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Prince Edward Operational Review

January 30, 2013 permalink

Following disclosure in the press of sexual abuse in Quinte foster homes, the Ministry of Children and Youth Services conducted an operational review of the Prince Edward Children's Aid Society (PECAS) lasting from December 2011 to January 2012. Recently Chris Carter obtained a copy through freedom of information. It is available in photocopy form (pdf) or as a webpage.

The investigators examined files and conducted interviews with CAS board members and management, foster parents, foster children and the OPP. As is usual in this kind of evaluation, real families were left out, appearing only in statistical tables as persons exercising access. At the time of the review PECAS had 34 foster children, close to our estimate last June of 33.

There are some redactions in the released copy. The heaviest redactions cover what was found in their own files, corroborating the view that the most damaging statements about CAS come not from opponents, but from their own documents.

There are large numbers of system failures reported, mostly incomplete information in the files. Among the failings outside the file system, foster parents are not informed about the requirements of the children placed with them and the board of directors is kept in the dark. Board members learn about problems by reading the newspapers.

The last section of the report, RECOMMENDATIONS AND REQUIREMENTS has the suggestions and directives for improving things. Appendix B has some suggestions from earlier ministry supervision of PECAS. When real parents try to make life better for their children, they think of providing better necessities, food, clothing, shelter. Or when those are provided for, better educational and recreational opportunities, maybe sports, music lessons or a vacation trip. None of these things are in the operational report. The recommendations and requirements expressed in mind-numbing prose are all for actions within the bureaucracy, mostly keeping files up to date. If children are mentioned at all, it is as an afterthought. Example:

8 Recommendation: Establish a plan with clear time lines that includes the use of objective and skilled expertise to address existing conflicts within the organization in order to establish more effective working relationships. Concurrently, develop policies and practices within the organization that encourage collaboration and coordination in providing services for children and that support initiative and the exchange of ideas in developing holistic approaches to meeting the needs of children

Since the review, the Prince Edward CAS has been merged into the Highland Shores CAS.

Addendum: The Belleville Intelligencer has two articles stemming from this report. The paper takes credit for the FOI efforts by Chris Carter.



Ministry probe condemns County CAS

Mark Kartusch

The Prince Edward Children's Aid Society repeatedly failed to provide adequate protection for children entrusted in its care, a previously unreleased government investigation has shown.

Findings of a dysfunctional PECAS were released to The Intelligencer following a freedom of information request filed last June.

The heavily redacted report — which chronicles an investigation undertaken by the Ministry of Child and Youth Services in December, 2011, and filed internally in January, 2012, following a rash of child sex abuse charges against foster parents in the County — shows the agency was rife with significant internal conflicts, recklessly placing vulnerable children in homes that were not properly screened and in some cases not screened at all for months.

Among the stunning revelations in the ministry probe was that of a board of directors that rarely communicated directly with the former executive director, Bill Sweet, and a body that was repeatedly found to be unable to ensure the society met compliance with government regulations.

“Some board members learned of the allegations of sexual abuse (in foster homes) through the media,” the report shows.

In one case — that of a 71-year-old man eventually convicted in 2012 of molesting two girls in his foster care over several years — it became clear that despite numerous complaints from two girls, just days apart in 2005, “neither was verified” and the society continued placing young girls in the Bloomfield home.

“The rationale for the decision was not recorded,” the report states.

In the aforementioned case, there is evidence in the files of 11 alleged incidents of abuse, including complaints of sexual molestation, but investigation of those allegations was not done in “compliance with child protection investigation standards.”

In the case of the Bloomfield home, the investigation, inexplicably, was “delayed for 30 days” and the assigned CAS worker was not involved in interviewing the man eventually convicted of the crimes. He has since filed an appeal.

The scathing report also documented rampant violations of child protection legislation and widespread disregard for proper keeping of records related to homes where children were abused.

“The society is having increasing difficulty in meeting requirements for children in care,” the summary of the investigation showed.

The PECAS “overall legislative compliance has declined from 73.5 per cent to 60.7 per cent since 2009,” the review states. “Significant conflict among staff is having an impact on service delivery.”

