technological support and placement services.
In a circumstance where a child must come into the care of the Department of Community Services, the health, safety and well-being of the child is our absolute priority. In some circumstances, emergency placements must be used for the child’s own protection when there are no preferred options available. The use of an emergency placement is a last resort, and we are working on a range of initiatives to reduce the number of children and youth in emergency placements. This includes recruiting more foster parents, but it is not limited to this option alone.
A number of changes have already happened, including the opening of a new facility for specialized child welfare placements and enhanced in-home supports for families living with children who have disabilities. We are also working with Key Assets, an internationally renowned, non-profit organization that specializes in delivering dedicated, specialized care to children and youth. Key Assets offers a full-support, therapeutic model, with tailored programming and supports for each child. A number of children in care who are currently in emergency placements have transitioned to individualized living arrangements with Key Assets. Our prime objective of this work is to match children in care with the most appropriate placements to meet their needs.
We want all children to know and feel the love of a caring home. Foster parents are one of our most valuable resources, for which we are deeply appreciative. That’s why we have steadily increased supports for foster parents. This has had a positive impact on recruitment. There are currently 669 foster families supporting children. While this is an increase since 2015 from 591 foster families, more are still needed.
Earlier this year, we completed a review of the foster care program to determine how it can be improved to better meet the needs of a range of children and youth in care and foster families. For this work to be meaningful, we sought the insight of those who are most affected by the foster care program. We worked with young people who wanted to share their lived experience of being in care and we also created a foster parent reference group.
As part of this work, we will implement a provincial team of dedicated staff who will ensure a fair, transparent, and time-sensitive investigation process that is respectful to foster parents and foster children. We want to make sure the foster care program can provide the best support and protection possible.
We also recognize that our front-line social workers - some of whom we had in the House here with us today - often find themselves in the midst of incredibly challenging and emotional situations and they need our support. To support our child welfare social workers, we invest in staff training, supervisor training and tools to reduce barriers preventing social workers from spending time with families.
Safety is a top priority. We have worked with our front-line social workers and our colleagues in the Public Service Commission, corporate security, the Department of Justice, Public Safety and Security, and Occupational Health and Safety to undertake a full review of the safety supports in place. We want to ensure that staff working in this difficult job have the tools to do their jobs safely.
We have also increased staffing, with five new full-time positions added, bringing the total number of 351 front-line social workers. Over the past five years, we have repurposed vacant positions in other areas of the department to create a total of 22 new front-line social worker positions.
Adoption records are a very sensitive and personal matter, and we are continuing our important work around disclosure. In November, we held community information sessions in 11 locations across the province and launched an online survey. We wanted to hear from Nova Scotians on this very important issue. We are grateful to the many people who took the time to provide valuable feedback on the topic. We received over 2,700 online surveys and over 100 participants attended in-person sessions. We are using the public feedback to help inform next steps, and the What We Heard report will be made public, I expect, by the end of the month. We’re in editing, we go to translation - so I’m hoping that it will be done by the end of this month, it could be the first week of April.
Madam Chair, let me be clear. We remain committed to working through the process and reaching a decision as quickly as possible. I am anxious to introduce new, modernized adoption legislation this Fall.
Our department does not work in isolation. This includes supporting healthy families, children and youth through a number of cross-government initiatives to strengthen families. This year, the Department of Communities, Culture and Heritage and the Department of Community Services invested a total of $100,000 in the Dartmouth North Community Food Centre to help staff and volunteers offer combined programming out of a central location. The Dartmouth Family Centre offers parenting and family supports to children and families, but its current location isn’t accessible for persons with disabilities, so funding will go toward renovating a new space that’s fully accessible to all. This includes ensuring the new location is wheelchair accessible and stroller friendly.
Through government’s $20 million multi-year Poverty Reduction Blueprint, we’re partnering with communities, non-profits, multiple sectors and other government departments to improve access to the basic necessities of life and provide supports for Nova Scotians who are living in poverty. Poverty is a shared issue and we all have a role to play. The blueprint was founded on the importance of collaboration within and across government and communities. Through the group blueprint, we’re funding community-based initiatives that leverage local expertise to address their unique poverty-related priorities. The blueprint consists of three funding streams: Building Vibrant Communities grants, poverty reduction government innovation grants, and social innovation labs.
Through the Building Vibrant Communities stream, funding is available to community organizations, First Nations bands, municipalities, community groups and social enterprises that have identified projects to help tackle poverty. To date, more than $8 million has been invested in almost 200 projects since 2017. Grant recipients include community organizations such as Eskasoni Mental Health and Social Work Service, which is receiving funding to create a sustainable food network for the community.
The organization is focused on increasing food security, promoting social connectivity and providing participants with the tools and knowledge they need to prepare traditional food. With grant support from government, this initiative is increasing community access to food, reducing the stigma of poverty and promoting the social connections we know can improve mental health outcomes.
Another Building Vibrant Communities grant recipient is Imhotep’s Legacy Academy. Imhotep provides free tutoring and educational support in math and sciences to students of African descent by university and college students of African descent. The program aims to increase the representation of African Canadians in science, technology, engineering and math professions by helping students build important math and science skills, and boosting their self-esteem and confidence in their academic abilities.
As a result of the mentorship provided by the Academy, students are motivated to participate more in their regular classrooms and apply the general learning skills they develop to their regular schoolwork. The program has been such a great success that it has been chosen to receive additional funding this budget year to expand its services more broadly across the province and help more students achieve success.
Madam Chair, we have heard about so many amazing Building Vibrant Communities grant recipients, so let me just tell you about a couple more. The Mulgrave and Area Medical Centre has received funding to hire a community navigator to work with people, particularly individuals, families and seniors living on lower incomes, who are experiencing isolation. This new important role will help people better navigate the system by providing information about services, as well as supports, such as assistance with filling in forms and building capacity for self-advocacy. The community navigator will also help foster social supports by connecting participants to community resources that increase their social connections.
Another example is - and I’m just going to edit a bit here because I notice time is moving along - the Elizabeth Fry Society’s Circles of Support community reintegration program. It supports the reintegration of female corrections clients into community through a strengths-based, woman-centred restorative approach. The program provides tailored planning and support to help participants build a positive, supportive social network. It reinforces that there are people in society who care, respect and value the participant and want the participants to succeed and to be healthy and happy.
In partnership with our colleagues at the Department of Justice, as well as community partners, this wraparound service demonstrates an innovative, community-based approach to supporting vulnerable women and working to help break the cycle of poverty, homelessness and re-incarceration. The impact of a program like this, and many other programs the department supports, is life changing.
A second component of the blueprint initiative is poverty reduction government initiatives. Government departments apply for funding to work with communities across Nova Scotia to tackle complex poverty related issues. With these projects, more Nova Scotians will be able to access the basic supports they need to help them improve their day-to-day lives. Last year, six new government projects received a total investment of more than $1 million. In addition to these new projects, 13 projects from the previous year received funding to advance their work, including two scaled projects. This includes the expansion of the mobile food market. This travelling food market program brings healthy, high-quality and affordable food, including fresh fruits and vegetables, to communities that have challenges accessing fresh food.
The third funding component of the blueprint initiative is the social innovation labs. These labs are designed to bring communities together to address local issues. Social innovation labs help tackle complex programs through citizen-centred design thinking and deep collaboration with multiple and diverse stakeholders.
One of the projects currently under way is the social innovation lab on African Nova Scotian youth employment. This lab focuses on finding solutions to the disproportionately high rates of unemployment among African Nova Scotian youth. Participants are exploring the barriers that exist for African Nova Scotian youth seeking to gain employment and looking at ways to increase inclusion in the workforce. This includes creating opportunities for African Nova Scotian youth to access a network of African Nova Scotian professionals, trade programs to promote broader employment opportunities, and a consistent map of resources that can help drive success. To date, the lab has engaged over 150 people, including 115 African Nova Scotian youth, community members, employers and employment service providers.
We are now entering year four of the blueprint initiative. We remain committed to supporting collaborative ideas, increasing capacity among community organizations and strengthening supports for people. Upon completion, the blueprint will act as a practical guide informed by evidence-based insights that will be used to improve social outcomes.
We recognize that for far too long African Nova Scotians have faced systemic barriers, unequal treatment and injustice. We need to do better and across government, we all have a role to play.
Last September, the Office of African Nova Scotian Affairs launched Count Us In, Nova Scotia’s action plan in response to the International Decade for People of African Descent. In partnership with the African Nova Scotian community, we are working on a number of initiatives that range from youth outreach in community programs that prevent sexual violence to ones that ensure the programs our partners deliver are culturally appropriate.
We need to ensure our clients are at the heart of everything we do and that they feel they have the autonomy they need to make the important decisions that affect them. There is now a dedicated position within the Department of Community Services to support services and provide advice to senior government leaders on issues affecting African Nova Scotian children, youth and families. This work is critical in shaping future initiatives aimed at developing trusting relationships within African Nova Scotian communities.
This past Fall, morning cafés were held in two African Nova Scotian communities - North End Halifax and the Preston area in Dartmouth. These sessions were open to the community so people could learn more about the department’s programs and so we could gain feedback. This is important work and we plan to expand this approach across the province. In fact, this past weekend, we hosted a café in Kentville.
Last November, the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children Restorative Inquiry presented its final report to government. This was a powerful and historic moment. The restorative inquiry offers us a different way forward in Nova Scotia to ensure the lessons from the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children make a difference for young people, families and communities, now and in the future. At the Department of Community Services, we are committed to focusing on human-centred systems and structures that work across government.
As I previously stated, our department does not work in isolation. This is especially true when it comes to tackling sexual violence, which we know is a pervasive problem facing communities across Nova Scotia. Trafficking and sexual exploitation continue to be serious health, social and public safety issues. Given the complexity and the devastating impact sexual violence and human trafficking have on our communities, we know government cannot do this work alone. That’s why we’re investing an additional $1.4 million annually over the next five years to help victims and survivors access the supports, programs and services they need to heal and move forward.
New investments through the Department of Community Services include $375,000 to the YWCA to expand staffing for province-wide outreach, family and peer support; $150,000 to reopen the Jane Paul Indigenous Women’s Resource Centre in Sydney; and $100,000 to the Association of Black Social Workers to focus on human trafficking and sexual exploitation within the African Nova Scotian community. These new investments build on the work that has already been under way.
We continue to take a community-based approach to increase public awareness, improve supports for victims and prevent sexual violence from happening. The online training course, Supporting Survivors of Sexual Violence, is available with two new additions: one focused on the African Nova Scotian perspective that was launched in November 2019; the other, which is currently in development, focuses on the sexual exploitation and trafficking of young people.
The Supporting Survivors of Sexual Violence online course was developed by the Department of Community Services so that Nova Scotians can learn about sexual violence, how to respond to someone experiencing it, and how to support survivors. The course can be used by anyone - service providers, friends, family members, neighbours, teachers, first responders, counsellors, anyone who is acting as a support person or is concerned about sexual violence. To date, the course has nearly 3,850 registered users.
We have also been working closely with the YWCA in Halifax and have developed a new community-based program, Nova Scotia Transition and Advocacy for Youth (NSTAY). It assists young people, as well as their families, who are being sexually exploited or trafficked to access services and supports, and when ready, to exit sexual exploitation and trafficking. The program is accessible to youth throughout the province through partnerships with local youth outreach programs.
We also continue to provide Sexual Violence Prevention Innovation Grants across the province. I am so very grateful for the partnerships we’ve developed to help combat this pervasive issue. It takes the combined efforts and energy of government, communities, support and service organizations, and victims and their families to create meaningful change.
We also want to ensure that our own service delivery staff are trained and ready to respond to clients who may be exploited or are at risk of exploitation. We have provided training to front-line employment support and income assistance caseworkers and key service providers who support our youth programming, and we plan to extend this further.
Affordable, accessible, and reliable community transportation is critical for Nova Scotians to get to work, attend important appointments and to stay connected with friends and take part in their communities. That’s why, through a partnership between the Department of Community Services and Halifax Transit, we launched a two-year bus pass pilot program to provide annual bus passes to all Employment Support and Income Assistance clients and their dependents in Halifax Regional Municipality.
So far, more than 11,000 Employment Support and Income Assistance clients, spouses and their children have enrolled in the program. Because of this pilot, thousands more Nova Scotians now have access to transportation. Those who cannot take the bus because of a disability or a short-term illness can continue to receive allowance for other types of transportation, such as taxis. Evaluation of the Halifax bus pass pilot will help inform possible expansion opportunities in other communities with fixed route transit systems. Employment Support and Income Assistance continues to work with the Department of Communities, Culture and Heritage on transportation initiatives to benefit clients and low-income Nova Scotians.
