Manitoba·CBC Investigates

Winnipeg CFS launches internal review after volunteer charged with sex assault

Winnipeg Child and Family Services Agency has suspended hiring new volunteers pending a review of recruitment practices, after a volunteer was charged with sexual assault.

Child and Family Services Agency stops new volunteer hires pending review of recruitment practices

Winnipeg police have charged a 35-year-old man with the sexual assault and sexual interference of a boy under the age of 16. The accused was working as a volunteer for Winnipeg CFS when the alleged abuse occurred. (Shutterstock)

Winnipeg Child and Family Services has suspended hiring new volunteers pending a review of recruitment practices, after a volunteer for the agency was charged with sexual assault.

In July 2018, Winnipeg police charged a 35-year-old man with sexual assault and sexual interference involving a boy under the age of 16. Court documents show the alleged abuse took place between April 2017 and April 2018. CBC News is not naming the accused to protect the victim's identity.

The province repeatedly said the accused man was assigned to tutor the child in the family home and was fired as soon as the child came forward with allegations this past April. But sources told CBC News the man took the child out of the home on weekly outings. 

Late Wednesday afternoon a spokesperson for the Manitoba Department of Families admitted it made a mistake.

"We previously indicated that tutoring occurred in the home. We erred in providing information about this individual's duties at a point in time when information on this matter was still coming in," the spokesperson's email said.

The spokesperson did not say what service the volunteer provided to the child. Only that the man's job title was "tutor."

"A tutor may provide support both in and outside a home," the spokesperson said.

Province launches internal investigation

The province has since launched an internal investigation.

"Following these serious allegations a decision was made to review the process and put a hold on hiring any volunteers until the review was complete," the spokesperson for the Manitoba department of families said in an email.

The province also said the child was not in care, and that under the Child and Family Services Act, the agency is allowed to use volunteers to provide services and supports to families, to prevent the placement of kids in care.

"Agencies have discretion as to when and how these services are provided but they should be based on the needs of the family and with the goal of preserving and strengthening the family unit," the spokesperson said.  

Winnipeg CFS currently has 130 volunteers working as mentors, drivers, tutors and assisting with special events. Volunteer job postings appear on the Volunteer Manitoba website, the province said. 

"Agencies are required to screen volunteer applicants with a child abuse registry and criminal record check. An agency must be satisfied with the results of those checks before allowing the volunteer to work with a child," the spokesperson said in an email.

Record checks not enough: Centre for Child Protection

The Canadian Centre for Child Protection says organizations that give employees or volunteers access to kids need to do more than just check if an individual has a criminal record or is on a child abuse registry.

"The majority of individuals who potentially could be a problem will not have a criminal record. So what that means then is that organizations that are serving kids or providing services for children need to make sure that they have other things in place to help mitigate the risk," said Noni Classen, director of education for the Canadian Centre for Child Protection.  
Noni Classen is the director of education for the Canadian Centre for Child Protection. She says in 90 per cent of cases of child sexual abuse, the abuser is known to the child, and that's why organizations who give employees or volunteers access to kids have a duty to control and monitor that access. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Organizations must monitor and control access to kids, Classen said, to ensure they are not providing opportunities for individuals who want to take advantage of them. That means establishing a code of conduct that clearly outlines professional boundaries for anyone working with kids such as:

  • No contact with the child outside of work duties without prior authorization.
  • No transporting kids for personal purposes.
  • If you are assigned a role that requires one-on-one time with a child, like tutoring, you should do it in a public space, or with a parent or guardian present.

Classen said it's not realistic to think that an adult will never be alone with a child, so it's important for organizations to ensure proper supervision, accountability and visibility.

The province said there is regular communication between volunteers, the volunteer co-ordinator, assigned case manager and the child's family.

"Generally speaking, all activities are agreed upon with the family before the volunteer support begins and the family always makes the final decision for the child on an ongoing basis. Volunteers must sign an agreement that provides a description of their role," the province's spokesperson said in an email to CBC News.

As part of the internal investigation, Winnipeg CFS is reviewing its hiring policy as well as the information packages provided to all volunteers.

Boundaries must be defined

It's important that all the adults organizations allow into a child's life demonstrate what boundaries should look like, Classen said, so it will be obvious to the child when someone steps out of line. 

"We're establishing those standards for kids so they know where the bar is, they know what's appropriate in case they're coming from environments where they didn't have that as a model," said Classen.

The Canadian Centre for Child Protection provides training for organizations, sporting groups and any other groups who want to better understand what practices they should have in place to better protect children. It also provides information for caregivers to help them determine if the organization or sporting team their child is involved in, is taking the right steps to protect them from predators. 

"The contact that they're having with kids though an organization they're volunteering with or working for is privileged access — so it doesn't mean that they just get to extend access carte blanche to kids because that's where risk comes in," said Classen.

Classen said everyone should be on the same page when it comes to the expectation of individuals working with children and those policies must be ingrained in every employee, volunteer, caregiver and child involved. So if someone breaks a rule — even if it's not a crime — it won't go unnoticed. 

"We all have to do our part, and if we have a role with children, then we have a role in terms of our responsibilities to be mitigating that risk," said Classen.

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About the Author

Caroline Barghout

Reporter, CBC Manitoba

Caroline began her career co-hosting an internet radio talk show in Toronto and then worked at various stations in Oshawa, Sudbury and Toronto before landing in Winnipeg in 2007. Since joining CBC Manitoba as a reporter in 2013, she has won an award for her work on crowded jails and her investigation into Tina Fontaine's death led to changes in the child welfare system. Email: caroline.barghout@cbc.ca