A Quebec youth court judge is slamming Batshaw Youth and Family Centres, the youth protection agency that serves English-speaking Montrealers, for ignoring a mother's concerns about her children's neglect in foster care and the unsanitary conditions in which they were living for a decade.

The  woman's children, 11 and 13, were forced to live in a cluttered, dirty home with bedbugs and cockroaches and were denied access to regular baths. They were also left alone by their foster mother for long periods of time.

In her decision, Judge Annie Savard blamed Batshaw for not giving the children the services to which they had a right.

"In wanting to keep the children with someone they considered to be significant, their foster mother, at all costs, [the agency] neglected to address their basic needs," she said.

Savard awarded the children's birth mother full custody of her children.

Mother had serious concerns

The children were placed in the foster home in June 2007. Their mother lost custody because she didn't have financial stability or a regular place to live, and she had drug problems.

About a year ago, the mother made a request to revisit that decision, arguing that she was sober and had made other lifestyle changes, and she felt she was able to meet the needs of her children.

She told the court she'd had serious concerns about her children's foster home for several years — concerns she raised with social workers on the case.

Those concerns included:

  • The children could not wash themselves regularly because the bathtub was full of clothes.
  • The children had lice and bedbug bites.
  • Their sheets were rarely changed, and the curtains were stained, also from bedbugs.
  • The home was cluttered, dirty and infested with cockroaches.
  • The foster mother often left the children at home alone in the evening so she could go to church.

The foster mother acknowledged the issues with the insects and cleanliness but denied leaving the children alone during the week to go to church.

A Batshaw social worker was assigned to the case in 2013 and wrote a report saying the foster mother had provided him with proof of steps taken to deal with the infestations, including moving them into a different apartment building.

That report also detailed the foster mother's struggles providing the children with academic support and applying consequences for bad behaviour, and it mentioned an educator had been assigned to the home to help.

The 13-year-old girl said she and her brother spent a lot of time alone, and she often had to cook for him because the foster mother was at church. She also confirmed the disarray at home, the cockroaches and the bedbugs.

She told the court she mentioned the issues to the social worker but downplayed them so she wouldn't anger her foster mother.

In December 2016, the foster mother was still having trouble at home and their new apartment had bedbugs, but Batshaw made the decision to keep the children in the home because they were attached to the foster mother.

Judge places blame squarely on Batshaw

In her judgment, Savard acknowledged there was a lack of transparency on the foster mother's part in her dealings with the social worker.

However, Savard lays the blame squarely on Batshaw Youth and Family Centres for the children's ordeal, saying leaving them in the foster home compromised their security and development — and that Batshaw didn't do anything to stop that.

Batshaw has not commented on the ruling.

Lucie Charlebois, the minister of youth protection, says the case raises concerns.

"They already have made some corrections, and we're looking to work with them to make sure that situation [does not happen] again," Charlebois said.

With files from Lauren McCallum and Angelica Montgomery