Manitoba·CBC Investigates

Investigation into foster homes confidential, won't be released: children's advocate

The provincial government asked the Office of the Children's Advocate to review a foster home program operating in western Manitoba two years ago, a review was completed, but neither the government nor the children's advocate will reveal the outcome.

Office of Children's Advocate says report on Specialized Foster Homes has sensitive, 'child-specific' details

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)

The provincial government asked the Office of the Children's Advocate to review a foster home program operating in western Manitoba two years ago, a review was completed, but neither the government nor the children's advocate will reveal the outcome.

"The recommendations provided are being acted upon," a spokesperson for the provincial department of families said in a statement to CBC News.

"The department of families is actively engaged with the OCA (Office of the Children's Advocate) and has committed to providing regular updates on the progress it has made in addressing these recommendations."

In the Manitoba Legislature on Wednesday, Families Minister Scott Fielding tabled a two-year-old letter referring the matter of licences for a foster home operator in western Manitoba to then-children's advocate Darlene MacDonald for investigation.

The move came hours after CBC News reported Dakota Ojibway Child and Family Services had accused a former foster care operator in western Manitoba of delivering improper care.

In court documents filed in a lawsuit, DOCFS alleges Specialized Foster Homes have used inappropriate discipline procedures on kids in their care, allowed them to use illegal drugs and hired care staff who had previously been accused of abuse.

The allegations have not been proven in court.

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)

Manitoba's children's advocate is an independent body — under the control of Daphne Penrose since April 2017 — that looks into deaths and allegations of mistreatment of kids under the care of Child and Family Services. The office gained new powers Thursday that allow Penrose to make more of her review findings public, and expands the scope of her office's duties beyond child welfare to justice, health and education.

Letter asks for investigation

The May 18, 2016, letter signed by Fielding asks the advocate to investigate the cancellation of foster home licences for 13 foster homes operating in the Brandon area under the Specialized Foster Home program.

The letter says the licences were cancelled by Dakota Ojibway Child and Family Services in May 2016, raising concerns about services provided by both DOCFS and the foster homes. There were 39 children placed in 12 of the 13 homes, the letter said.

Manitoba Families Minister Scott Fielding tabled the 2016 letter during question period at the legislature Wednesday and CBC News obtained a copy. (Bryce Hoye/CBC)

The minister asked the children's advocate to do an investigation under the authority of the Child and Family Services Act. The review was to identify any safety concerns for the children before or after the decision to cancel the licences, as well as events leading up to that decision.

The review also asked the children's advocate to comment on the nature and seriousness of any safety concerns and make recommendations.

"The Office of the Children's Advocate completed its review and submitted its findings and recommendations to the department in December 2016. However, it is not the province's report and we cannot release it," said the government spokesperson.

The Office of the Children's Advocate also says it cannot release the report.

"The review our office completed is confidential and not available to the public," said Ainsley Krone, acting deputy children's advocate.

"In addition to looking at policies and regulations, our review contains significant child-specific information that was shared with us in confidence from youth."

CBC News has asked the advocate for release of the recommendations in the event privacy rules prevent release of the entire report.


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With files from Katie Nicholson

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