Government has embarked on a multi-year plan to strengthen community transportation links across the province, especially in rural areas. As part of this larger plan, we continue to support new community transportation ideas in an effort to better serve our clients across the province.
We continue to work closely with staff at the Department of Municipal Affairs and Housing while we transition Housing out of the Department of Community Services and into the Department of Municipal Affairs and Housing. The majority of programs and processes now reside with the new department, and both departments are working hard to finalize the move. The budget for the former Housing Services Division of the Department of Community Services has been removed and the 2019-20 estimates have been restated, reflecting the April 2019 effective date.
Additionally, in this most recent budget, other housing related costs that were embedded within non-housing divisions of the Department of Community Services, as well as funding related to homelessness, have been transferred to the Department of Municipal Affairs and Housing. I want to thank our former Housing staff for their valuable contributions while they worked with the Department of Community Services.
I will now move to initiatives of the Advisory Council on the Status of Women. The Advisory Council on the Status of Women works with communities and government to advance equality for all women in Nova Scotia. Women make up 51 per cent of the population in this province. However, the reality is that women don’t always have the same access to economic opportunity and personal safety as men. We know many Nova Scotians are affected by gender-based violence. It can happen to anyone.
In addition to our ongoing support of transition houses, women’s centres, Alice Housing and the Nova Scotia Native Women’s Association, we are working to build an action plan. Standing Together is government’s $9 million multi-year commitment to work with community organizations, groups, and experts to disrupt harmful cycles of domestic violence. Through this coordinated initiative, we aim to support victims with an improved system of programs that help them rebuild their lives.
The learnings from this work will help us shift policies and interventions so that support systems better respond to people’s needs and address barriers facing the most vulnerable Nova Scotians. We’ll continue to invest in learning and innovation and partner on projects that aim to disrupt harmful cycles of domestic violence and prevent violence from occurring in the first place.
Last year, through Standing Together, we announced grants for 24 community organizations to develop a wide range of projects focused on addressing domestic violence in specific communities. The projects are focused on African Nova Scotian and Mi’kmaq communities, as well as groups working with children and youth, men and boys, girls and young women, and women with disabilities.
In February, we announced a second round of Standing Together grants for projects aimed at bringing people together to develop new ideas around preventing domestic violence and to build connections to mobilize knowledge. The recipients of the second round of grants will be announced soon. The learnings and insights gained from all these projects will help us develop the plan. I am looking forward to seeing new, innovative ideas at work.
As part of Standing Together, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the excellent partnership with the Government of Canada to fund a different approach to addressing gender-based violence in communities. We know that many Nova Scotians need supports and services that are grounded in their culture, and we know that when we address gaps in service using approaches that are grounded in culture, it leads to better outcomes for families.
Thanks to the Government of Canada and the Government of Nova Scotia, each investing $1 million, Creating Communities of Care will support women survivors of gender-based violence and their families from Halifax’s urban Indigenous and African Nova Scotian communities. I’m proud to say this program is having success and I want to thank the Mi’kmaq Legal Support Network, the Nova Scotia Association of Black Social Workers, the Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre, and the Elizabeth Fry Society of Mainland Nova Scotia for leading this important work.
The collaborative approach of Standing Together is an example of how the Advisory Council on the Status of Women office works in relational ways with others to advance gender equality. For example, the office is collaborating with the Department of Justice to improve how the justice system responds to victims, with more focus on developing human-centred supports and services. This work includes ensuring first-voice perspectives are heard and shared, developing training materials that reflect best practices, and exploring innovative new ways for systems to respond to people’s needs.
In addition, the recent amendments to the Fatality Investigations Act to establish a domestic violence death review committee will help government and our partners better understand the factors that lead to domestic violence deaths. This is an important step forward in Nova Scotia’s ongoing efforts to prevent violence against women.
Another example of how the Advisory Council on the Status of Women office is working closely with our partners involves encouraging more women to consider careers in sciences, technology, engineering and math, including trades. Government continues to work with the Nova Scotia Community College Foundation to encourage students to apply for the Women Innovating in Nova Scotia bursary. This opportunity is open to all women pursuing training in these fields at any NSCC campus. There have been about 190 bursary recipients since it was introduced back in 2009.
The Advisory Council on the Status of Women also works collaboratively across government to ensure we have supportive legislative and policy frameworks that advance gender equality, including: changing the Labour Standards Code so that victims of domestic violence can take leave from work without fear of losing their jobs; eliminating the eligibility period in the Labour Standards Code for parents to access pregnancy and parental leave from the moment they’re hired; partnering with the Atlantic provinces to establish the first regional Atlantic Domestic Homicide Review Network in Canada to help prevent domestic homicides; introducing amendments to the Labour Standards Code to address the gender wage gap, including prohibiting employers from inquiring about the wage history of a prospective employee; and prohibiting employers from banning employees from discussing or disclosing wages.
The representation of women at all levels of leadership improves outcomes for women, promotes gender equality, and is critical to the growth and competitiveness of the overall economy. While we’re seeing more women take on leadership roles across all sectors of society, women still face structural and systemic barriers. Our government wants to engage more women as elected leaders. The 2018 Campaign School for Women had the highest attendance to date with over 100 women. About two-thirds of the participants came from diverse backgrounds. We’re building on this success by developing new online content to give Nova Scotian women more tools to take on leadership roles in government.
Madam Chair, as I said previously, Nova Scotia is experiencing unprecedented success and we want everyone to feel the positive effects. Our government is focused on making significant, impactful investments today that will have long-term positive results felt by this generation and next. We know there is a lot of work to be done, and that’s why I’ve been speaking for the better part of an hour, but by continuing to listen to our clients, advocates, partners and staff, we will ensure that the changes we’re making - the changes I’ve spoken at length about - will be effective for the people we serve.
In closing, I want to extend my personal thanks to the staff of the Department of Community Services and the Advisory Council on the Status of Women for their continued support and ongoing commitment to our collective work, and to giving 100 per cent every day so Nova Scotians in need have the opportunity to live their best lives. They inspire me every day and I am proud to be their minister. Madam Chair, I am ready for your questions. I ask that any questions for the Department of Community Services be asked first and then we can move to questions on the Advisory Council on the Status of Women.
THE CHAIR: We will start with questioning from the PC caucus.
The honourable member for Sackville-Cobequid.
STEVE CRAIG: I thank the minister for what I’ve come to know her as, both personally and professionally, a caring, competent, compassionate person. That carries through. It’s contagious, I can see that because I had a cough develop as she was going on. To take the time to illuminate the House and the members around here of the extent of the Department of Community Services work and the Advisory Council on the Status of Women is admirable. In the beginning the minister had reached out and provided through Ms. Taweel and Mr. Hill - but I want to welcome them through you, Madam Chair, because this is my first time, as well. So, we’re in it together.
I was going through this and figuring out what I would say and what questions I would ask. Knowing the breadth and scope of this, I certainly cannot do justice to ask all the questions. I know that we did the orientation and that was wonderful, so I suspect that going through this, I’ll have many more questions after I read Hansard to see what has actually happened. You do not learn this overnight; you have to steep yourself in it.
I guess one of the things that I might ask offline to the minister is: When can I do some job-shadowing? (Laughter) Certainly, you have to live this to experience it and to know it. As I say, I have come to know the minister personally and professionally, and I find her to be a wonderful minister. That may not be said often in this House, but certainly I believe that.
The first question I have - and there are many questions and in no order, I have not ranked these or anything, but I have had input from a number of people, as well as my own. The first one has to do with income assistance and unearned income. Some of the people who have written me have clawbacks. I don’t know if that’s a fair term, but for a sense of understanding, it’s commonly used. I don’t believe it’s unparliamentary, if I could use that, thank you.
Can the Minister of Community Services explain why it is that things like - and again, they may or may not be - Canada Pension Plan Children’s Benefit may be clawed back, we might have clawbacks from Workers’ Compensation Board dependent child benefit, EI, Canada Pension Plan Disability, private long-term, and so on? According to Section 32(3) of the Employment Support and Income Assistance Regulations, “Chargeable income is deemed to include 100% of unearned income received by [a] dependent child, or by an applicant or recipient on behalf of a dependent child.”
The intent, I believe, is to put more money into the hands of families and their dependants. There are a number of programs and services that I’m hearing here today that effectively do that, yet the money is not taken back. My question to the minister is: What initiatives are there to reduce the amount of clawbacks in the system to provide more money to those eligible under the Department of Community Services?
KELLY REGAN: I want to thank the honourable member for the question. I have been asked this question in the House about a number of different other sources of income, but at its most basic, Employment Support and Income Assistance are the social safety net of last resort. We do ask our clients to exhaust all other forms of income first, before they come to Employment Support and Income Assistance. That is why you’re seeing CPP and in a lot of cases, federal - but not exclusively federal - other forms of income are, in fact, included.
We actually recently made an exception to one form of income, and that was to child maintenance. We no longer count child maintenance in the calculation of income when we’re assessing people for income assistance. That change has resulted in, I think it was $322 per month for the families that are receiving that. If I remember correctly, it’s about 1,500 families where we have seen that particular change, so it was a significant number of families. Most of them are, in fact, headed by women. So, when you calculate that out over the whole year, that’s a fairly hefty one. It’s not unusual; most other provinces, in fact, do count most of these sources of income as income when they are calculating their version of income assistance.
STEVE CRAIG: The Poverty Reduction Blueprint, let’s talk about that. There are three funding streams and in particular I want to go to the Building Vibrant Communities funding stream.
A number of organizations have applied for grants and for money. Some of these organizations have looked at homelessness and they’ve looked at the ability to serve those who are not served now through the Department of Community Services or Housing Nova Scotia. These are people who are living rough now. These are people who are on the street now. They’re not in a shelter. I think that we have a case where, when we talk about homeless and housing - I know it was the case in the municipality until I brought it up a number of years ago - is that homeless starts in a shelter. That is absolutely not the case. There’s couch surfing, rough living - people who do not have any housing or shelter available to them at all.
There are a number of organizations today that have gone out of their way to open up a shelter with their own means and funds and what have you - not government-assisted. There are a couple of grants requested through the Building Vibrant Communities that were rejected. I will have questions later for the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing as to what they’re doing in this area.
My question is: What is the threshold and the criteria used to determine the Building Vibrant Communities? When it comes to those organizations that are trying to support the homeless not in shelters now, what is the threshold to determining whether or not you’re provided the ability to provide a grant from the province?
An experience that I heard about recently in the last go-around was that when the person or the organization asking for the grant got the results, the results were: We didn’t know about this, we didn’t know about that. The explanation was that, we’re an interdepartmental group that makes these decisions and we don’t have time to go back and get more answers and to have qualification on your grant, so therefore thank you for the information, however, we’ve made these decisions.
My question is: How is it that the grants are decided upon and what weight is given to those who are looking to serve those who are homeless now?
KELLY REGAN: There were a variety of different issues that we asked people to look at and one of them was, in fact, housing. The Department of Communities, Culture and Heritage grants the money on behalf of the Department of Community Services and I will say that the scores were incredibly high. The projects that were funded were scored incredibly high. It may be that for a new organization coming in and doing this for the first time, it might have been a bit difficult to figure out exactly what was wanted.
What I would say to the honourable member is if there is an organization in his community that is looking for a grant in this particular area, before they put in the grant application, it’s okay to reach out to CCH on that particular issue to ask what people are looking for. Again, I would say really, the quality of the projects that ended up being funded, they were scored very high, and so there would have been quite a few that didn’t make that level.
By all means, reach out ahead of time. What I have found at CCH any time I’ve had organizations from my community - whether it’s CFIP or anything like that, any organization that’s reaching out to the Department of Communities, Culture and Heritage, I would reach out in advance of actually putting the application in and walk through the process with them. I’ve found them to be extraordinarily helpful and open on how to write a proposal and score well on those.
STEVE CRAIG: Thank you for that response. When we talk about housing, I would like to make the distinction that I’m talking about homeless. My question really was: What weight is given to those who are homeless? What I think I’ve found over the last number of months since being elected is that - even municipally - a lot of weight goes to already established shelters, already established organizations. When we see that the need of the homeless is increasing throughout - it’s not just an urban-centred issue - there are groups trying to get started, trying to get under way. They need to be incubated.
I’m going to move on to ESIA and the status. Just curious to know, what is the cost to administer that? How many FTEs do we have there? How many recipients by district? What in particular has been the recipients’ response to the new program that was started in December and effective January? That is a question I have, and I have follow-ups to that.
