Prior to infant's death, review of foster home company revealed concerns about discipline, supervision
Six children removed and one home no longer licensed
Concerns around discipline and inadequate supervision were uncovered in the first phase of a provincial review of B & L Resources for Children and Youth — the same private company that managed the home that was fostering four-month-old Vanatasia Green who died earlier this week.
In early December, social workers heard complaints from four children from four different foster homes. Eleven children lived in those four homes. As a result of those complaints, six children were removed from those placements. Four children were returned to their families. The remaining two children were moved to other foster homes, according to a department spokesperson. There were no disclosures of sexual abuse.
"It makes me concerned in the sense that I'm wondering if there's more kids who are at risk who are not being identified," said Natasha Reimer, a former foster child turned advocate with Foster Up, a University of Winnipeg support group for former foster children.
Reimer says she does not trust the findings of this review because in her experience when kids speak up in foster homes they may suffer the consequences.
"You're moved or you're told that what you're saying is not true and it can't be substantiated. And they always believe the adult."
Three of the four B & L managed homes where children raised issues still hold their licence but one of them does not "because of the concern that came to our attention." said deputy minister Jay Rodgers, who was in charge of the review ordered by Families Minister Heather Stefanson in late November after a CBC News report revealed children were left in the same foster home as their abuser.
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There is nothing to stop the foster home that closed from reapplying for a new licence. The licensing agency would consider the reasons related to the closure as part of its decision-making process, said a department of families spokesperson.
All 409 children in B & L foster homes were interviewed twice by their appointed social worker over a 10-day period ending in early December, according to the departmental spokesperson. This represents close to four per cent of Manitoba's children in care based on the province's latest figure of 10,776.
'Concerns' were not abuse
All four children's concerns were determined to be "unsubstantiated" which means they did not meet the threshold of abuse as defined in CFS legislation, according to the spokesperson. Abuse under the CFS act is defined as an action that causes physical injury, permanent emotional disability or sexual exploitation.
"[CFS] Agencies were made aware of what I would describe as concerns related to inadequate supervision or discipline. Those were followed up on," said Rodgers.
Rodgers would not get into specific details but he did give some general examples. Inadequate supervision could include leaving a child under 12 home alone; inadequate discipline could include inappropriate use of time outs, withholding allowances and "physically related" concerns.
"That's almost always just a matter of working with the foster parents, educating the foster parents, possibly getting them to access some training around positive parenting and positive discipline," said Rodgers of discipline concerns in general.
The threshold of what is considered abuse under Manitoba's CFS Act was scrutinized at a legislative review committee last year.
The CFS agency in charge of investigating abuse in Winnipeg, All Nations Co-ordinated Response (ANCR) says the definition is limited.
In the case of emotional abuse, a disorder must be diagnosed and it must be proven to have resulted from the emotional strain on that child.
"If we have a case where a child is forcibly confined and there's no physical injury we can't proceed on physical abuse," said ANCR CEO Sandie Stoker, who would not speak about specific cases.
"Most of us would think that's abusive so it cannot just be limited to the presence of an injury."
She said under the current definition of abuse, a child could be severely emotionally mistreated and their caregiver would never be considered to be abusive.
Winnipeg Child and Family Services, which licenses the 170 B & L homes made sure all the foster home licences were up to date as part of the review, according to the department.
The province placed a moratorium on new placements in B & L homes in the days after it called a review in late November. That moratorium was lifted last week.
No budget was allocated to phase one of the review and it was completed using existing resources, according to Rodgers.
Phase 2 includes file audits
The terms of reference for phase two of the review includes an audit of foster home files and review of recruitment and training.
"There were some issues related to licensing that we discovered in the first review that we need to follow up on," said Rodgers.
When asked to elaborate on what training needs to be improved, Rodgers pointed to cultural proficiency to make sure B & L managed foster homes are "the most culturally appropriate environments."
That work will be done in collaboration with the three Indigenous CFS authorities, Rodgers said.
Manitoba's regulations require that the licensing agency is satisfied foster parents provide "a culturally appropriate environment for the children placed in the home."
Nearly 90 per cent of children in CFS care are Indigenous.
Community grandmother Leslie Spillett says children have a human right to know their own culture.
"Children need to have deep connections. We all yearn for a deep connection to people, to culture," said Spillett.
"It's world views, it's connection to where your ancestors are from, it's relationship to the land and to the people of that land."
She says social policies, which include removing children from their homes, have disrupted that connection, and cultural activities, while positive, do not erase that damage.
"We're going to take these children but we're going to put them in a powwow club. That is not a solution. That is kind of tokenism at its very best."
Spillett holds out hope the system is changing, albeit slowly. "We can't rely on people that it's their job."
"We need to invest heavily in families. We need guaranteed annual minimum incomes at the very least of social policy. And we need to return power back to communities to be able to heal itself. It can be done."
Southern First Nations Circle of Care CEO Tara Petti said she is looking forward to working closely with the Department of Families to ensure B & L homes meet the needs of children who require placements.
"The most culturally appropriate home for any child is within their own family, and this is our greatest priority," Petti said in an emailed statement.
Rodgers says the talks with B & L have been productive and they are working towards signing a service purchase agreement contract to ensure accountability.
B & L did not respond to a request for comment.