Some child abuse complaints were not reported to the ministry and some homes remained open without much scrutiny despite of complaints from children.

Staff described the work environment as “very divided and stressful,” further indicating a once positive working environment significantly deteriorated in the two years leading up to December 2011.

Some staff complained about being unable to effectively advocate within the agency for children on their caseload because they have “no working relationship with staff in another department and/or with then executive director (Sweet).”

Sweet and majority of the board have since been replaced in a merger between PECAS with Belleville-based Highland Shores CAS.

In page after page of the summary of the overall 500-page package secured by The Intelligencer, shocking findings of shoddy procedures and dysfunction were itemized, including allegations of sexual abuse in certain foster homes that were regularly sealed, preventing staff from accessing relevant files needed to block future placement of children in homes under investigation.

Further troubling discoveries show files “seldom record the rationale for any decision” made within the society. Many files for allegations of abuse provided “no rationale for investigation outcomes or decisions.”

At one point, the very ability of the children's aid agency to function as a legal entity was under scrutiny and ministry-imposed restrictions. The society had been assigned a provisional, or temporary, foster care licence twice in a six-month period leading up to December, 2011, when the investigation was launched. A provisional foster care licence required the agency make several recommended corrections to policy and procedures before the probation period was lifted, but the report showed the agency failed to comply after the first provisional licence was issued and a second order was put into effect.

Other sections of the study review showed cases in which home study investigations required as part of foster home approval were not completed. Children were placed in homes (officially referred to as “places of safety”) that were opened without proper screening, including lax police record checks of parents in some cases.

“The society is not meeting requirements for designation of a place of safety,” said the review. “Not one of the files reviewed was in compliance.”

“There are a number of instances where children are residing in homes where (investigations) ha(ve) not been completed as required,” the report reads. In one case, (a home study) “had not been completed a full 12 months after the home had opened.”

Two foster parents filed grievances to the Child and Family Services Review Board detailing children being moved without any notification, the report also showed. Child care workers admitted that children had been moved without their knowledge, as well.

In one instance, a foster home with two children in care was operational for a full eight months before required checks were made with other societies, which is normal safety protocol.

“At that time serious safety concerns were identified by other societies,” the report states. There were findings of “fundamental errors in the application of licensing requirements.”

The extent of the rot was such that the County society required assistance from “external expertise,” to formulate “immediate remedial action in some areas.” The report does not detail the external source of that help, but the new regional CAS is reportedly heavily involved in sorting out the mess.

Ministry officials report as investigators dug through mountains of records they logged troubling findings of shabby record-keeping and alarming gaps in documents where no information was filed about sexual abuse cases.

“Significant conflicts” that interfered with co-ordination and communication between staff, relating to the sharing of information and child placement in foster homes and a “lack of consistency and standardization in record keeping,” was uncovered by the probe.

“It is difficult for staff to identify patterns because information is scattered across files,” the report showed. Record-keeping regarding child protection investigations in foster homes is “inconsistent and does not always allow staff to identify links between related files.”

PECAS had “significant difficulty achieving compliance with licensing requirements under the Child and Family Services Act.”

This includes “difficulty in proper completion of appropriate screening and assessment requirements for foster homes and kin in care homes, including places of safety designations.”

At the time of the review there were 66 children in the care of the society. In all, 49 interviews were conducted by investigators with children in foster care, foster parents, front line staff and board members of the society, as well as the Prince Edward detachment of Ontario Provincial Police.

Files addressing three closed foster homes were also reviewed.

Since November 2011, three former foster parents have been convicted of sexually abusing several children entrusted in their care by the agency, with another three hit with sex crime charges the fall of 2012.

Since the report's internal release — The Intelligencer had repeatedly been denied details of the investigations in December 2011, forcing the newspaper to file the FOI request — substantial changes to the agency's governance have been made and the society is no longer a free-standing agency, but is an amalgamated branch of the Highland Shores CAS.

