Manitoba

Complete Care ex-worker speaks out on CFS youth placed in hotels

A former support worker with Complete Care, a company hired by the Manitoba government to watch foster children who are placed in hotels, says she quit because she was frustrated that teens were falling through the cracks.

'Spend a few dollars on these kids,' Vivian Ketchum says to Manitoba government

A former support worker with Complete Care, a company hired by the Manitoba government to watch foster children who are placed in hotels, says she quit because she was frustrated that teens were falling through the cracks. 2:14

A former support worker with Complete Care, a company hired by the Manitoba government to watch foster children who are placed in hotels, says she quit because she was frustrated that teens were falling through the cracks.

Vivian Ketchum, who worked for Complete Care between 2009 and 2011, says government officials have no idea how dangerous it is to place children and teens in hotel rooms with minimally trained staff.

"These are teenagers, and they're going to put a dollar sign on these kids' lives? That's ridiculous. Spend a few dollars on these kids," she said.

"They're not trash, sorry. As an aboriginal, as a mother, these kids aren't trash."

The company has a contract with the province to supervise children and youth in care who are placed in hotel rooms as a temporary measure.

Hotel stays are only used in emergency situations, or when no shelter can take children and youth, according to the province.

The Child and Family Services Department says most of the work related to hotel placements is done by Complete Care, which received $8.4 million in funding last year.

'They would go'

Ketchum's responsibility at Complete Care was to sit with children and youth in their hotel rooms, but she said she had no power to stop those who wanted to leave.

"So if they wanted to go, they would go," she said.

"Basically there's a phone in there … and you'd have to call the [Complete Care] office and let them know that so-and-so left, and you'd put the phone down and you hope that they come back."

Ketchum said the expectations that Complete Care had of its workers were not very high.

"When I was first told about these shifts, about looking after kids in hotels, I heard from other workers like me, 'Oh, this is a plum job,'" she said.

"'Sometimes you don't even have to be with the kid,' they tell me. 'You could stay in the room, order food, watch TV, and it's a really easy shift.' I was kind of puzzled at that. That was not our job."

She added that she does not recall ever seeing a social worker visit the hotel rooms to check up on the children and youth in care.

'Very bad atmosphere'

Teens in CFS care who have been placed in hotels told CBC News they witnessed prostitution and were introduced to drugs there — all while they were supposed to be under the supervision of Complete Care support workers.

Ketchum recalled seeing hotel bar patrons eyeing teenage girls whenever they had to go downstairs for lunch.

"Sometimes the kids would be dressed provocatively in short skirts, but that's just teenagers. And then you could see the older guys around look at them and it's kind of like you are putting these children basically in a wolves' den and it's a very bad atmosphere for them," she said.

"You take them out of a dangerous situation … and then put them into a more dangerous situation? That's not right."

In August, another Complete Care worker checked Tina Fontaine into the Best Western Charterhouse Hotel in downtown Winnipeg, but the 15-year-old girl did not stay.

Over a week later, Fontaine's body was recovered from the Red River. Police are treating her death as a homicide, but no arrests have been announced to date.

Ketchum said in this situation, the blame has to go above Complete Care.

"Complete Care is not totally to blame…. You can't place the blame on us as workers. The blame has to go higher up," she said.

"There is a disconnection from the social services minister to Complete Care, so there is a big disconnect. They don't know what's going on."