01/11/2012 12:27 EST | Updated 03/12/2012 05:12 EDT

Manitoba auditor cites problems with foster care, government appointments

WINNIPEG - Manitoba's auditor general says some of the province's foster homes are not being reviewed consistently and the central child welfare database is inaccurate.

The problems continue to exist despite being raised years ago, Carol Bellringer writes in a wide-ranging report that also highlights problems with food inspection, automobile insurance and government appointments.

"Similar issues were reported in our 2006 report...and we would have expected these areas to have been remedied within (child welfare) agencies," Bellringer wrote in the report released Wednesday.

Bellringer's office examined Animikii Ozoson Child and Family Services Agency, which serves aboriginal children in Winnipeg. The review found 22 of 62 foster home licences under the agency's purview were expired.

When the auditor's office delved into 10 foster home files, it found half had not been received quarterly visits by social workers as required under provincial standards. The review also found the agency hadn't provided up-to-date information to the province's central registry for children in care.

Premier Greg Selinger promised to address the shortcomings.

"When the auditor general says they want better information and a better database to support foster parents, we support that, so we take those recommendations seriously," he said.

"There will be investments in the information system to upgrade it and make it stronger, and those have been ongoing since the last report."

The audit also revealed serious problems with how Animikii Ozoson handled money. While the auditor found there were no inappropriate uses of funding, she cited a lack of safeguards to prevent abuse.

Some people at the agency wrote cheques to themselves, and most credit card charges were not subjected to formal review or approval.

"There is a risk that an individual could initiate an inappropriate transaction without it being detected," Bellringer wrote.

The auditor also examined the way the province fills more than 1,200 appointed positions to provincial boards, agencies and commissions. She found that one in five appointees had been in their position for more than 10 years. Bellringer suggested there be term limits to allow other members of the public to participate.

The audit also found that one in four appointees was serving a term that had expired.

She recommended that the process of filling vacancies be started earlier than the current four months before a term's end.

Selinger said the government has already cut into the backlog, and has started looking at renewing or filling appointments six months before the end of a term.

"There's going to be a move to a six-month notice...so there's more preparation to fill these positions."

The auditor also found food inspection in Manitoba isn't meeting targets. Less than half of the province's restaurants, farms and processing plants are being inspected annually, which is a government goal.

As well, some inspectors who review processing plants, farms and slaughterhouses have given advanced notice of their visits.

"Without the element of surprise, an inspector may not get an accurate sense of the way a food establishment typically operates," Bellringer wrote.

Some 90 violations, including 14 critical ones, were not followed up with a reinspection, she added.

The province's publicly run motor vehicle insurance agency also came under criticism for being slow to provide benefits such as income replacement for people injured in car accidents. Manitoba Public Insurance managed to provide those benefits within the targeted 21 days in only 40 per cent of the cases examined.

MPI was even slower in providing other benefits on occasion, including three cases where wheelchair allowances were delayed by between five months to two years. In another case, a permanent impairment award of $8,300 was delayed for three years.

The province's schools also came up in Bellringer's report. The Department of Education sets program standards for more than 7,000 students, but does not monitor school divisions to ensure they comply, she wrote.

"Setting standards without developing an accompanying monitoring system reduces their effectiveness."

Government officials, in a written response to Bellringer's report, said work is already underway to review a sample number of students each year.