KELLY REGAN: For ESIA, we have 24 FTEs. Our caseload is about 25,395 people as of February 24th. Each year they deliver about $260 million in benefits. We don’t have a regional breakdown here. I could get that for you at another time, but we don’t have that here.
STEVE CRAIG: The other part, though, was, how has the response been from the recipients?
KELLY REGAN: Sorry, I’m trying to write down the questions as we go, but sometimes I will miss one, so by all means, round me back. The response we’ve had thus far, I would say, is quite positive. Would people like more? Always people would like more. There is no doubt about that. Again, there was a significant percentage of our client base that was not actually receiving the policy maximum. About a quarter of our clients were not receiving the policy maximum.
I don’t think a lot of people understood that they were going to get raised to the policy maximum - the maximum you could get - as well as the 2 per cent or 5 per cent on top. Then when you look at the other things that we were doing as part of the standard household rate, which was including the work exemption. People under the work exemption, for example, are taking home - those people who are involved in it - about an average of $200 per month more than they were before. It’s a number of things all combined together that are making a difference for our clients.
STEVE CRAIG: We talk about three out of eight homes have been procured for those with disabilities - small options homes, what have you. I’m curious to know, are these homes that have been purchased? Who owns them? Who delivers the service? What support services are there for those on disabilities and to move people from those homes?
I had a number of people some time ago - every Sunday - I’ve got friends at Sagewood, I’ve been going there for over a decade. My mother was one of the first recipients of the Sagewood. She passed away in 2013 and I still go there every week. What Ssurprised me was the number of younger people with disabilities who were in these facilities. They were taken care of - no question about that - however, it wasn’t a living environment conducive to people of our age and younger. They felt as though they were the caregivers - a lot of them - and that they weren’t having the independence that you would expect a young adult or an adult to have.
Are these homes coming on board quick enough? What is the backlog of people who are already in long-term care facilities? What is the priority given to moving folks with disabilities into these new homes?
KELLY REGAN: There are a number of questions there and I hope I’ll get them all. I can’t guarantee that, so if I don’t, by all means, just ask it again. Of the eight that we announced, those were by and large purpose-built. For example, the one in Isle Madame that I went to with the member for that area for the opening, that was an existing facility that was completely renovated, but those are more purpose-built ones.
We’ve actually learned a lot from this process. We may not need to do that in every case because this is driven by participant choice. For some people, living with three other people will be what they want to do. For other people, it’s not what they want to do. We’ve really been trying to underline that this is about participant choice. It’s about doing it safely and making sure that the supports are in place when someone moves out so that they can have a successful transition.
What we don’t want to have happen is that someone moves out - because this has happened occasionally in the past, where someone ventures out into the community and doesn’t really have what they need in place to have a successful transition. Then they feel bad. Sometimes it’s difficult to get back into their old placement, number one. They feel like they’ve failed. We don’t want that for them. We want to make sure that this is successful.
So far, we have the three homes that have opened: New Glasgow, which opened in July 2018; Isle Madame in July 2019; and New Minas in September 2019. Of the remaining five homes, we expect that three will open by June of this year. One will be developed in Liverpool, one in Yarmouth, and one in Halifax Regional Municipality. The other remaining two are expected to be open by the end of this year, and that’s one in Clare and one in the Halifax Regional Municipality.
Three of these homes are designated for folks who are moving out of our large residential facilities as part of our commitment to phasing out larger facilities. Just on that point, in the budget we talk about there’s money in this year’s budget to move 50 people out into community. Twenty-five are from the larger facilities and 25 are people who are on the wait-list right now. The wait-list right now is 1,583 people on the service request list. It may not necessarily be that all of them want small options homes, but about 1,000 of those want a different support option or location than they’re currently receiving. The majority - two-thirds - are already receiving services from us. They just want to move somewhere else or they want a different level of service or whatever.
Then over the next few years, the money that we projected in this budget and into the future is to move 400 people into community. Again, it’s half from the larger facilities and half from off the wait-list.
I will just say that we had some money recently, where we began transitioning people, and what we found is that as a space opened up, somebody else would come in behind. It actually created a fair amount of movement, more than we actually anticipated in the beginning. What we came to understand during that particular plan was that a lot of people think they want to move and a lot of families think they want their family member to move until it gets really close to actually doing it and sometimes it’s a little scary.
You can understand that if somebody has spent the majority of their life in a larger facility, they’ve come to know it as home. They know the services. Their family knows everybody there. Sometimes it’s difficult to make the move. Sometimes the person who’s living in the facility really wants to go, but their family does not because they’re confident in that facility and something new is scary.
Again, it’s about taking participant choice into account and making sure that everybody is ready and willing to move. Also, you can’t just stick a bunch of people into a house and say, here we are. You have to make sure that the people who are living together can get along and have complementary needs. If you have somebody who can’t stand really loud noises, but you have them living with someone who vocalizes all day long, that could be a problem.
So, while in theory this is very easy to do, what we’ve come to understand is we have to do a lot of front-end planning to make sure that we set people up for success because not doing so really has some long-term effects for the participants, never mind the effort that we put into it. For the people who are moving out into new placements in community, we want to make sure they’re successful.
STEVE CRAIG: Within the $1 billion in your budget - and by the way, congratulations for getting that amount of money. That is very impressive, in my mind, to be able to move and obtain the amount of money to help our most vulnerable citizens. It is truly amazing - I do believe that.
When it comes to the money, I’d like to know how much of the money goes internally to the operation of your department? How much money goes to agencies, boards and commissions? How much money goes to Housing Nova Scotia? How are monies funnelled through? Why I say that is, if you’re doing rent supplements, if those rent supplements go to Housing Nova Scotia and that type of thing, would it have been included on their income statements? Just curious to know those types of things and then I’ll get into some more questions about services.
KELLY REGAN: I do believe it’s listed in the galleys there, but about 15 per cent of our budget actually goes to salaries. The rest of it goes to client services. It may be to an agency to deliver services or it may be to payments to income support.
In terms of rent supplements, there seems to be a misconception because I think I’ve answered this previously in the House. We do not deliver rent supplements. Rent supplements are delivered by Housing Nova Scotia. We don’t do that.
I would just like to say - your point about additional monies for DCS is well taken. I would just like to say how much I appreciate my colleagues, both at the Cabinet table and at Treasury and Policy Board, because when we went before them to talk about the need to move people out into community, talk about the needs for our clients, my colleagues got it and supported us in our requests. So, I am grateful to my colleagues and the Minister of Finance and Treasury Board for hearing that and for helping us to deliver the kind of budget that we always wanted to.
STEVE CRAIG: I’m learning. I’m new and I have a great thirst. It’s going to take a long time for this thirst to be quenched, I assure you.
You talked about how you don’t provide rent supplements. Minister, you’re providing a standard household income. What is that to be used for? Is it appropriate for the recipients to use that on housing?
KELLY REGAN: The whole idea about the standard household rate is that this is money that we give to clients and they choose how they’re going to spend it. They can spend it on whatever it is they want; if they want to spend more on rent, they can do that. This is their choice. It’s not a paternalistic kind of system where we say, you must spend X on this and Y on that. This is the standard household rate. This is money we give to our folks.
If they want to earn additional money, they can do that now with the first changes that we made to the standard household rate when that was rolled out. That allowed people to keep more of the income they earn and then have it reduced at a slower rate than in the past. We felt at the time, quite frankly, that there was a disincentive to work - so, allowing people to work and keep more of the money.
Also, if they get their bus pass in October and they get a job in January, they can keep that bus pass for the entire year. It’s one of the ways that we’re helping get people launched, so that folks who have been on income assistance, if they have the opportunity to move into the workforce full time, then it just gives them a little bit of help along the way as they move out into the workforce.
Over the last while, we’ve seen employment numbers increasing. I know there was some discussion earlier today about job numbers for one month. I will just say that having been the Minister of Labour and Advanced Education and the labour market minister, what we tended to see for job numbers for Nova Scotia from Statistics Canada, because the sample size is so small, you would literally see the numbers go like this. So what you would do is actually look at the trend line over time because the sample size in the Atlantic provinces is what Statistics Canada and our economists call suppressed, so often the numbers do bounce around again, so you look at the trend line.
STEVE CRAIG: Given that the household standard rate can be used by the recipients to do anything, I guess the next logical question is, for rent supplements - in the minister’s previous role of having the responsibility for Housing Nova Scotia she can perhaps answer this - has there been any negative impact on those who are receiving rent supplements because they have an increased amount of money in the standard household rate?
KELLY REGAN: As I am no longer the Minister responsible for Housing Nova Scotia, I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to be answering questions about rent supplements. That is a tool of Housing Nova Scotia and the minister there would be best to speak to about that.
I can give you an example of what the standard household rate would mean for a single person with no children. A single person who in 2015-16 was receiving $764 net monthly income would be receiving $264 more per month than they received in 2015-16. If you look at the personal allowance increase, the Poverty Reduction Credit, which was doubled, the child support exemption standard - well, the child support exemption doesn’t really apply to them since they don’t have any kids - they could be earning $264 more per month than they received in 2015-16 just from the changes that I mentioned there, including the standard household rate, part two, which is the basic rate.
STEVE CRAIG: I appreciate the comment. One of the challenges I find is that when I look at the amount of collaboration and inter-agency, inter-departmental work that’s done, I will be asking the question of the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing in the next hour, and what I’m afraid I might get back is the answer that I ought to ask the Department of Community Services. I hope that’s not the case. If it is, I’ll indicate to the minister that you said it ought not to be the case, too.
I’d like to move on to children in care - our most vulnerable. My understanding is that there are roughly 1,000 children in care. That includes temporary as well as permanent, and there are challenges. I’m going to back up for a second and tell you the complexities in this department are numerous - the products and services that are offered to help those.
I was asked one time how I found the difference between municipal and provincial governments. The difference is this, other than TIR outside the urban centre: municipally it’s basically bricks and mortar. That’s what municipal is, fundamentally. Provincially, it’s the things that impact individuals, and you’re working with individuals in different circumstances and different life circumstances, all the complexities that you alluded to in your opening remarks. That’s the complicated nature of the work that we all have and to acknowledge that.
In the case of children in care, I heard a number of the programs that you’ve indicated are out there to help those most vulnerable. I’d like to know, for individual care - and sometimes I’ve heard it called place of safety - relative to those who are permanent, what are the numbers of children in permanent care or place of safety, as some might call it? What are the amounts of money that are being paid and what does that cover? Do they cover rent, food, staff and the contracting agency, and so on? I’m just trying to get a sense of what it is that is covered.
KELLY REGAN: If we look at our estimate, it is just shy of $90 million for the maintenance of children. That includes all placements for children, not just emergency placements. I don’t have that number here with me right now, but we will endeavour to get it for you, for the emergency placements. As of this week, there were 47 children in emergency placements.
We have engaged an organization called Key Assets that has a really great international reputation. They have a great experience working with children who might have very specific needs and having better outcomes than we had been getting in the past.
Over the last couple of years, we’ve also opened a new facility for children who may not thrive in other child caring facilities because of their particular intellectual challenges or whatever. We have a number of different kinds of placements across the spectrum, so that $87,934,000 goes to the maintenance of children. We currently have 669 foster families, and at one time we had more and we had more children in foster care. Now we are seeing children who have more complex needs, sometimes more complex behaviours. So, in the past where families might take in a number of children, that doesn’t happen quite as much now. Often it’s a single child, sometimes it’s a sibling group, but for us, family reunification is always our goal, so if we have a sibling group, we do try to place those children together, if at all possible.
Sometimes we can have families of seven, eight, nine kids come into our care all at once, which can be a bit challenging, but our goal is always to make sure that those siblings get to stay together, get to see each other if they’re not together immediately. We will endeavour to get you the amount for the places of safety.
STEVE CRAIG: Forty-seven emergency placements. I’m not sure - maybe it’s terminology I’m trying to understand. We have children in temporary care and children in permanent care. I’m assuming emergency would relate to or be equivalent to those only in temporary care? I’d like to know what is termed emergency because my question had to do with individual care, not emergency. I’d just like to peel back the onion layer a bit more to understand that response.
KELLY REGAN: I think we should probably clarify some of the terminology. A place of safety is the same thing as an emergency placement. The thing is that when the department learns of a child who is at risk and needs to be taken out of a situation where they are at risk, sometimes that’s only temporary. Our goal is always family reunification, so, in many cases what happens is that a child is taken into care temporarily and we put into place the supports that that family needs so that they can look after their child. So, the child is returned to the family once those supports are in place and once we’re sure that the child would no longer be at risk.
