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Former foster home operators accused in lawsuit of inappropriate discipline, letting kids use drugs

A former operator of foster homes for high-risk youth in western Manitoba is being accused of permitting children in care to use illegal drugs, engaging in inappropriate discipline procedures with children and using staff who were subjects of abuse allegations to provide care.

Court documents accuse Specialized Foster Homes of inappropriate care, putting kids at risk

Dakota Ojibway Child and Family Services accuses Jesse and Cristy Dourado, operating as Specialized Foster Homes, of providing inappropriate care for high-risk youth. (CBC)

A former operator of foster homes for high-risk youth in western Manitoba is being accused of permitting children in care to use illegal drugs, engaging in inappropriate discipline procedures with children and using staff who were subjects of abuse allegations to provide care.

The allegations were filed in court by Dakota Ojibway Child and Family Services (DOCFS), which accuses Jesse and Cristy Dourado, operating as Specialized Foster Homes, of providing inappropriate care.

CBC News has also learned that Specialized Foster Homes has been the subject of at least five provincial investigations since 2014, though no details of any review have ever been made public.

Jesse Dourado continues to provide child welfare services to the province.

Cora Morgan, First Nations family advocate for the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, said if the allegations turn out to be substantiated, it is a serious issue. She said the entire system needs re-thinking.

The first priority for us and our teams has always been the safety and well-being of the children.- Jesse Dourado

"I strongly, strongly believe that mainstream society has to take a look at what is happening in this current child welfare system, because people have these glamorized ideas that children need to be taken and that they are put into these loving foster homes, and that isn't the reality," she said.

The Dourados initiated legal action against DOCFS, which was established to provide child and family services to the seven First Nations in southern Manitoba, last November.

In an agreement that began in 2008, the Dourados were to find residences and foster parents for high-risk youth in CFS care, and received a per diem to cover all costs, including food, clothing, shelter, medications, incidentals, travel, and respite care for when foster parents were absent, the claim said.

The Dourados say the agency revoked the licences of their foster parents in May 2016. They are suing for more than $162,000 — money the foster home operator says it is owed since DOCFS stopped making payments in 2016.

The Brandon office of Dakota Ojibway Child and Family Services, which alleges in court documents that Specialized Foster Homes put children in care at risk. (Riley Laychuk/CBC)

In its statement of defence filed last month, DOCFS also alleges the Dourados failed to use appropriate foster parents and respite providers, and failed to ensure that appropriate criminal records, child abuse registry and prior contact checks had been conducted.

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

Jesse Dourado declined an interview request but sent a statement to CBC News.

"When we filed the original claim, we were confident in our position and the statement of defence doesn't change that. We are pleased that it will be handled in the court system where evidence of claims is important and that we are confident in our judicial system and the process," the statement reads.

"The first priority for us and our teams has always been the safety and well-being of the children and that will always continue to be the most important thing."

Make provincial reviews public: NDP

Manitoba's Opposition NDP critic for child welfare, Bernadette Smith, said the findings of provincial review reports into Specialized Foster Homes should be made public.

"If these allegations are proven to be true it is troubling. We need to be doing better for kids. You know, families are entrusting these kids to be in places and spaces that are safe for their children."

The Dourados' lawsuit alleges that in 2016, DOCFS breached the foster agreement by unilaterally and without warning withholding 50 per cent of the per diems they were to be paid.

DOCFS responded to the lawsuit by saying it withheld funds only after learning the Dourados were in breach of the foster agreement by allegedly billing for "respite services that were not provided," the defence statement said.

The Indigenous agency alleged the Dourados refused to provide supporting documentation outlining how the funds were being spent, despite repeated requests, the court document said.

"The plaintiffs billed and accepted payment from the defendant for services, including respite services, that they had not provided to children," said the DOCFS document.

The Dourados alleged DOCFS changed the reporting documentation it required, and did not give "reasonable notice of the change in the reporting requirement, such that some of the documentation sought by [DOCFS] did not exist," the claim said.

Allegations 'unfounded'

The counterclaim alleges the Dourados were "especially egregious" when "funds provided to them for the care of the children were not used for the care of the children as they were obligated to do." 

The agency further says that the children placed in the care of Specialized Foster Homes "were at risk of harm as a result of the plaintiff's failure to abide by the Child and Family Services Act and Regulations and had failed in their duty and obligation to act in the best interests of the children."

The Dourados "failed to allow [DOCFS] access to the children and failed to participate in a required bi-annual review," the document alleges. It also says they refused to allow DOCFS access to the children's medical records and reports.

DOCFS's court document says the Dourados were "allegedly falsifying and fabricating supporting documentation by requiring respite providers to sign blank time sheets and documents."

The Dourados counter that DOCFS "alleged financial impropriety on the part of the plaintiffs which the defendant knew, or ought to have known was false and without foundation."

They also allege DOCFS "made unfounded and unsubstantiated allegations of abuse and wrongdoing on the part of the foster parents which the defendant knew, or ought to have known, were false."

Review prompted by 2 incidents

In 2014, two serious incidents in Specialized Foster Homes — the beating of a respite worker at one of the Brandon foster homes, and a fire in a barn at another foster home near Souris — prompted the provincial government, along with Child and Family Services agencies, to initiate a review of the foster homes.

That review was not completed. Instead, Manitoba's Office of the Children's Advocate conducted a review. That office will not release the report, though, citing confidentiality.

Provincial government records show that Jesse Dourado was paid more than $2 million in 2016/17 for services through the Department of Families.

He said he is not currently providing foster care but is the CEO of Brightscape Endeavours, which was paid $1.5 million through the Department of Families in 2016/17.

Brightscape Endeavours is licensed to operate "places of safety," which are usually for short-term emergency placements for a child who needs to enter care, a spokesperson for the province said. "Places of safety" can be for treatment or could include placement with extended family, the provincial spokesperson said.

"Brightscape Endeavours has offered programs to youth with some of the most complex issues and they have adhered to the regulations and policies, in line with their licence," the spokesperson said.

Dakota Ojibway Child and Family Services declined an interview request.

In a statement, the agency's lawyer, Dean Kropp, said it would be improper to comment while the case is in court.

"DOCFS takes very seriously its obligation to provide care and support to the families and children for whom they are responsible," Kropp's statement said.

"The actions of DOCFS in this case were guided solely by the best interests of the children who were entrusted to their care."

A Manitoba foster care operator is facing troubling allegations that raises the question: Are high-risk kids properly being taken care of, particularly in a system where many of them are Indigenous? Perhaps even more troubling than the issue itself is that getting an answer from the government is proving almost impossible. 2:36

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