Alleged abuse case raises red flags about lack of Indigenous foster homes

Several siblings were removed from the care of their father, after his daughter alleged years of abuse. But all children couldn't be placed in a foster home together.

New Mi'kmaq child welfare agency focusing on recruiting families, says lack of homes not 'critical'

A judgement in Miramichi family court has raised concern about a lack of Indigenous foster homes.

A child protection case involving a large family from a New Brunswick First Nation is raising alarm bells about the challenge of finding foster homes in Indigenous communities. 

There are more than five children in  the family, and all of them were placed in the temporary custody of their mother after one child, a young girl, accused her father of abusing her.

The mother lost her bid for custody in 2017, court records show.

Child protection officials have been involved with the family for nearly a decade. Most of the complaints "involved alleged domestic violence either involving the spouses or the father and the children."

But with so many children, there were few alternatives.

"There would be no way of keeping them together in one foster home," Justice Fred Ferguson wrote in his September decision.

'Significant dysfunction'

The judge's ruling paints a bleak picture for the children.

"When one considers the mental, emotional and physical health of the children it is clear that significant dysfunction has been part of the world these children have grown up in over the past many years," the judge wrote.

In 2017, three months after the father was awarded custody of the children, he pleaded guilty to assaulting their mother.

A 911 call recorded him threatening to rape and "beat the [expletive]" out of her. He received a six-month conditional sentence for the crime.

This past June, allegations surfaced that a child was being abused.

In his ruling, Judge Fred Ferguson said the children have lived in a world of 'significant dysfunction.' (CBC)

When social workers interviewed the children's mother, she corroborated the allegation, the ruling says.

Even after the children were taken from the father's custody, he continued to have supervised visits with them, including the girl who was allegedly abused. Two aboriginal family support workers attended each visit.

The girl told social workers she didn't want to visit her father.

"I don't want to see my dad ever — I don't want to talk about it," the girl said.

No charges laid

The allegations were reported to the RCMP and investigators recommended criminal charges.

In New Brunswick, Crown prosecutors have the final say on whether charges are laid. The Public Prosecutions Service screens charges to figure out whether there is a reasonable prospect of conviction.

"To this date a decision has not been made whether Public Prosecutions will launch a prosecution," the judge wrote.

"One of the investigators testified that there has been no request by the local Crown Prosecutor's Office for further investigation on the file."

A spokesperson for the RCMP referred questions about the case to the province's Public Prosecutions Service, which also declined to answer questions.

The father's lawyer did not respond to a request for comment.

Foster home shortage 'concerning' but not 'critical'

A judge said investigators have recommended criminal charges against the father. RCMP in New Brunswick referred questions to the Public Prosecutions Service. (Matthew Howard/CBC)

Placing a family of many children into foster care would be "very challenging," according to Oona Keagan, CEO of the newly-formed Mi'kmaq Child and Family Services New Brunswick Inc.

"The more children that are involved, the more difficult it is to have somebody put up their hand and say, 'Yes, I will commit,"' Keagan said.

While Keagan wouldn't comment specifically on the case, she said a lack of foster homes is "concerning" but not critical.

That's because the new agency has two full-time staff members who are actively trying to recruit Indigenous foster families, with a focus on placing children with family members when possible.

Mi'kmaq Child and Family Services New Brunswick Inc. CEO Oona Keagan says the organization is trying to be proactive in recruiting and retaining foster parents. 0:55

"At the moment, I believe that through our proactive recruitment of foster home placements that we are adequately meeting the need," Keagan said.

The agency, formed on Jan. 1, merged child and family services from seven Mi'kmaq communities.

That has freed up more resources to focus on things like prevention.

The merger was recommended by Bernard Richard nearly a decade ago, following a review of the First Nations child welfare system.

The review was prompted by the death of 13-year-old Mona Sock from Elsipogtog First Nation. She took her own life after being placed in a foster home with a convicted sex offender, who went on to sexually abuse her.

Clarifications

  • An earlier version of this story has been revised to remove some information that could identify the family.
    Oct 15, 2018 5:00 PM AT

About the Author

Karissa Donkin

Karissa Donkin is a journalist in CBC's Atlantic investigative unit. Do you have a story you want us to investigate? Send your tips to NBInvestigates@CBC.ca.