It’s not a capped program or anything like that. We do have some programs that are capped. It’s not a capped program. If a child is at risk, we have to act. There are assessments that happen once that child comes into care and we figure out if this family is capable of looking after this child or if there’s another family member who might be able to look after the child. A child might come in with us for a few days while we set something up with another family member, et cetera, while that family is getting whatever help they need so that they can have that child come back home.
That’s actually why you see so many investments in this particular budget - and I did speak to those in the Budget Speech - around wraparound services, Parenting Journey, all those different programs that we have in place, and which we are expanding, so that when a family is in crisis and a child is at risk, we can move quickly and support that family so that child doesn’t have to come into the care of the minister. It’s more effective to spend money up front to assist a family than it is to try to repair damage afterwards, quite frankly.
Within two years, we have to decide where that child is going. There has to be some permanency for that child. They can’t float along in no man’s land forever. If a child can’t go home, there are a number of different options for the child. There’s the foster family, there’s adoption, there’s alternative family care or a residential setting. There are a number of different options that we do have when a child does come into care of the minister.
STEVE CRAIG: What’s in my head is, what is individual care, then? Madam Chair, the minister referred to individual care earlier on in remarks. Maybe I misheard - sorry about that. I’ll move on.
Last year, you talked about Hope Landing. You mentioned that there are youth who have challenges, not only in their own behaviour or circumstances, but also with those around them perhaps. I’d like to know a little bit more about Hope Landing, especially in relation to Wood Street secure and Wood Street residential. What is that continuum? I know on Wood Street you have to be under the care of the Department of Community Services, and I’m just wondering more about Hope Landing, but I’m looking for the relative differences in services provided and to whom, between Wood Street residential, Wood Street secure and Hope Landing.
KELLY REGAN: There is a spectrum of needs for the young people who come into our care. Hope Landing is a child caring facility for youth in care whose social, emotional, or developmental functioning increases their vulnerability if placed with older or same-age peers in a community-based residential option.
The Wood Street secure facility is unique. It’s the only facility where a young person is court ordered to go there. There is also a residential facility at Wood Street for children who are in permanent care of the minister. As a caring, conscientious parent, the Department of Community Services has a range of options for children. These are some of the residential options that you see for children who come into the care of the minister.
STEVE CRAIG: You had alluded earlier that when it came to disability environment that if you put three people in a facility - I imagine if you put any three of us here in a house with one kitchen, one bathroom, and we have different bedrooms, it would be a challenge for us to get along. To have youth in care moved into a group home, a similar type of situation - and I suspect some of the Hope Landing residents would be those who found difficulty in that situation, too, that they found it difficult to live in a group home and required some assistance, they had some challenges. What kinds of programs are offered to residents in Hope Landing?
KELLY REGAN: I’ve been to Hope Landing. I was there before it opened and after it opened. It’s really quite lovely. The staff were very excited about decorating for the children to come in. It’s really what people would do with their own children. The children there go to school. I’ve been there at Christmastime. They have Christmas parties. They go on outings. They cook together. They learn life skills. They learn how to manage their emotions. The things that we teach our children, that’s what those children are learning at Hope Landing, too.
STEVE CRAIG: I guess I’ll have to do the job shadow to find out a little bit more in-depth about how these things actually work, because I’ve actually been in Wood Street secure and Wood Street residential, but have not been in Hope Landing.
There are so many aspects of the minister’s department that people continuously ask questions about. How many people are in care? How many people are receiving assistance? What are the numbers in your programs, and so on? From an accountability and open, transparent point of view, what is the position of the Department of Community Services in providing, let’s say, monthly statistics on the provincial website so that people could simply go there and see some of the statistics that might be helpful and may reduce some of the questions to the department? If it’s already there, I’m not aware of it. Just simply point me to the URL and I’d be happy to take a look at it.
Some of those statistics, I would think, would be the type of key performance indicators the department might have. How do you know you’re successful? How do we know we’re achieving objectives? The province passes money on to agencies, boards, commissions and others to help those who are vulnerable, to help families that need assistance. What types of information can be publicly available to let people know how well the department is performing in the areas that you’ve undertaken?
KELLY REGAN: We do publish an annual business plan. It’s published online. It’s outcomes based, so you can see that there on an annual basis. I can tell you that the number of our ESIA clients continues to decline year over year. That is one measure.
The number of children in care continues to decline, not by a lot, but that’s part of the reason why we are, in fact, investing money in prevention and early intervention because we do believe that there are steps that we can take with money up front to ensure that young people get the intervention that they need right off the bat and have a more successful life. Quite frankly, that’s why we have the free pre-Primary program, so that young people can have a good start on their academic careers.
Quite frankly, the free pre-Primary program, which we know improves academic outcomes - when you do that, folks are more likely to graduate from high school, they’re less likely to be involved with the criminal justice system, they’re less likely to require extensive health interventions. There is a whole lot that stems from having a successful academic career. We’re not going to see the results of the free pre-Primary program, for example, for some time to come because those kids aren’t going to get to the point where they’re graduating from high school, but they should require fewer interventions, et cetera, in school if they’re better prepared for school.
The Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development was just saying to me the other day that he was talking to a school principal who was very clear that this was the best prepared group that he had ever seen come into Primary because they had been through that pre-Primary program for the four-year-olds.
We say all of that, but again, I would underline that it is the needs of our clients that drive what we do. I guess in theory, we could get more people off of the income assistance rolls, but I’m not sure that would be what our clients need, quite frankly. It’s always understanding what they need. Quite frankly, what we heard in a recent engagement where we talked to - I’m going to say thousands and I can’t remember how many thousand. I feel like 3,000 was the number, but it has been a couple of years since we did it - but we did engage with our clients and asked them what they wanted.
We heard, for example, that they want digital services, which surprised some folks, but the fact is they wanted to be able to apply for income assistance online. Right now, when they come into DCS, they have to actually know what they’re applying for. This will give them the opportunity to actually say, this is my issue, and then we can make sure that they get the appropriate services right then. It’s not always about what would be best for government. It’s about what would be best for our clients. What do they want? What do they need? It’s a bit of a switch there.
THE CHAIR: Order. The time has elapsed for the Progressive Conservative caucus. We will turn it over to the NDP caucus.
The honourable member for Dartmouth North.
SUSAN LEBLANC: Thank you, Madam Chair. I’m happy to stand and ask some questions of the Minister of Community Services today. Before I begin, I want to acknowledge all the great staff in the department. Particularly, I want to send big shout-outs to the supervisors and workers at the Dartmouth Alderney office, as well as Tracy Embrett and Sandy Graves who are very responsive to the issues that I bring to them - and Tracey Taweel, as well, of course. Thank you to all of them.
This is a challenging time for people who live in Dartmouth North and throughout the province, on many levels. I know that many people are scrambling to make sure that people can survive it. Of course, I’m talking about low incomes and lack of housing right now, specifically. I will ask some questions about that in a few minutes, but I just wanted to start with picking up on something that the minister said in her preamble. She said that no amount of child poverty is acceptable. I’m heartened to hear that.
I reject the notion of poverty reduction because I think it doesn’t go far enough. I prefer to use the term “poverty elimination” knowing that to eliminate poverty, we have to reduce it step by step. I get that, but our goal should be no poverty, and so I was happy to hear that the minister agrees with me, I would venture to say.
I want to start there with my questions. A year ago, when I asked the minister about child poverty rates in the province, she expressed some concern about the accuracy of the data that I was referring to and indicated that she was following up with Statistics Canada. As I’m sure the minister is aware, Statistics Canada provides data quality ratings on its information. The 2017 data for Nova Scotia was rated as acceptable. I’m wondering if the minister can provide us with an update on those conversations she was going to be having with Statistics Canada about the rates of child poverty in Nova Scotia.
KELLY REGAN: I would first off like to say that I entirely agree with the honourable member that the Traceys - and I would include in that our ADM Tracey, as well - but Tracy Embrett, Tracey Taweel and Sandy Graves, all top notch and I am so fortunate to have them working for the department.
In terms of the child poverty rate, in fact, it would not be me who reaches out to Statistics Canada, it would be our economist, Thomas Storring, who did extensive work with Statistics Canada. They did end up pulling another set of data, which indicated that that particular result was not expected, warranted, whatever - wasn’t reflected in the larger data set. To my chagrin, they don’t restate that.
I do have the poverty rate from 2006 on, and what we do see from time to time are spikes. One thing that Thomas Storring has been telling us is that the data from Atlantic Canada are what they call suppressed. They’re not large, robust data sets, so you can see swings. For example, if I look at 2009, there was a big spike there; 2012, there was a big spike again; a smaller one in 2014.
Again, as I was saying earlier, when I was at the Department of Labour and Advanced Education, what you look for is the trend line. Is the trend line going in the right direction? What I can tell you is that a couple of weeks ago, Statistics Canada did come out with their poverty data for 2018. Again, only partway through the year did we begin to roll out a number of anti-poverty measures in that particular year. What we saw was that Nova Scotia made the most progress of any province in the country in combating poverty. There was a big decline in child poverty between 2017 and 2018.
I will tell you that I’m not happy that we still have the highest poverty rate in the country, but we also made the most progress, so there’s good news there. But as the honourable member and I agree, no amount of poverty is acceptable. We recognize that we still have work to do, but I am heartened that we have made progress and I’m happy to share this particular document with her. I’ll table it and she can see that there was a big drop.
SUSAN LEBLANC: Thank you to the minister for tabling that data. I will point out that the 2018 data from Statistics Canada - if that is what that is - which shows improvement, has a rating that says to use with caution. So in terms of Statistics Canada data, it is actually less reliable than 2017. I just want to leave that there for now.
I’m going to go to something that’s a very important issue right now in Dartmouth North. I know the minister has seen the news articles about this very serious situation. Based on a freedom of information request filed by our caucus, the amount paid by the department for hotels for ESIA clients has increased every year since 2013-14, and was 40 per cent higher in 2018-19 than in 2013-14 - so those trending lines are going up - spending close to half a million dollars on hotel rooms.
I understand that there are different reasons why hotel rooms are booked for ESIA clients. Can the minister explain why this amount has been increasing over the past five to six years?
KELLY REGAN: I would imagine that the cost of hotels would go up over five or six years. I would note for this House that, as I’ve indicated previously in interviews with the media, about 75 per cent of that half a million dollars is, in fact, for ESIA clients to attend appointments - usually medical appointments, but not limited to just that. About 75 per cent of that particular cohort is attending appointments.
What we want to make sure of is that we don’t have our clients not housed. While I would be the first to admit that living in a hotel isn’t great, I would be much more concerned if we weren’t providing that particular service. What I can say is that if our clients are precariously housed, we can use a hotel as a temporary measure while we get them housed.
I can tell you that we are working with a large provider of housing right now to ensure that our clients who are in those situations have the opportunity to have an apartment as a result of our work with that particular provider.
SUSAN LEBLANC: Absolutely, being in a hotel room is much better than being out on the street. I totally agree with that. I’d love to hear more about what you’re talking about in terms of - I didn’t really understand what the minister was talking about in terms of an apartment company that’s housing people.
I guess my first question is: Can the minister provide the current number of ESIA clients who are being housed in hotel rooms that are being paid for by the department?
Then if the minister could repeat a little bit about what she was saying - it sounds like there are apartments being used instead of hotel rooms, which sounds great to me. If the minister could just reiterate and clarify that for me, that would be great.
KELLY REGAN: I don’t have the current number of people who are being housed in hotels right now. We’re in the process of coming to an agreement with an organization that provides not temporary housing but permanent housing. It’s a large apartment provider in the city. We’re in the process of doing that right now.
SUSAN LEBLANC: Well, that sounds fantastic, but I’m wondering how that works with the people who are on the wait-list for Metro Community Housing for rent supplements and that kind of thing. If the department is working on getting people housed, how exactly is that working? We know that there are over 5,000 people on the wait-list for rent supplements or housing. I know the minister is not the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, but I’m just curious to know how it is all working together.
If this is actually happening, this is obviously welcome news. We have a serious housing crisis and I would be the first one to say I’m happy that the government is taking immediate action on making sure people are housed in permanent housing. That would be fantastic news. But I can’t say that until I totally get what’s going on.
If the minister would like to comment on that a little further, that would be great. I’ll see if she’d like to and then I’ll ask my next question.
KELLY REGAN: The honourable member has been talking in the House about ESIA clients who are being housed in hotels. We are not Housing Nova Scotia. To be clear, we don’t serve the general population, but we are cognizant of the fact that sometimes our clients have difficulty securing housing. For those clients who are currently in hotels who are precariously housed and are in that situation, we are working with a landlord to be able to provide housing to our clients who are precariously housed. This is not for the general population. This is for ESIA clients.
