CBC Investigates

Foster home operator says drug use, improper discipline allegations 'false' and 'intended only to embarrass'

The owners of Specialized Foster Homes say allegations of negligence and inappropriate treatment of children are "false, vexatious and intended only to embarrass or disparage" in a document filed in court in May.

Dourado homes intoxicant-free and kids kept in line with reward system: court document

Jesse and Cristy Dourado deny allegations made by Dakota Ojibway CFS that they treated children in their care inappropriately. The Province of Manitoba licenses Jesse Dourado's current facilities for children in CFS care. (Joanne Levasseur/CBC)

The former operators of foster homes for high-risk youth in western Manitoba say allegations of negligence and inappropriate treatment of children are "false, vexatious and intended only to embarrass or disparage" in a document filed in court in May.

It's the latest move in an ongoing dispute between Jesse and Cristy Dourado — owners of the now-defunct Specialized Foster Homes, which housed high-risk youth in care — and Dakota Ojibway Child and Family Services, or DOCFS.

The legal wrangling started in November when the Dourados filed a $162,000 suit in Brandon's Court of Queen's bench to recoup money they said they were owed for services rendered.

Two months later, DOCFS fired back with a countersuit alleging a litany of problems, including improper discipline and children being permitted to do illegal drugs. The Dourados strenuously denied those allegations in their reply to the counterclaim.

They said their homes were intoxicant-free and when drugs and alcohol were found, they were immediately seized. As for discipline, they said they used a system of withdrawal and rewards consistent with the standard of care for foster parents.

The Dourados also took aim at the allegation that they failed to ensure appropriate criminal and child abuse registry checks for Specialized Foster Homes staff. Their reply states DOCFS was "solely responsible" for records checks.

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

13 foster homes, 45 beds

The Specialized Foster Homes program started in 2007 as the result of needs identified by the province's CFS Hotel Reduction Strategy, which aimed to reduce the number of kids in the care of child and family services housed in hotels.

Specialized Foster Homes eventually grew to 13 foster homes with 45 beds, according to a ministerial briefing note.

The Dourados state they started fostering children in their own home and based on the "strength of the care" provided, DOCFS retained them to provide "wrap around services to the highest risk children."

A daily fee was paid  for each child to the Dourados in exchange for recruiting foster parents, purchasing and renting homes, and placing children in homes, according to court filings.

That arrangement continued for years, yet no formal agreement was ever put in place, according to the Dourados' court filings.

"[The Dourados] deny that any contract existed between themselves and the defendant, DOCFS."

DOCFS stopped paying the daily rate for services the Dourados claim were already rendered, "and in doing so created an untenable situation whereby the [Dourados] were being forced to provide care to children for free," said the court document.

Twenty-one children who were wards of DOCFS were moved to a different facility in May 2016, after the agency revoked the foster home licences, according to court documents.

In their reply, the Dourados allege DOCFS "had in place a plan to force the termination of its relationship with the [Dourados] and engineered the termination of that relationship in order that they could remove the children from the care of the [Dourados] and place them with another operator in an unlicensed facility."

The document does not specify which facility that was.

Part of that plan was to impose "new and unreasonable reporting requirements, making them effective retroactively and capriciously and without justification refusing payment for services already provided," according to Dourados' court filings.

New business still takes in children in CFS care  

Jesse Dourado still works with children in care. He now operates a number of sites in Brandon under a new company called Brightscape Endeavours.

The province licenses the homes as "places of safety" — locations that are safe and usually for short-term emergency placement of a child needing to come into care. 

"To date, 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," wrote a provincial spokesperson in March.

The company houses children in care of agencies other than DOCFS. 

"We are glad that we will finally have a chance to share the evidence in court, when the time comes," said Jesse Dourado in an emailed statement.

The lawyer for DOCFS, Dean Kropp, said the agency takes serious issue with the allegations made by the Dourados. 

"To comment beyond what is set out in the pleadings at this point while there is ongoing litigation before the court would be improper," said the lawyer's written statement, sent Wednesday.

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

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With files from Vera-Lynn Kubinec, Katie Nicholson and Caroline Barghout