Nfld. & Labrador

Blue Sky home permit revoked in Grand Falls-Windsor

The town council in Grand Falls-Windsor has voted to revoke the permit of a company operating a group foster home, saying that it has dealt with dozens of complaints at the home. However, the company says the majority of the complaints have to do with policy issues.

5 complaints from the public, remaining 76 from internally; company cites curfew violations

Blue Sky won its appeal against the Town of Stephenville's decision to not allow a youth home to be built in the community back in September. However, the town has decided to take the decision to the Supreme Court Trial Division. (CBC)

The town council in Grand Falls-Windsor has voted to revoke the permit of a company operating a group foster home, saying that it has dealt with dozens of complaints at the home. However, the company says the majority of the complaints have to do with policy issues.

It's the latest setback for Blue Sky, which was hired by the Newfoundland and Labrador government to run homes for foster children in residential settings. In the past, the government had housed children who could not be otherwise placed in foster care in hotels and motels. 

But council said it has collected 81 complaints — including for assaults and broken curfews — in the past four months. 

At Tuesday night's meeting, Coun. Darren Finn said that was unacceptable. 

"When you do exist in our community, there's an expectation that you fit into the neighbourhood, you blend in with the residential neighbourhood around you," Finn said. 

"Where an operator can't do that, then we won't allow you to operate ... We're really forced, in this case, to revoke the permit." 

Blue Sky, which has also faced stiff opposition from councils in three other towns, has until November to close the home.

Residents of a neighbourhood in Corner Brook also petitioned the city council to close a group foster home there.

No one from the company could be reached for immediate comment on the decision of the council in Grand Falls-Windsor. 

Company cites curfew violation as source of complaints

John Whelan, director of operations with Blue Sky, said the company was unaware the town was even planning on discussing the group home prior to council's decision.

"We have no prior warning that this was going to be discussed, we have no opportunity to participate in the discussion and to answer some of the questions the town undoubtedly had," he said.

According to Whelan, he hadn't received any direct complaints about issues at the home, and said most of the complaints filed with the RCMP from internally would be in relation to curfew violations.

"Those children don't always make the best situational decision in the moment. The key driver of all those, and there's been a big story made of it, is the issue of curfew."

Curfew is a policy put into place by Child, Youth and Family Services, Whelan said, and when a person of a certain age is late for their curfew, staff are obligated to call the local police. Staff have no discretion on the issue and are required to follow the policy, he said.

Whelan added the RCMP told him there is no real difference in the number of complaints being recorded when compared to the previous care provider.

However, Mayor Al Hawkins said he doesn't believe the majority of the complaints are about curfew issues.

Hawkins said the town doesn't have an issue with foster care or the company's philosophy on providing care, but there are issues about the Blue Sky's operation of the home thus far.

'Failure of the operator' cited

Finn said the town is not opposed to a group home itself, but is not happy with Blue Sky's management. 

Darren Finn: 'We're really forced, in this case, to revoke the permit.' (CBC)

"Our decision is purely based in what we believe is the failure of the operator, to operate in the way that they should, because they agreed to — as an operation — to operate so that it doesn't impact the residents around them, and it has," he said. 

Whelan said Blue Sky plans to appeal the town's decision to a regional appeal board.

The company successfully appealed a similar decision in Marystown this summer. 

Earlier this month, the town council in Stephenville decided to take the appeal that it lost in August to court. 

More recently, the town council in Botwood has ordered the company to cease operations, citing such concerns as vandalism. 

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