The honourable member was very clear with the media outside that she thought DCS should be providing housing to our clients. That is exactly what we are trying to do - assist our clients at a point when so many landlords have a decision to make, whether to take somebody who has a job or somebody who is on income assistance. We recognize that there may be times when we need to give a little more assistance to make sure that our clients have a place to live and raise their families.
SUSAN LEBLANC: I’d like to thank the minister for that clarification. It’s true, I think that while housing needs to happen - people need to be not living on the streets - I’m happy to see that the department is moving away from hotel housing and getting permanent housing for those folks.
Just FYI, unfortunately, this could be happening to a whole bunch more ESIA clients in Dartmouth North in the next several weeks. I’ve heard rumours of apartment buildings being sold and people getting eviction notices in the next several weeks. A number of them are ESIA clients. Just giving a heads-up here, folks.
I’m going to change to places of safety. I apologize, because I know that my colleague from the Progressive Conservative Party was talking about places of safety, but I have a couple of other questions.
In the September 2019 forecast update, the Department of Community Services was over budget primarily due to the number of children in care of the minister in designated places of safety. I’m wondering if the minister can provide the current number of children in places of safety.
In my previous question, which the minister couldn’t answer, about how many people are currently housed in hotels - I understand that you wouldn’t have it at your fingertips now. I would also love it if that number could be provided to us after the fact, along with the number of children currently in places of safety.
KELLY REGAN: First the good news: we can give you the number of - except it’s not good news. The number of young people who are currently housed in places of safety is 47. We currently have 47 young people in places of safety.
Again, as I was explaining when the member for the Progressive Conservative Party asked me the same question, it’s not a capped program. When a child comes into care of the minister, when they need care, we have to take them. Sometimes it takes a while to find the appropriate placement.
I indicated that the number of foster parents took a dive a number of years ago. We certainly have more foster parents now. We really focused on that program. We focused on recruitment. We’ve also focused on recruitment specifically in the African Nova Scotian community so that we have more culturally appropriate placements for children. We have more options for different places for children to go.
What we do know is that in the past, we used to have foster families that would take in a number of children - often from the same family, but they would take in multiple children. Now we are seeing children who have more complicated needs or complicated behaviours. In some cases, they’re medically fragile and the family is looking after a child with very high medical needs. In some cases, that child has a terminal illness. These superheroes are looking after these children who are at a very difficult time in their lives because their parents either can’t, or won’t in some cases, put the child in the condition that they’re in.
As of the end of February, we had 47 children in places of safety. It’s difficult for us to generate how many people are currently living in hotels. It’s not a field that we have marked in there. It’s just sort of the way that the data evolved over time. It wasn’t a field that we were actually tracking.
SUSAN LEBLANC: What is the approximate cost per child in a place of safety? What does the staffing look like for those children? Are they registered social workers or other unlicensed staff?
KELLY REGAN: I could give you the maximum daily for a child who is in a place of safety. It could be up to $1,300 per day. Depending on the need of the child, staffing could be three on one, depending on their particular situation. There’s always a social worker attached to any child in a place of safety and they have to have contact every few days, et cetera. Plus there would be other appointments that that child would be going to or would be receiving. It could be counselling or other supports. It really depends on the need of the child.
It is an expensive option and it’s not one that generally gets great outcomes, which is why we’ve engaged an organization known as Key Assets, which is an international provider that works on getting better outcomes for these children. They do customized placements for them. We engaged them last year to begin working with about a dozen children who we were, quite frankly, having difficulty placing, because we want to make sure (Interruption) Oh, it was six? Half a dozen, sorry, not a dozen.
We engaged them to begin working with those children so that they have better outcomes. A place of safety or an emergency placement is just that. It’s just that.
Some of them don’t go to school, and some do, but a lot of them are not getting the care that we believe they need to have to move on in life. Key Assets provides a therapeutic model with tailored programming and supports for each child. We think we’re going to get better outcomes for these children.
SUSAN LEBLANC: I just want to clarify that each of the 47 children have a social worker attached who may see them every couple of days or, as the minister said, for counselling appointments, but there are other staff. I just want to clarify that the other staff who are with the children, like 24/7, are not necessarily licensed social work staff - sorry, unlicensed staff. Can the minister confirm or clarify that? Then I’ll move on.
KELLY REGAN: The honourable member is correct in saying that it’s not social workers who are with them 24/7. They do have staff with them 24/7. They are not required to have special licensing or anything like that, which is why we have been working with our supervisors to increase that. We’re in the process of figuring out how to modernize the training they have, because again, we’re looking to provide better outcomes for these young people.
Right now, what we do is we keep them safe. That’s why it’s called a place of safety. We need to do more than just keep them safe. We need to make sure that they can have a better life.
SUSAN LEBLANC: The minister has mentioned this organization called Key Assets. Aside from Key Assets - or maybe Key Assets is part of this plan - what is the department’s plan for addressing the housing needs of children with complex needs in the care of the minister in the long term? I understand that we need to keep these children safe, and as the minister says, we need to allow them a way of moving forward in their lives so they’re not just being kept safe but can function and thrive.
What is the department’s plan? Is there a line in this year’s budget that has expenditures attached to that plan?
KELLY REGAN: There are a variety of different situations or places where we do house - I forget the term the honourable member used, but children who may have high needs. It could be with a foster parent. It could be through adoption.
We also have particular placements for children who have been human-trafficked or who are at risk of that. We talked about Hope Landing. That’s for a particular population of children who are particularly vulnerable.
The other thing we’re doing - and these are all sort of after the fact - we are investing more money this year and in multiple years. This year it’s $1.9 million in prevention and early intervention. It grows over the next three to $7.4 million - by year three, a 92 per cent increase. No, the $1.9 million is a 92 per cent increase. So it goes from $1.9 million up to $7.4 million, which is a further increase. That $1.9 million is a 92 per cent increase.
It is investing in children and families when we first know there’s an issue, so that instead of coming into care of the minister after a child has been through a difficult time, a trauma, it’s helping that family from the beginning.
I think I know the member well enough to know that this is the kind of thing that she would want to have happen, I believe. I shouldn’t put words in her mouth, so I won’t do that anymore.
I think this is what, as parents, we want to have happen. We want to make sure that families get the supports they need when they’re struggling so that their children don’t have to come into care, so that families can get the supports they need from the beginning, instead of going down what is a very costly crisis-driven response.
I say “costly,” but the cost to Nova Scotia is miniscule compared to the cost to individual human beings who just need help. If we can give it to them earlier, then we can avoid seeing families break up and seeing children go through some very difficult times.
SUSAN LEBLANC: Yes, I totally agree with having investment in prevention and early intervention, so I’m happy to see that this money is there.
Some of the things that I’ve said before in Estimates and other times, or asked the questions to the minister - for instance, this money, this $1.9 million - will that maybe change the amount of money that the Policy 75 social workers are getting? Policy 75 social workers haven’t had a raise, or much of a raise, in years and years. We know that many social workers aren’t able to do that very important work of prevention and early intervention because of the lack of investment in them. If that’s the kind of prevention and early intervention you’re talking about - I mean, I’m sure it involves much more than that as well, but that’s obviously a welcome increase.
I’m going to move on to dental care. I don’t know if the minister was in the room this morning during Statements by Members when I talked about the Dalling brothers, who make dentures in Dartmouth North. I know that a number of their clients are people who are on income assistance. I know that for people who need dental work and are on income assistance, their insurance only pays so much, and then there is a big gap between how much the insurance will pay and how much the service actually costs.
The department website indicates that clients of the department are covered for 80 per cent of the cost of emergency dental services, but that number is based on the 2014 Nova Scotia Dental Association fee guide. Dentists are now billing, obviously, based on the 2020 fee guide, which leaves DCS clients with closer to 30 or 40 per cent of the bill, which most cannot afford. That’s not to mention the cost of transportation or child care that may be required in order to access the dental services.
Is there an increase in the funded amounts for dental care for DCS clients in this budget?
KELLY REGAN: No.
SUSAN LEBLANC: Well, that’s great clarity. What options are available for people who cannot afford dental care? In my riding, and in many places, many ESIA clients and people who live on low incomes have serious issues with their teeth, and we all know that the mouth is a gateway to the rest of the body. Bad oral health leads to bad health generally. We know this is a fact.
Why is it, then, that the department is now allowing DCS clients to cover 30 to 40 per cent of the costs of dental care? It would be much cheaper, I would suggest, to help people get the dental care that they need and avoid the long-term chronic health problems that are related to poor oral health. If there is no money, then what are people doing? What are the options for people who cannot afford dental care?
KELLY REGAN: The honourable member mentioned transportation to dental care, so I would like to address that. Here in Halifax, our ESIA clients and their partners and children are eligible to take the free bus service that we began providing nearly two years ago. If they cannot take that, there can be exceptions made for people who are unable to access the bus service.
There are some free clinics that are provided. I know there’s one in the North End. I know that Dalhousie does also do a dental clinic. I recognize that this is not the same as being able to go to your neighborhood dentist.
I would note that when there’s dental care that needs to be done, exceptions can be made to policy. So I would urge anyone who is having an issue to reach out to their caseworker so that this can be dealt with.
Earlier, my colleague from the PC Party asked what people are supposed to spend their money from the increases to the standard household rate on. People are free to spend their money how they wish.
I recognize that dental care is extremely expensive, and that is why I am suggesting the Dalhousie dental clinic, for example, but with the increases to a number of different programs that we have - whether it’s standard household rate, whether it’s the income exemption for maintenance, whether it’s the Nova Scotia Child Benefit, whether it’s the new earnings regime - we are hoping that our clients will, in fact, be able to have more money in their pockets, so if they need dental care, they will be able to provide that.
SUSAN LEBLANC: I appreciate the minister’s answer, but let’s face it, even in Halifax or wherever - in fact, my question was misleading. People aren’t going to need transportation to get to the dentist to get their teeth fixed if they have to pay 30 to 40 per cent more than what the department is paying. They’re just not getting their teeth fixed, and that’s the problem. People have rotting teeth, people have no teeth, people are not able to eat properly, and people get sicker because they have poor oral health. That’s the fact. That’s what’s happening.
When I hear the minister say, respectfully, that people are receiving income supports that meet their basic needs - oral and dental health care are basic needs. Right now, Nova Scotians are not getting the money to meet those basic needs.
I want to move on from dental care to birth control. Clearly, cost should not be a barrier to accessing birth control. Does the department provide funding for clients of the department and low-income Nova Scotians to access IUDs?
KELLY REGAN: I’ve actually never had an IUD, so I’m not sure if you do it by prescription. I can tell you that many people do access our Low Income Pharmacare program and get their medications that way. I have to be honest, I’m not sure about IUDs. (Interruption) It is covered through ESIA.
SUSAN LEBLANC: This is something I’ve asked about in Question Period, but I’ll ask it again. For pregnant people who are involved with Children and Family Services, the birth alert system flags a mother’s health file so that hospital staff notify social workers when the baby is born. A review of the practice in Manitoba found no evidence that it increased the child’s safety in any way.
The final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls called upon all governments and child welfare services for an immediate end to the practice.
When I asked the Premier about this, he said he would look into whether this was happening in Nova Scotia. It is included in the Child Welfare Policy manual, which I gave to the Premier just after Question Period that day. Will the minister agree to ending this practice in Nova Scotia?
KELLY REGAN: I want to let the honourable member know what the response is here in Nova Scotia to the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls report’s 231 calls for justice, which I received last year.
There is a working group that’s going through those 231 calls for justice to suss out what’s a federal jurisdiction, what’s provincial, is this band-related, all of that. There’s a team that’s working on that.
Additionally, I have met with Nova Scotia Native Women’s Association president Annie Bernard-Daisley, as well as Chief Deborah Robinson, who is the lead Chief on child welfare, so that we can work together on this. Nova Scotia won’t be unilaterally making decisions to do with the Mi’kmaq. They deliver child welfare on reserve and we deliver it off reserve.
What I can tell you is that if we become aware of someone who is pregnant and may need supports, those are offered to them. They may refuse them. That’s their choice. My understanding is that the birth alerts take place now because we want to make sure that they are offered again. It is not to seize a child, but again, any decision to change that will be made in conjunction with the Mi’kmaq. That is the process we’ve agreed upon.
SUSAN LEBLANC: I thank the minister for that answer. I just want to point out that the birth alerts are not just happening to Mi’kmaw moms but to moms across the board. My understanding is that if someone is involved with child welfare, then a birth alert can be assigned to their case. Involvement may simply be having been in the child welfare system as a child, so immediately the mom is flagged, even though the mom has no record of any reason to be involved with the child welfare system except that they were involved as a child. It can immediately cause fear and panic among new moms who definitely don’t need to be any more fearful and panicky than they already are for just the fact that they’re becoming a mom.
