Manitoba to phase out contract workers for CFS kids in hotels, shelters

The Manitoba government said it will tighten up training requirements for temporary employees looking after children in emergency care, ensure the children are better supervised, and phase out the use of contract employees altogether by March 2016.
The Best Western Charterhouse Hotel in downtown Winnipeg is used by contract companies for emergency placements of children in CFS. Tina Fontaine, a 15-year-old who was also placed there, did not report back in to her worker. She was found dead a short time later. (CBC)

The Manitoba government said it will tighten up training requirements for contract workers looking after children in emergency care, ensure the children are better supervised and phase out the use of temporary employees altogether by March 2016. 

It comes as Family Services Minister Kerri Irvin-Ross vows changes to the system after red flags were raised in several cases, not least of which was Tina Fontaine, whose body was found in the Assiniboine River after she ran away from her placements a number of times. 

Irvin-Ross said the review validates concerns about the quality of care and supervision being provided to kids in care.

The minister called for the review in the fall after a CBC News investigation revealed as many as 80 children a day were being housed in hotels.  

Some had spent more than seven months in what was supposed to be a temporary shelter and had been exposed to drugs and prostitution during their stay. 

Irvin-Ross said the government will implement the eight recommendations made in the report. 

"What we're doing today is we're providing training to contract staff and our own employees and making sure people will have the training they need to best supervise the children that present themselves ... often with complex needs and trauma," she said. "So they need special services." 

The government said as of today, there are nine children in hotels, including five siblings from one family.  

$13M spent on contract staff with children in hotels, shelters

The province released a review of Emergency Placement Resources, which provides short term placement for kids in Winnipeg, Thursday. 

The review says casual contracted staff are used exclusively in hotel placements and in about 30 per cent of shelter shift work.  

It's a system that's been in place since the late 1990s.

Last year, the government spent $13,422,600 on three companies, Complete Care In Home and Hospital Health Services Inc., Drake Medox Health Services and Compassionate Care Home and Hospital Health Services Inc. that use minimum wage employees to supervise children in hotels and shelters when there aren't enough provincial employees. Compassionate Care did not handle any hotel placements. 

The review found the contract staff were in compliance with contract conditions, with required first aid training, background checks and similar certification. 

But it found shortfalls in training. Government contracts referred to ongoing training and monitoring for all temporary staff, but no specific description of what that training should be. 

Once initial training was done when the employee was hired, the companies believed 'ongoing training' referred to re-certification for things like first aid and CPR, the review found. 

Fifteen-year-old "Katy" said she has been introduced to a variety of illicit drugs at a hotel within the past few months, while under care. (CBC)
The review recommends existing contracts be reopened to specify the need for 'ongoing, progressive youth care training' for contract staff.

It also found that since workers are paid minimum wage or slightly above, there is high staff turnover. 

The contracts require the companies to provide services that are professionally and ethically sound and to ensure children are protected and safe. But they don't specify how those goals should be met.

Workers checked by phone as they supervise kids in hotels

The review found a "lack of clarity" when it came to contract staff supervising children in hotels.

Contracts require the companies to ensure children's safety and that staff are monitored.

But according to the review, Complete Care believed the CFS agency placing the child was ultimately responsible.

The review said Complete Care did telephone checks with its staff and would send staff to hotels if a large number of children are placed at one time or if they exhibit extreme behavioural problems.

Tina Fontaine, 15, was reported missing on Aug. 9. Her body was found in the Red River in Winnipeg on Aug. 17. She had run away from several emergency placements. (Family photo)
The review found the lack of clarity "may contribute to unwanted situations and unfortunate outcomes."

It also found that staff were operating without a lot of information about the children in their care. 

It says that makes it difficult to match the worker with the necessary skills needed by the child. 

A variety of contract workers used in CFS shelters is also an area the review targets for improvement.

It says the constantly changing staff work against creating a stable environment for children who often have been traumatized.

It recommends the province hire more regularly scheduled departmental employees at each shelter to provide a more consistent level of care.

The review says when incidents happen in shelters there is a rigorous process that includes a review and follow-up.

But that is not the case where incidents occur in hotels.

The report found that lack of documentation makes it impossible to determine the frequency, nature and resolution of incidents that have occurred in hotels.

The recommendation is to increase the frequency of supervision when kids are placed in hotels to at least one visit every 24 hours and to make that a "provincial standard of practice." 

The review also points out that each company has a process for handling complaints, but it was "unable to ascertain if all complaints are properly reported and resolved." 

It concluded by finding that the province could save more than a million dollars a year if it took over supervising children in emergency placements. 

It found that the proportion of money paid to contracted staff has gone from 21 per cent in 2007-2008, to 33.4 per cent in 2013-2014.

It says last year, it paid government and contract staff $25,502,618. It says if 495 government employees had performed the services, the cost would have been $24,139.495, a savings of $1,363,123.