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November 1, 2007 permalink
Child protectors in Alberta have bullied parents and the media into keeping quiet about the names of protected children, even dead ones. Now lax record handling by a social worker has exposed the records of many families to public view in a dumpster.
October 31, 2007
Private details in dumpster
Government documents found by bottle picker
By BROOKES MERRITT, SUN MEDIA
Personal information about local foster parents - including driver's licences, health-care numbers, and even a social worker's private notes on how kids were being raised - turned up in an Edmonton dumpster yesterday, free for the picking.
In fact, it was a bottle-picker who found them.
Kevin, 51, was checking his daily "trapline" of dumpsters east of NAIT yesterday morning when he hit what he called an identity-theft jackpot: hundreds of government documents containing the entire lives of foster families from Morinville, Stony Plain, Spruce Grove and other areas.
"It's the kind of stuff that should be locked up or shredded," said Kevin, who didn't want his last name printed.
One of his own kids is currently in foster care.
"It could have been me in these files. It could have been my daughter. These people must really be hoping that nobody else got to this information before I did. This is the kind of information that could enable the wrong kind of person to track down a kid," he said.
After stumbling across one bulky folder in the dumpster, Kevin called Sun Media.
A reporter joined him and they returned to the dumpster at 11908 105 St. to recover a second folder and countless other documents.
The folders and documents belonged to Joan Conibear, a social worker with the Spruce Grove Child and Family Services Centre.
Police said the files were stolen Friday from Conibear's van at the Chateau Louis Hotel, where she was attending a work function.
Conibear cried yesterday after learning the documents had been located.
"I've hardly slept since then. I called the police immediately and reported it ... I've been so worried," she said.
One of the parents whose information was recovered is worried about her case file having turned up in a dumpster.
"Those files are supposed to be sealed. I was under the impression they weren't to ever leave the government offices," she said. "Who's to say someone hasn't already taken the information they need from these documents (to steal an identity)?"
Guy Quenneville, a case worker and union steward at the Spruce Grove centre, said it's not the first time such an incident has taken place.
"On paper this stuff is supposed to be kept under lock and key, but the reality is we bring our work home with us. If a family needs to meet a case worker after hours, we grab their file and meet them."
Child and Family Services spokesman Cheryl Oxford said the people whose information was compromised are being contacted.
"The protection of people's personal information is of vital priority for us," she said. "Due to the nature of this work there are times when information may be travelling in a person's vehicle. In this case a vehicle was broken into."
FILES FROM CHILDREN'S SERVICES
Here is some of the information included in Alberta Children's Services documents found in an Edmonton dumpster:
- Allegations of sexual misconduct and physical abuse in foster homes
- Details of investigations conducted by Children's Services
- Detailed behavioural assessments of foster parents and foster children
- Contact numbers for foster parents, foster children and case workers.
- Financial statements of foster parents
- Information about parents whose kids were seized by Children's Services
Source: Edmonton Sun