I encourage the minister to look at this in a holistic way and take a look at the whole program. I appreciate that she is working with the Mi’kmaq systems and experts. That’s important, but a look at the whole program would be important.
I want to ask a question about something that came to me through the Elizabeth Fry Society. The deputy minister was very willing to meet with me and members of the Elizabeth Fry Society, along with the Deputy Minister of Justice and the acting Deputy Minister of Health and Wellness. I’m very grateful that all three of them were willing to meet us at the Elizabeth Fry Society.
The reason we called that meeting, and the issue that was brought up, is this idea around a revolving door of vulnerable women through the prison system. What happens is that a woman on income assistance, in very precarious housing already, ends up going into jail - often on remand, often never convicted of anything - and is in jail on remand or even convicted.
Going into jail, they immediately lose their main income assistance payment. They might still get a little something, but most of their payment is gone, which means they end up going into arrears on their housing. They lose their housing because they are not paying the rent. Their Pharmacare gets disrupted if they’re using Pharmacare. The type of medications they’re taking get interrupted while they’re in jail.
Then they get out of jail and they basically don’t have anywhere to live. It takes a while for their income assistance to kick back in, and of course it only kicks back in in full if you have somewhere to live, and they have to readjust their medications again. You can imagine the disruption this causes in someone’s life.
What has been relayed to me through a number of experts who work with vulnerable women and women who are involved with the justice system is that very often what happens then is, because people are precariously housed, they end up reoffending or getting involved with something that causes the police to think they’ve reoffended. They go back to jail and it goes on and on. It’s a terrible cycle.
At the time that we had the meeting, I asked the deputies if it was possible to simply press pause on income assistance instead of stopping income assistance altogether. This would mean that we recognize that the person is in jail for whatever reason, their case doesn’t close, they can somehow figure out how to maintain their housing if they’re only going to be there for a couple of months - working with these people in a holistic way to make sure that they can stop the revolving door in and out of prison.
It seemed that we had a good meeting, but obviously there was no commitment at that meeting from the deputies. I’m wondering if the minister can update me on any information she might have about whether or not it is possible to do anything to stop this cycle.
KELLY REGAN: Before I answer this one, the reason I raised Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in my previous answer was because the honourable member mentioned it. My understanding is that there would not be a birth alert on the file of a person who had been in care simply because they had been in care. Again, we offer supports and services to people when they’re pregnant. They may refuse them. They will be offered again.
I know that the honourable member would never want a child to be harmed. That’s why it would be offered to that person again. You have to know that the child has been born to offer it at the time of birth. I will take what she’s saying to heart on that particular part.
In terms of criminalized women, I’ve always been very impressed by the work that the Elizabeth Fry Society does. In fact, we’re working with them to stabilize their core funding now. We’re involved together through the Advisory Council on the Status of Women on the Creating Communities of Care. There’s a lot of Cs in there - there’s Culture in there somewhere.
We’re working with the Department of Justice to come up with some wraparound, holistic supports for these criminalized women. We’re in discussions to see if we can begin income assistance before they’re released. I realize that’s not quite what the honourable member is asking for, but it’s better than what we have now, so that when women come out, they don’t have to go through the process of getting all that started up again.
I think we have some work to do around this issue of criminalized women because often women end up involved in the justice system for reasons that are outside their control. I would just say that I think we have some work to do there. We are working on that with the Department of Justice at this time, to make sure that they don’t lose their income assistance, lose their drugs, et cetera.
SUSAN LEBLANC: I’m really happy to hear that and I look forward to updates on that. I think that’s a really positive step in the right direction. I’m going to hand over the rest of my time to the member for Cape Breton-Richmond.
THE CHAIR: The honourable member for Cape Breton-Richmond.
ALANA PAON: Thank you to my colleague from the NDP caucus for yielding some of their time to me. I wanted to, first of all, say thank you so much to have the minister here. We’ve had some great conversations during this sitting, which I’ve appreciated very much, going late into the evening, as we have all been doing. I’m also extremely grateful - I was advocating for this, as soon as I hit the ground running in 2017 after being elected - and so happy to see that the women’s centre is receiving so much more needed funding. They do incredible work for the Strait area and, of course, Leeside, as well, as an extension of that. I want to thank the minister for doing that, on behalf of the constituents of Cape Breton-Richmond and the Strait.
I wanted to start off by speaking to - and again, the minister and I have had chats about the high level of child poverty, especially on Cape Breton Island. It is absolutely heartbreaking and astounding to me that in 2020 we would still have such an incredible amount of people - and, of course, as I always say, when children are impoverished, families are impoverished, as well - it’s extraordinary to me that we still have this issue that is happening across Nova Scotia, but the level is extremely high in Cape Breton and especially within my constituency.
I know that there have been programs put in place. The Nova Scotia Child Benefit is one of them, and we’ve spoken about that. Over the next 10 to 20 years - if the minister could speak to where she would like to see - because eradication is obviously the goal overall. No child should ever have to live in poverty in our province, in our country. How do we get there? We’ve taken some really excellent steps. I don’t think we’re going to get to zero per cent, obviously, in the next two or three years.
What goals are in place over the next decade, for example - if we could start off with that - that the department foresees would be able to assist with this serious situation we have with child poverty?
KELLY REGAN: I thank the honourable member for the question. I did want to share with her, because I don’t know how widely the information was actually shared. We did - I think it was last week - get new poverty numbers out from Statistics Canada. Nova Scotia made the most progress of any province in the country in reducing poverty.
Our child poverty rate went from 17.1 per cent to 12.1 per cent, which is a 5 percentage points drop. It was the biggest decline among the provinces. Unfortunately, it still remains the highest. I just want to be clear about that. Reason to celebrate, more work to do, kind of thing.
We have a whole list of things that we’re doing right now that I think we’re going to see will work toward reducing that. It’s not just at DCS where we see the changes happening. You look at the change in the minimum wage - $1 an hour is an increase that, if you work full time, is $2,000 more a year. Not in take-home pay, but in your gross pay - so that’s a change there.
The Nova Scotia Child Benefit - a big increase there, depending on the number of children in the family. More people will qualify for it and it will actually lift more families up over that market basket measure. That’s the new measure for poverty - your ability to buy a market basket of things that you need to live - things like rent, food, heat, transportation, all of that. That was the new measure that the federal government brought in, I think, before the last election.
Some of our benefits are free. Not in your particular area, but in Halifax, for example, where we have the free bus pass.
The free pre-Primary, for example, is the kind of thing that means the parent doesn’t have to pay for child care, if they do want to go out and work. We are working to providing before and after child care for those programs. We’re not there 100 per cent yet, but it is something that we’re working on, number one.
Also, those children, who in the past might have gone to Primary and not been prepared, they’re going to see those children are coming in far more prepared now. When they’re more prepared, they’re more likely to do well. If they do well, they’re more likely to graduate. If they graduate, they’re more likely to go on to post-secondary. They’re less likely to be involved with the criminal justice system. They’re less likely to have the kinds of health concerns that you often see with people who are living in poverty. There are impacts.
The honourable member and I will likely be long gone from this place - well, maybe not - by the time that Nova Scotia really sees the long-term impact of this free pre-Primary program. I think that when we look back at our time in the Chamber, I think that’s something that we can take pride in - that this came in, and despite opposition, it rolled out over four years. I can tell you that my particular area was one of the last ones to get it because there were other options in the area, and parents wanted it. So, you look at that.
You look at the standard household rate and, again, if the honourable member had clients in her riding that were not receiving the policy maximum from income assistance before - it’s a part of the standard household rate that a lot of people didn’t talk about, but everybody went to the maximum and then you got 2 per cent or 5 per cent on top of that. So, about a quarter of our clients were not receiving the policy maximum. They’re now getting that. Forty-five per cent of our clients got the 5 per cent increase, so there was that.
The new wage exemption, so that you can earn money and get to keep more of it before it gets clawed back at a much slower rate than before. The child maintenance exemption - $322 more per month is the average that we’re seeing. Even back in 2017-18, the tax changed so that 60,000 Nova Scotians were no longer paying provincial tax. There are all of these things together.
I would love to have a basic income, but the fact of the matter is that we have costed it out. It’s between $2 billion and $9 billion. My budget is $1 billion. The provincial budget is $11 billion. Some people say, then you just don’t have any more services, you just give people money, but we actually have people who would be worse off under a basic income because they’re accessing so much more in services. I would love to have that, but I honestly don’t know how it would happen. Sorry.
ALANA PAON: I’m cognizant of the time here and that I’m going into the next hour, so I’ll just take my seat in a second. I’ll just try to get a comment in or maybe even a question to the minister. It’s wonderful to hear that all of these programs and incentives are in place, having grown up in a community where we had a lot of poverty, obviously, on Isle Madame and in Richmond County. Unfortunately, we still do, but it’s lovely to see that those percentages have dropped.
THE CHAIR: Order. There is a lot of chatter in the Chamber. I ask that you keep it down, please.
The honourable member for Cape Breton-Richmond.
ALANA PAON: As I was saying, we’re seeing gains, obviously, in the percentages that child poverty is decreasing overall in the province. I guess having been a parent to a child on my own, I understand completely the challenges that come with never really seeming like you have enough. I’m very proud of who my son has become, but it would have been wonderful to spend perhaps a bit more . . .
THE CHAIR: Order. The time has elapsed for the NDP.
The honourable member for Pictou West.
KARLA MACFARLANE: We would like to grant our colleague here our next 10 minutes, but before that takes place, I’d like to offer the minister and her colleagues a break, so that when we resume, again, our colleague will take the first 10 minutes and then we’ll take the remaining.
[2:25 p.m. The committee recessed.]
[2:29 p.m. The committee reconvened.]
THE CHAIR: The honourable member for Cape Breton-Richmond.
ALANA PAON: Where I was going with the question prior to our taking a break is that much of the time - and hopefully this is improving - many women who find themselves in unfortunate circumstances and who oftentimes are either single or only parents, it’s just a very difficult situation. You want to give the best that you can, obviously, to your children, to your child, and sometimes, unfortunately, that comes at a cost not only to the child, but also to yourself in trying to improve upon yourself. I’ve seen myself in situations of not having something to eat for two days. I don’t just understand those women, I am those women.
I guess what I would like to ask the minister is that we have women, for example, in my constituency who have been put in just extraordinary circumstances. I know women who have had their children removed from their care for differing reasons, and they have now basically been cleared to have their children back into their care, but one of the stipulations is that they have to have housing. They need to have housing available to be able to do that.
I know that housing is not part of your portfolio any longer, it has gone over to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, but there has to be some sort of a partnership existence here. There’s a gap in programs or there’s a gap in the process. You have women who have basically done the work, they can be granted these children back, who they so desperately want back in their care, but they have nowhere to live, in my constituency. Can the minister please just provide some insight as to where these - I think about 12 different women in my constituency who are currently in that situation - where do they go? What do they do in a situation like this where they’re stuck in the middle? They and their children are paying for it.
KELLY REGAN: We do have money in this budget for more prevention and early intervention. I recognize that she’s talking about women who are in this right now or have been in the past. Our goal at DCS is to support families before they get to that state, where the children are removed from them. We want to help them early on so that they can, in fact, have successful lives, et cetera. That’s part of why we have funding there - an additional $1.7 million and then increasing over the next number of years to $7.4 million over the next few years - so that we can help those families that are in crisis earlier.
I can’t speak to housing, so I don’t know. It’s difficult for me to give you advice about that part of it, but what I would say is that often people don’t know what kinds of supports are out there. Any time you have a client who just doesn’t know what to do, they should talk to their social worker, they should talk to their caseworker to see if they are able to help them. That’s part of what we’re trying to do at DCS, return to social work. We used to always be there - how much did you spend on this and how much did you spend on that? We’re not doing that anymore. People can spend their money how they wish to. That means that caseworkers have time to actually work with people on assisting them to get the help.
That’s also why we’re moving to the digital services. It used to be that when you came into DCS, you had to know which program you needed. How do you know which program you need if you don’t know what all the programs are? That’s why we’re moving to digital services, so that folks can come in and say, this is my situation, and then we can figure out what they need. It’s sort of flipping everything around on their heads.
Things are changing, but we want families to be together. I would urge - reach out to the social worker, reach out to the caseworker and see if they’re able to help. Then also Municipal Affairs and Housing because they have support workers at Housing, as well.
