Manitoba·CBC Investigates

Investigation into foster home sexual abuse up to Metis CFS, says Pallister

Brian Pallister says it is up to Metis Child and Family Services officials to review what happened in a Manitoba foster home, following revelations staff at the agency overseeing the home admitted they "dragged their heels" when sexual abuse allegations arose.

Opposition critic calls for government to stop contracts with private foster-care agency

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister said Friday he stands by Families Minister Heather Stefanson's decision to defer a decision on whether the province will launch an investigation into how abuse allegations in a foster home were handled. (Warren Kay/ CBC News)

Brian Pallister says it is up to Metis Child and Family Services officials to review what happened in a Manitoba foster home, following revelations staff at the agency overseeing the home admitted they "dragged their heels" when sexual abuse allegations arose.

"The legislation requires us to respect the agency [Metis CFS] and that's exactly what we plan on doing as far as further actions," the Manitoba premier said Friday.

Pallister made the comments after a CBC News investigation this week reported on a secret recording that captured a director of B & L Resources for Children, Youth and Families, a for-profit company.

In the recording, the director says B & L did not act quickly enough to separate children from their abuser after allegations of sexual abuse arose in a foster home overseen by the company in 2016.

The Metis Child, Family and Community Services Agency was the legal guardian of the alleged victims at the time the abuse is said to have occurred.

In light of the report, Pallister said Friday he was open to the possibility of calling an investigation — something he said his party, while in opposition, demanded of the previous NDP government in light of another case involving an abused child in care.

"As an opposition, we called for investigation into the Phoenix Sinclair situation, as you know, for close to half a decade before investigation occurred," said Pallister.

The five-year-old girl was beaten to death in 2005 by her mother and the mother's boyfriend after social workers closed Phoenix's file.

Act says CFS director has power to conduct investigations

The premier's comments Friday followed calls for government to conduct its own review.

Manitoba's Child and Family Services Act states the director of Child and Family Services has the power to "conduct enquiries and carry out investigations with respect to the welfare of any child."

Pallister's statements backed up Families Minister Heather Stefanson's wait-and-see approach to ordering an investigation.

"The Metis Authority [which oversees the Metis Child, Family and Community Services Agency] is working with the department cooperatively and so it would be premature to order the director to initiate a unilateral investigation," Stefanson wrote in an emailed statement Friday.

"If that becomes necessary we will."

'This agency failed children': NDP

NDP Families critic Bernadette Smith says Stefanson needs to act now to get to the bottom of what happened.

"It's her responsibility to ensure that agencies are run properly and this agency failed children," said Smith.

"Obviously the system isn't working, so she needs to go and do her own investigation. You know, her simply saying she's going to respect the process is not good enough."

NDP Families critic Benadette Smith says Families Minister Heather Stefanson needs to call a provincial investigation. (Warren Kay/CBC News)

In the legislature on Friday, Smith called on the province to "stop all contracts" with  B & L Resources for Children and Youth, which was hired by Metis CFS to recruit and supervise foster homes.  

The province has paid the company $51.2 million over the last five years for services. That doesn't include any amount paid by Metis CFS or other CFS agencies.

The Metis CFS Agency's actions in the case are being reviewed by the Metis Child and Family Services Authority, which oversees the agency. There is no obligation for the review to be made public, despite calls from Smith to do so. 

Billie Schibler, who speaks for both Metis CFS entities, would not specify when the review started.

"It began when we were notified of that there were concerns around the safety of children in our care and is ongoing," Schibler wrote in an emailed statement.

B & L did not respond to a request for comment.

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