Dakota Ojibway Child and Family Services says it has initiated a review of Specialized Foster Homes after confirming a second high-profile crime has been linked to youths who live at the group homes.
The first incident involved the beating of a respite worker at a city home earlier this month. The second was a barn fire near Souris in which no injuries were reported.
DOCFS executive director Bobbi Pompana said the agency will work with Manitoba Family Services and the Southern First Nations Network of Care (also known as the southern CFS authority, which oversees DOCFS) to review Specialized Foster Homes residences.
"We asked (the province) to participate in a review with us," Pompana said in an interview on Wednesday. "So the province, and the southern authority and DOCFS are going to do a review on those homes.
"I want the province to know how difficult it is to place those kinds of children, and also some of the situations that occur."
However, while she confirmed that two girls arrested in connection with the fire were living at a Specialized Foster Home residence at the time, she criticized the Brandon Sun’s previous coverage of the beating as inaccurate.
City police report that on the evening of Monday, May 5, the 45-year-old respite worker was attacked at the home on the 300-block of Louise Avenue by two girls who lived there.
The intoxicated girls attacked the worker after she confiscated a bottle of liquor from them, police said. The woman was repeatedly punched and kicked, and hit with a chair.
The 16-year-old girls were arrested at the scene — one of them after she crashed the victim’s car while trying to steal it.
It was one of two recent incidents that raised safety concerns about Specialized Foster Homes, which Pompana said is a series of homes run under that name and licensed through DOCFS.
On Wednesday, Pompana confirmed that, in a separate incident, two girls were arrested in connection with a fire that destroyed a barn near Souris on May 9.
RCMP say arson charges are pending against both girls, who Pompana said were residents of an SFH home on the property at the time.
No injuries were reported, but the barn and equipment were destroyed.
Following the beating but before the fire, sources familiar with the operation of SFH stepped forward on condition of anonymity to express concerns about the safety and supervision at the homes, which house troubled youth.
There are six to seven in Brandon, plus the one near Souris.
The sources said that the beating was worse than described by authorities. They said one of the girls also beat the woman with a metal rod, and that one of them bit chunks of flesh out of the victim.
But Pompana says that’s not true. She says the woman — who was left bruised and swollen — was bitten a couple of times, but chunks of flesh weren’t bitten out of her.
Also, the victim was not beaten with a metal rod, Pompana said.
There was a question as to how long the woman was in hospital. Pompana said the woman was discharged by the evening following the incident, but was later re-admitted to hospital for a pre-existing condition not related to the attack. The victim has since left hospital again.
The sources had also questioned Pompana’s assertion that help was sent when the victim pushed an alarm button.
On Wednesday, Pompana said the woman was carrying a panic alarm button and had pushed it, but not hard enough. It was a third girl who lives at the home who called an on-call backup SFH worker.
The sources also expressed concern about supervision at the Louise Avenue home. They said it was funded by DOCFS to have two staff members on duty at all times.
However, while Pompana agreed that two staff usually work at the home where three girls lived, there was only one staff member at the time because that’s all that was needed. Only one resident youth was supposed to be home, but the two girls accused of the attack had arrived home unexpectedly.
Pompana also maintained that staff at SFH homes are trained in how to deal with difficult youth, which includes violent behaviour.
Staffing at the homes varies according to the needs of the youth, Pompana said, but there should always be at least one staff member at any given home 24 hours per day.
Foster parents are required to live at the home 24 hours per day, five days per week. Otherwise, respite workers are on duty so there’s round-the-clock supervision.
Pompana said the review with the province and southern authority will highlight the backgrounds of youths in the homes, review incidents, describe services and identify further supports that are needed.
"Let’s just all sit down, go through everything that we need to go through and just say, ‘You know what, if these homes are not providing the care that these kids need, then help us find some place that does because there’s no place,’" she said.
The process of assembling the personnel who will do the review is underway, Pompana said.