ALANA PAON: Thank you, minister, for your response. I very quickly want to ask a question. I know the department is investing in this initiative in Halifax. One of the greatest obstacles or barriers to people who are on community services is basically finding the money for any extras. An extra in a rural community is transportation. It should be a basic, but it’s transportation.
We have an incredible transportation service called the Strait Area Transit (SAT). I’m wondering if there is any indication of being able to assist clients in being able to get an SAT bus pass for folks to be able to actually get to where they need within Cape Breton-Richmond.
KELLY REGAN: The Department of Communities, Culture and Heritage holds the community transportation file. Through the Poverty Reduction Blueprint, they have been investing in a number of different options and allowing us to test out a number of ways to provide transportation in more rural areas. Absolutely, we have heard this for a decade, that it’s an issue.
In terms of bus service or anything like that, we always have to look at where do our clients live? Are they on the bus routes? How frequent is the service? That was one of our stumbling blocks in dealing with CBRM. We were not seeing a lot of routes or stops and our clients weren’t living on the stops. That’s where we’ve been investing in that for that area. I know the Minister of Energy and Mines helped to buy some buses, et cetera, for that. The long version of the answer is that CCH is the place for community transportation.
ALANA PAON: Mr. Chair, I would like to yield the time back to the PC caucus and to the member for Dartmouth East.
THE CHAIR: The honourable member for Dartmouth East.
TIM HALMAN: I would like to return to the topic of safe houses, specifically the role of adult protection workers. Could you clarify what security checks adult protection workers go through in order to work at a safe house?
KELLY REGAN: I don’t know what a safe house is. I’m not aware of safe houses. I don’t know what that is.
TIM HALMAN: My understanding is that my colleague from Dartmouth North brought up questions related to safe houses. My question is related to adult protection workers in safe houses and what security checks do staff that work at safe houses go through.
KELLY REGAN: I think you’re speaking about places of safety, but you’re talking about adult protection. Places of safety are for children who come into care of the minister who we may not have a place for them right away. That’s not for adults.
TIM HALMAN: What I’m asking about is facilities that are known as safe houses under Adult Protection Services. I sent a letter to your department asking eight general questions around the policies and procedures of safe houses of individuals that are under adult protection. I’m just curious in terms of the policies and procedures that govern those. The first question is related to the training around those who work in those facilities. My question is: What security checks must staff go through in order to work in those facilities?
KELLY REGAN: If it’s adult protection, that’s the Department of Health and Wellness. That’s under their control. We don’t do that at DCS.
TIM HALMAN: It’s my understanding that the letter we sent to your office - verified by your executive assistant - that the questions we asked pertained to your department. Perhaps we could get some clarification as to who is responsible for overseeing these facilities.
KELLY REGAN: As I have indicated in every previous answer I’ve given you, adult protection is not under the Department of Community Services.
TIM HALMAN: I have a letter here indicating that - but it’s back and forth as to who’s responsible for what. When I made some inquiries to the Department of Health and Wellness they sent us to the Department of Community Services. So now, once again, bounced backed to the Department of Health and Wellness.
At the end of the day, we’re just trying to get some clarification for residents as to who is responsible for what. There are some general questions related to these facilities in terms of how they operate.
KELLY REGAN: Again, I’ve never heard the term “safe houses” ever mentioned at DCS. We are not responsible for adult protection. That’s the Department of Health and Wellness. Are you talking about, possibly, the adult rehab centres? I’ve never heard this term before. I have to be honest with the member, I’m completely flummoxed. I’ve been at the department for three years. No one knows what you’re talking about.
TIM HALMAN: I’ll pass the questions over to my colleague for Cole Harbour-Eastern Passage.
THE CHAIR: The honourable member for Cole Harbour-Eastern Passage.
BARBARA ADAMS: When we look at the Auditor General Reports - I’m a fan of those because they’re non-partisan - when I did a search just before today, I was looking at the last Auditor General Report associated with your department, and according to the records that I was able to come up with, the last Auditor General Report relating to the Department of Community Services was June 2016 - Homes for Special Care: Identification and Management of Health and Safety Risks.
I’m just wondering if that is, in fact, the last time the Auditor General has audited your department, that you’re aware of.
KELLY REGAN: We haven’t had an audit since then.
BARBARA ADAMS: I find audit reports really helpful. I’m just wondering, has the minister had any discussions with the Auditor General of Nova Scotia about any pending audits of the department. If so, under which topic would those audits be coming up?
KELLY REGAN: I have not spoken to the Auditor General in my role as Minister of Community Services. I had a conversation with him when I was at the Department of Labour and Advanced Education, but I haven’t had occasion to speak to him, I don’t believe, since then.
BARBARA ADAMS: I guess I would like to ask then, given that the last report before that was back in 2014, and the one before that in 2013 was on Child Welfare - Investigations, Monitoring, and Foster Care, it seems like we’ve gone seven years without any evaluation outside of the department on child welfare and foster care. I guess my question is - back to the 2016 Homes for Special Care: Identification and Management of Health and Safety Risks - is the minister aware of whether all of the recommendations that would have been made in that report have been achieved over the last four years?
KELLY REGAN: We don’t have that report with us. What I can tell you is that when the Auditor General does a report, he does a follow-up to see if, in fact, his recommendations have been followed. Occasionally - not at this department, another department - I’ve had occasion to actually disagree. We explained why we were disagreeing, but that would be the only case where we wouldn’t be working towards meeting the Auditor General’s recommendations.
Sometimes - again, not at this department - you would be 95 per cent there, but that still is listed as incomplete but, in fact, I’ve had no occasion to disagree with him on anything at DCS because I haven’t seen any new reports.
BARBARA ADAMS: I thank the minister for that answer. I want to go to the Advisory Council on the Status of Women for one or two questions. I remember when I first started three years ago and I was the critic for the Advisory Council on the Status of Women, I was told what the budget was for the council and it seemed really small. When I mentioned that to them, they said, we do a lot of good work with that budget. I totally agree and I do want to commend the minister for all of her hard work in bringing women to the awareness of running for politics and all of the other things that go along with that.
I remember at the time thinking the budget was too small and I noticed it has increased, so I’m thrilled about that. One of the things that I had asked way back when was, how much of the budget was designed for the prevention of rape and molestation of women versus the treatment of them after it had already happened; how much was focused on prevention versus management and treatment afterwards?
I’m just wondering if the minister can help me understand, with the new budget, which is higher, is there more money for prevention or is there more money for treatment or is there both?
KELLY REGAN: In terms of the Advisory Council on the Status of Women, I know this is going to sound kind of odd, but actually, the Sexual Violence Strategy money is at DCS, not at the Advisory Council on the Status of Women. It was that way when I arrived there. I’m not sure why, but it just is.
I would note that there was additional money that we announced just before the budget came out, that we announced around the issue of human trafficking - $1.4 million a year for the next five years. That’s on top of the $4 million a year that we’re already spending - not just at the Advisory Council on the Status of Women, but also at the Department of Justice to combat human trafficking. I did want to mention that. I know it’s sort of odd there. In terms of sexual assault, prevention is at DCS, but the treatment aftermath is at the Department of Health and Wellness.
BARBARA ADAMS: I appreciate the extra money that’s going towards human trafficking because I know that all Parties have spoken about this as an emerging crisis in our communities in Nova Scotia. I’m wondering if the minister could advise me. There had been $6 million allocated for initiatives - $2 million every year for three years - for programs to help prevent and treat sexual assault over the years. I know that those were ended last year.
I’m just wondering if the minister has an idea of whether the number of people reporting sexual assault has gone up or down, and if the number of people being taken to court and prosecuted has gone up or down in the past year.
KELLY REGAN: The Sexual Violence Strategy was begun at DCS before I was minister. It ended and we now have $1 million going forward each year. I think it was $2 million a year for a number of years. It’s now $1 million going forward as part of our budget.
I wouldn’t be aware of numbers of people charged on that off the top of my head. You might get that at the Department of Justice, where they, in fact, do have specialized prosecutors for that kind of thing. Obviously, having a specialized prosecutor for that is helpful.
Certainly, we do know that reporting is increasing, I believe, in the wake of #MeToo. I think we’ve seen more women come forward. Where in the past, we might have put up with things, women are less likely to anymore. We’re also seeing that, actually, with domestic violence. Again, you can only base this on police reports, but it appears to be the reporting is increasing across the country at this time, again because I do believe that fewer women are “putting up with it.”
I would also note that in the money that was announced just before the budget - that the Minister of Justice and I did the announcement on - there was, in fact, money for a special prosecutor to do human trafficking cases. I did want to mention that, as well.
BARBARA ADAMS: I am absolutely thrilled to hear that $1 million ongoing budget because I know there were a lot of great programs that were started under those initiatives. Of course, I’m also very grateful for the special prosecutor, as well as all of those other initiatives.
I want to ask about maintenance enforcement. I know that’s not under the minister’s department, but I think it was about a year ago the Minister of Justice had mentioned that there was about $60 million owed in back child support. Of course, if those who are supposed to pay their child support don’t, then these people often end up going to the minister’s department looking for assistance.
I’m just wondering if there is a sense as to whether we are making headway in getting people to pay their child support or whether it’s, in fact, getting worse and therefore placing a greater strain on the Department of Community Services.
KELLY REGAN: I am fortunate that the Minister of Justice answered a question about this recently in the House. He indicated that the amount of money owing has, in fact, decreased. I can tell you that when I was sitting in your seat, I actually asked at the time for a print-out of all the cases that were in arrears. We went through and highlighted everything that was $10,000 overdue - $20,000, $50,000, $100,000, $150,000 and $200,000. There were some really considerable ones.
I can tell you that as a result of new measures that were taking hold at the Maintenance Enforcement program, I had a number of cases as a constituency MLA that I was able to get resolved. I do remember quite clearly one of the workers saying it’s progressive measures. So, you might start off by taking someone’s licence or passport and increasing the severity of what was happening to the non-paying member. In one case, I did have a man thrown in jail. He had sold his business and he didn’t have money to pay for his kids. He found the money eventually.
What I would also say is that the Premier has brought this particular issue to the Council of the Federation. It’s something that he’s very passionate about. He wants to make sure that children get the money they’re owed, that moms get the money they’re owed. We do know from the excellent suggestion that we had from the member for Dartmouth North, we made some changes and, in fact, as a result of that, more women have more money in their pockets, more single moms, because we no longer count maintenance enforcement as income, so that money goes to those children.
BARBARA ADAMS: I must have stepped out of the Legislature when he gave that amount because I think I would have recalled that. I’m very happy to hear that because I know it’s a huge barrier for a lot of people.
I want to ask a question about an issue that the minister and I talked about a few times in the Legislature, which is the opening up of adoption records and looking into that. As we’re all aware, I introduced that legislation and the minister also came to announce that she was going to start the discussions. I know that there was a comprehensive online questionnaire, as well as public meetings, of which I attended one. I’m wondering if the minister can update us on how many people responded to those consultations, both online and in public.
KELLY REGAN: We had over 2,700 people respond online to that survey and 100 also attended the in-person sessions. There were 11 of those around the province. We also received about 25 emails, as well. To update you on that, the draft report is done. It’s editing and from there it will go to translation so that we have it in French, as well. It is my hope that we’ll be able to release it by the end of the month. It could be into the first week of April because I think I kind of jumped the gun and I was supposed to say April and not March, but there you go. So, I might be a week late or something.
We expect to actually have that report out so people can read it. As I’ve indicated when questioned by CBC News, it is my intention to ask for permission to bring in legislation to change the Adoption Records Act.
BARBARA ADAMS: I want to make a special thank you from everyone out there who has been pushing for this for a long time. I can’t speak for the New Democratic Party, but I do believe that this is a movement supported by all Parties. I would be remiss, of course, if I didn’t also state that I know how emotional and emotionally charged this issue is for people on both sides of the issue as to what everyone wants. I am very eager to see what the report has to say and what people who had the courage to come out to those meetings had to share at those sessions. From the one that I attended, it was a gut-wrenching session, especially for those who were still looking for answers, compared to those who already had answers.
It was a major support event for them just to have those who were further along in the journey of finding answers that they were looking for to be there to support those who were still looking. I want to thank the minister from the bottom of my heart for moving forward with this so thoroughly.
One of the other things that I would like to ask about is kinship care versus foster care. In terms of the numbers of children who were placed in kinship care versus foster care, I’m wondering what the total number is and what percentage would be in foster care versus kinship care, on average, over the past year.
KELLY REGAN: Just to be clear, I’m going to give you the numbers, as of December 2019 - and it’s for foster care and kinship care, but not alternative family care, which was the other one that I talked about in my speech. As of December 2019, foster care was 617 and kinship care was 136.