See the PECAS Operational Review here:

Source: Belleville Intelligencer

New CAS head vows to right the ship

The man charged with rebuilding a shattered child welfare agency acknowledges there were gaping holes in the safety net at the Children's Aid Society of the County of Prince Edward.

Mark Kartusch is spearheading efforts to repair what has been exposed as lax safeguards at the agency and addressing a litany of damning systemic failures uncovered by a government probe. The findings of the investigation were acquired by The Intelligencer through a freedom of information request filed last June.

The troubling Ministry of Child and Youth Services report, completed in January, 2012, exposed a loosely-run agency repeatedly breaking ministry regulations and risking the well-being of children by placing them in improperly screened homes.

A trusted source with who reviewed the reports' findings and who was deeply knowledgeable about the County agency described the CAS there as a “fiefdom with Bill Sweet (PECAS executive director) at the helm,” controlling the broken levers.

Placement of children in homes with history of sexual assault complaints and hiding happenings from the ministry were just some of the troubling areas identified by the source.

“The result was a society and its employees acting in bubbles, a board in the dark about the multitude of concerns being raised and no safety net for the children,” the source said.

Kartusch said the uphill battle to fix things is rolling ahead.

“It's not a good picture,” Kartusch said. “It's terrible information. There were kids that were harmed in Prince Edward and that's not ok. We want to support the kids who have been victimized.”

Kartusch is assigned the daunting task of merging the dysfunctional PECAS with the Belleville-headquartered Highland Shores Children's Aid Society, where he serves as executive director.

“This is not the way kids and families deserve to be served and treated,” he said.

He worries a lost of trust in the society could deter the public from calling to seek assistance for children in harm.

“It's very troubling,” he said. “That's the worst thing that could happen. I am concerned that there is a lost of confidence in the society.”

He too is baffled as to how reckless practices at PECAS went unchecked for years until the ministry stepped in when the first of three foster parents were charged and convicted for molesting children in their care.

“It's amazing what a few bad processes can do to create problems within an organization when they stay for a long time,” he said.

As part of the decisive overhaul at Prince Edward CAS, several staff and board members, along with long-time executive director Sweet, have been replaced. Highland Shores also commissioned a private consultant to continue checks of a broken foster homes system.

“He's making sure there is nothing that we missed in any of the investigations,” Kartusch said.

Committees have been struck to enhance oversight and managers from Highland Shores will be job-shadowing PECAS employees to highlight weaknesses.

He said the destructive environment at PECAS is not “completely a thing of the past” but “it is very much along the way to be a thing of the past.”

“There are a number of things that have been addressed within that report since then,” he said. “Staff have worked on areas of deficiency and have moved them along substantially.”

A Picton judge delivered a stern rebuke from the bench about need for a public enquiry into the agency after he sentenced a Bloomfield couple, who had turned their home into a "sexual cult" while fostering 25 teenagers over the course of nine years. Justice Geoff Griffin slammed PECAS its ignorance toward happenings at the home.

"What took place here is so outrageous that it boggles the mind,” Griffin said in November 2011. “I hope the public demands there be an inquiry into what took place at the home."

Kartusch and his team continue to grapple with getting PECAS ready for a April 1 amalgamation, he views as paramount to salvaging the wreckage and saving the children now entrusted to the embattled agency.

The merger process started in November 2012. Kartusch is dedicated to “to turning the ship around.”

“I have to focus on moving forward and making sure nothing like that happens in my tenure,” he said.

He said merging with an agency nearing collapse was necessary “because we think it's the best thing for kids. There was a need to look after the children in that area.”

Merger talks were sparked by PECAS board members who admitted, “there is more here than we can deal with and we want to seek amalgamation with a partner who can do that.” Initial merger talks fell through when PECAS, under Sweet's leadership, inexplicably backed out of negotiations earlier in 2012.

Five of the seven PECAS board members from that time have been replaced with Highland Shores' selected individuals since November. Several new senior managers, including an interim director of services, have been appointed.

Source: Belleville Intelligencer

Addendum: Chris Carter appealed the redactions and got clear copies of pages 8 and 21. They are attached as photo-copies (pdf). They have also been edited into the webpage.