I've seen a lot of criticisms from the Provincial Auditor, but never have I seen something like this. The Oyate Safehouse is a small operation intended to protect children aged 12-15 who are victims of sexual exploitation. The facility is funded by Saskatchewan Community Resources.
After allegations that clients of the safehouse were still involved in prostitution while living there, the Provincial Auditor was asked to investigate.
The his report released today, the Auditor makes a number of unnerving observations. What will be the fate of the Minister of Community Resources? What about the Members of the Board? The Minister should resign for allowing this to go on under the government's watch.
We found that DCR did not use adequate practices to supervise Oyate’s activities. DCR did not follow all of its established processes to select Oyate to operate a safe house for children. For example, it selected Oyate to deliver the services even though Oyate had no experience in the residential care of children.
First, its Board did not understand its roles and responsibilities and thus did not set clear direction or adequately monitor Oyate’s performance. Second, Oyate did not have the capacity or the necessary skills to care for at-risk children.
For example, Oyate often hired staff that did not have the required knowledge, skills, or abilities to care for sexually exploited children. Third, there have been several allegations of mismanagement and wrong-doing at Oyate. However, DCR did not closely supervise Oyate or take adequate corrective action when it became aware of the allegations.
Of course, the board members had to get their honorariums...even if they weren't doing their jobs.
Oyate received $136,000 as a ‘start-up’ grant from DCR in March 2003 to develop programming for specialized services for the client group. DCR told us it expected Oyate to use the grant for recruiting, training staff, and to develop a program and community partnerships. Appendix B shows the budget and spending from this development fund. Oyate has spent $100,000 of this money at March 31, 2006. We found no evidence that Oyate developed a program designed for children in its care. We found no evidence that Oyate has built community partnerships.
Oyate paid more than $10,000 ($1,800 from the operating fund and $8,250 from the development fund) for Board honorariums even though DCR’sservice agreements do not allow Oyate to pay honorariums. Also, Oyate’s bylaws do not allow board members to be paid for their services. The honorariums were similar to amounts paid by government agencies for board honorariums.
Oyate paid $6,000 (recorded as a purchased service) to a contract employee to develop a personnel-scheduling system. Oyate spent a further $3,200 in ancillary expenses for this contract employee to attend computer training and for travel expenses. Oyate could not provide us with evidence that this $9,200 in spending resulted in a functional personnel-scheduling system. Oyate paid a further $7,600 for consulting to various contractors. We could not determine what services the contractors provided.
And then there's the turnover...
Although Oyate operates with only six full-time staff, it has employed about 60 staff since 2003 (two employed continuously since it began operations). High staff turnover may be the result of staff conflicts as alleged by former employees. The turnover may also be due, in part, to the lower salaries at community-based organizations (such as Oyate) than those salaries paid by DCR to employees of Department-owned residential programs (such as Dale’s House and Eden House). The Government has an initiative to improve the pay scales in community-based organizations to help address this issue.
Throw in a little nepotism for good measure.
Oyate staff are employees of the File Hills Qu’Appelle Tribal Council (FHQTC) and are governed by the FHQTC Personnel Regulations, March 24, 2005 (policy manual). The policy manual states that any person who is an immediate or extended family member of an existing employee and who is hired in a permanent or temporary position, or contracted, shall not be placed in a direct supervisor-subordinate relationship with that existing employee. We are aware that several employees at Oyate were relatives of people in supervisory roles.
The policy manual requires that where an applicant for a position is a relative of a member of the selection committee, the member of the committee shall excuse him/her self from any decision-making process.
We understand that several employees and contracted staff were relatives of Board members. As the Board minutes provided to us were incomplete, we were unable to determine if members of the selection committee appropriately excused themselves from the decision-making process.
Hiring of relatives is not in itself inappropriate. However, it can give the perception of inappropriateness if not done correctly. Several of the allegations of wrong-doing related to hiring and preferential treatment of relatives.
And now for some political correctness...
Another criterion was the inclusion of cultural values and traditional principles of treatment and healing for delivering services. RT/SIS’s proposal for this component was based on the First Nations Sacred Way of Life holistic healing model. DCR could not explain what this model entails. Oyate board members could not describe the nature and purpose of this model to us. During operations, Oyate did offer cultural healing circles to the children in its care.