BARBARA ADAMS: It seems approximately the same as what it was a few years ago, give or take a little bit. I’m not exactly sure how the trend has gone, up or down a little. I think it’s fairly close, which is unfortunate because I wish there was no child that had to be away from a loving family, but I am certainly glad that there are other alternatives.
One of the things that I have in my community is that we have a whole lot of grandparents who are now raising their grandchildren. In some cases, there is not an actual custodial arrangement - it’s a parent walked out and the child landed on the doorstep. It might be temporary - it could be three months or six months. I know that in a lot of cases, there are issues surrounding daycares, school registration, access to financial supports - because a lot of these grandparents are on fixed incomes when their grandchildren land on their doorstep.
I’m wondering if there is any movement towards an expedited process for what you do when there’s emergency temporary custody that might change in three weeks’ time, besides going through the court system. I’m just wondering what the Department of Community Services does when a child, perhaps, takes off and goes to Toronto, we don’t know if they’re coming back, the grandparents end up with the grandchildren, but it could be months before you could actually go through a legal application to apply for custody of the child.
I’m just wondering, in those cases - because I have a few in my community right now, where the grandparents are just struggling to deal with the grandchild being there, let alone try to figure out who actually has access, who can make legal decisions, who can talk to the doctor and the school principal - that sort of challenge.
KELLY REGAN: I just want to clean up a couple of things that you mentioned. About the draft report, I will just say that I did notice at least one place in the report where the results contradict each other. Keep an eye out for that because that will be interesting.
In terms of the number of children in care, it is going down. If you look at foster care, in March 2016 it was 676; in December 2019 it was 617. Kinship care in March 2016 was 220; and in December 2019 it was 136. I just wanted to share those numbers with you.
In terms of those grandparents, that’s what that alternative family care program is about, which I mentioned. The child doesn’t ever come into our care. It’s to help them stay with somebody whom they know for up to 18 months. We have to have permanent placements for children; we’re not allowed to keep them in limbo forever. This is where parents can access some funding from us to help look after them because we understand that looking after children takes money.
BARBARA ADAMS: With the remaining time, I’m going to switch to something that we’re all familiar with. The Community Homes Action Group (CHAG) is well-known to all of the members of the Legislature. I believe we were all sent their response to the government’s budget. I just want to read what I have with me here. This was sent to me by email today. I’ll table it afterwards - except it doesn’t have a name on it; I’ll print out the email with the name from the person who sent it to me after I table it.
It says: In 2013, the government announced the road map. It’s a plan to increase community-based living options and decrease reliance on institutions. The time frame for this was 10 years, so the intent was that the work they committed to should be completed by 2023, but the reality is a lot of delays. The two relevant items for the CHAG and the 2020 budget are: $7.4 million to begin transitioning residents out of the ARCs and RRCs; and $2.8 million to increase flex in-home program. The CHAG is encouraged to see the government’s investment in the DSP portfolio, but it remains glacier slow. The recent budget announced by Community Services is going to begin moving 50 people out of the RRCs and the ARCs into independent living supports in the community.
I’m going to stop reading there and ask the minister the first part of their question: the 50 people they are referencing, when will they be moved into the community?
KELLY REGAN: Just so you know, we actually moved 50 people last year. We had funding to move, I think it was 35, and we ended up being able to move 50 people last year. There is money in the budget to move 50 people this year: 25 out of ARCs and RRCs, and 25 from the list. It’s driven by choice. Some people may want to live in a small options home. Some people may prefer to live on their own in community. It’s driven by personal choice.
I don’t know if it was included in all the budget stuff - this is 50, but it’s 400 actually over four years; I’m just not sure if they heard that part of it - again, split between the wait-list and folks who are living in ARCs and RRCs.
I was saying earlier to one of our colleagues who was asking about this - I think it was the member for Sackville-Cobequid - what we found in the past is that sometimes the person wants to move from the facility where they’ve been living most of their life, and the family doesn’t want them to. The family is comfortable with it. They know how their family member is being treated. They know they’re safe there. Sometimes it’s difficult for family members to wrap their heads around that. Sometimes people think they want to move out, they get really close, and then at the last minute they don’t want to.
We have done a planning exercise where we have done preliminary plans - where do we think this person wants to go, et cetera - but then we have to do detailed planning such as what services and supports do we need in place so that person can move out safely and successfully. Safely is one thing, but also successfully because we’ve seen situations where people move out into a situation that is not quite right for them, and then it’s hard for them sometimes to get back to their old placement, or it makes them sad to move back to their old placement. We’re really trying to be conscientious about this, but we are committed to moving forward to this.
Sorry, it’s 400 over six years, pardon me. It was 70 a year.
We’ll be working hard to identify options beyond the 400 because we find that sometimes when someone moves into a less structured environment, then somebody else can come behind them. This isn’t so much the ARCs and RRCs, but the people who are on the wait-list who are receiving services from us, but they want something different. Somebody else may be able to come behind in whatever situation they were in and be able to move there, and that will be an improvement for them, so it ends up creating space all along the way.
BARBARA ADAMS: I thank the minister for that answer. I agree completely that the worst thing you can have happen is for somebody to attempt a transition and for it not to be successful, because that comes with a whole lot of emotion on top of the challenges that they’re already facing.
I’m going to continue to read the Community Homes Action Group’s letter. It says: We hope that 50 people will finally be able to move out of institutions and take their rightful place in their communities, but how long will it actually take to get these 50 people released and relocated. The minister just answered that. Community Services said they will be moving these people into the Independent Living Support program, which will provide up to 31 hours per week of support for people living in their own homes. One wonders why it took so long to release these folks from such expensive institutional care.
My question to the minister is: The Community Homes Action Group’s statement that the Independent Living Support Program will provide up to 31 hours per week of support, what kind of supports does that look like, and who makes that determination?
KELLY REGAN: It will depend on what each person needs as to what they get. There have been some leaps there, and there will be individualized planning for each person who moves out. Again, our goal is to have this be safe and successful. I understand people have been waiting for a long time. They probably thought this would never happen, but we actually did start moving people out last year, and we plan to continue doing so.
BARBARA ADAMS: I’ll just carry on with the letter from the Community Homes Action Group. It says: We worry about delays. For example, the government announced they were going to open eight small options homes in communities in Nova Scotia starting in the 2017 budget. To date, only three of those homes are fully operational, three more are on the runway, and two still in the planning stages. In this budget, there was no mention of addressing the hundreds more people on the wait-list for small options homes. No joy for them in this budget, just more delay. The $2.8 million in flex in-home care is a band-aid for our growing problem we’ve been talking about for years. Hundreds and hundreds of adults now on wait-lists, living with aging parents, wanting to start their lives, take their rightful place in supported living options in their communities. They are no closer today than they were seven years ago. The budget is called Better Together. It looks like the hundreds of people with disabilities will just have to keep living better together in institutions and on wait-lists for many years longer.
What I’d like to ask the minister is, to go back to the statement about, “to date only three of the homes are fully operational,” I’m wondering if that’s the exact number right now and when the other five are expected to be open and fully operational.
KELLY REGAN: Currently, three homes have opened: New Glasgow in July 2018, Isle Madame in January 2019, and New Minas in September 2019. Of the remaining five homes, three will open by June 2020. One each is being developed in Liverpool, Yarmouth, and Halifax Regional Municipality. The remaining two will open by the end of 2020: one in Clare and one in HRM. These locations were chosen based on the needs and requests of those on the service request list.
I will just say that the member has had the benefit of seeing this letter, which I have not seen. What I would say is that, clearly, when CHAG wrote that letter, they didn’t know about the 400. I would just convey that along, I guess. Again, this is going to be driven by individual choice. Not everybody is going to want to live in a small options home. Somebody might want to live by themself in an apartment and that’s okay if it’s the right thing for them.
Again, client choice will be at the heart of what we do. I do appreciate the patience that parents, particularly of folks who’ll be moving out, have shown. We have been pretty clear that we plan to close our large facilities - ARCs and RRCs. We won’t be pushing anyone out. Our plan is to reach out to people who want to move out of them until it comes to a point where, of course, it’s unsustainable at a given facility. Our plan is to keep those facilities open while we, in fact, move out people who are ready to make that big move.
BARBARA ADAMS: I finished reading the article from the Community Homes Action Group, so I just wanted to follow up on what the minister said about the plan to close the institutions themselves. You said that you weren’t going to be forcing anybody to leave, that you would look for, you know, who’s ready to go.
I know that there are quite a number of allied health professionals, physicians and other service providers that already provide those wraparound services in the group homes. I know that there have been reports written on how best to support people in the community. I’m just wondering if the minister can tell me how those support services, which were in place in the institutional setting, where every provider is coming to one place, how that cost will compare to those same providers travelling around to various group homes. I’m just wondering, the cost comparison - is it going to be more expensive, less expensive? How is that transition going to be for those wraparound services?
KELLY REGAN: We’re working with the Department of Health and Wellness to make sure that the supports that people received in these larger facilities will be in place once they go out into the community. We’re also working with the large facilities now and we’ll be working with them for quite some time into the future so that not just the residents, but also the staff - some of the staff will go with the new homes.
For a while it is going to be more expensive because we’ll be running those large facilities while we’re actually moving people out into the community. We know that. The alternative was shutting down certain ones. We looked at how much disruption that would actually cause. At the end of the day, we looked at what we thought was probably the less disruptive option for our clients, for staff, et cetera. We recognize it has a financial cost to it, but again, these are Nova Scotians and we want to make sure that they have a very successful transition into their new lives.
BARBARA ADAMS: I am aware of a lot of the consultations that are going on with some of those organizations. It is, indeed, extremely thorough. I know that they feel very valued in the information that they’re able to provide the minister’s office.
With the remaining few minutes, I just had a question. My understanding from when I started three years ago was that the adoption rate was relatively low in the province because a lot of people feel supported in making the decision to raise their children. I’m just wondering if the minister is able to share with me approximately how many adoptions took place over the last couple of years and whether the trend is going up or down. You may not have that. It wasn’t a relatively high number, that I can recall.
KELLY REGAN: I can’t give you the trend line, but I can tell you that the number of children who were adopted in the 2018-19 fiscal year was 93. I would point out that some of those would be step-parent adoption. We spoke in the House about our various experiences with adoption. I adopted my own child because my husband, who was technically their stepfather, was adopting them and if he adopted them, then he would be their sole parent. So, I had to actually adopt my own children, which is kind of weird, but that’s the way it goes. I would just say that some of those would be step-parent adoptions in there, as well.
BARBARA ADAMS: I thank the minister for that answer. That’s an unusual circumstance. I don’t know how often that happens. I am wondering, though, where there are custodial court cases where the mother versus the father is applying for sole custody, how often the sole custody is given to the mother versus the father.
KELLY REGAN: I don’t have that kind of information.
BARBARA ADAMS: With the last minute that I have - the minister had mentioned group homes and the eight that are coming on board over that certain period of time. I’m wondering, where we have people who are in institutional care who were younger adults at the time, what the plan is as they age into what would be an elderly state, possibly requiring residential care, long-term care, what the plan will be for those group homes when these people become seniors with, possibly, mobility issues and whether these group homes will be designed to allow someone to age in that same facility or home.
KELLY REGAN: What I can say is right now I’ve seen many instances where people are, in fact, aging in place. Sometimes that can end up with mobility issues, but the new homes that we’re producing now are, in fact, meant to be barrier-free so that people will be able to do that.
I would now like to wrap up the Budget Estimates. I would like to say that as the Minister of Community Services and the Minister responsible for the Advisory Council on the Status of Women, I love coming to work with the people I work with. They do great work. I’m proud of them every day. I just want to say that Rob stepped in for Pete Newbery, who has done 100 of these Budget Estimates. Pete’s up in the gallery right now. Rumour has it he might actually retire.
THE CHAIR: Shall Resolution E4 stand?
Resolution E4 stands.
That concludes our 40 hours of Budget Estimates.
We will now take a short recess until the Chair of the Subcommittee comes.
[3:27 p.m. The committee recessed.]
[3:29 p.m. The committee reconvened.]
RAFAH DICOSTANZO: Madam Chair, I am pleased to report that the Subcommittee on Supply has met for the time allotted to it and considered the various Estimates assigned to it.
THE CHAIR: Shall all the remaining resolutions carry?
The resolutions are carried.
The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. GEOFF MACLELLAN: Madam Chair, I move that the Committee of the Whole on Supply now rise and report these estimates.
THE CHAIR: The motion is carried.
The committee will now rise and report these Estimates to the House.
[The committee adjourned at 3:39 p.m.]