Sources familiar with Specialized Foster Homes say lack of supervision at the group homes for troubled teens is putting staff and the public at risk.
In response to a story that ran in last Wednesday’s Brandon Sun, sources say last week’s beating of a respite worker at one of the homes for troubled youths was worse than child welfare authorities have stated.
Two girls charged in attack at foster home
This isn’t the first time police have had to deal with a drunk and combative teen at the Louise Avenue home. Nor is it the first time that a worker with Specialized Foster Homes has been assaulted. Some of the youths have been linked to street gangs, and there has been criticism that the homes seem to pool youths with a potential for trouble. Critics have described them as a networking opportunity for young offenders.
They describe youth who live at the homes as "highly dangerous" and say it’s amazing something like this hasn’t happened before.
"Someone finally got seriously injured, and someone else is likely going to get killed if this continues on," one source said.
The sources, who are familiar with the operation of the homes, spoke on condition of anonymity.
They said that, by stepping forward with their concerns, they hope authorities will investigate Specialized Foster Homes and Dakota Ojibway Child and Family Services .
On the evening of Monday, May 5, a 45-year-old respite worker at a home on the 300-block of Louise Avenue was attacked by two intoxicated girls after she confiscated a bottle of liquor from them.
Police said the worker was repeatedly punched and kicked, and hit with a chair.
The girls — residents of the home — were arrested on scene. One was arrested when she crashed the victim’s car while trying to steal it.
Two 16-year-old girls are charged with aggravated assault and other offences. They remain in custody and haven’t made a bid for bail yet.
On May 6, DOCFS executive director Bobbi Pompana — who said the home is one of a series licensed through her agency under the name, Specialized Foster Homes (SFH) — said the victim had no broken bones, and was bruised but would be OK.
As of last Tuesday afternoon, Pompana said, the victim had been released from hospital.
But sources say the attack was far worse than made out by authorities. At least one of the girls bit chunks of flesh out of the victim, they said.
"She’s not OK," one source said of the victim. "I would rather have broken bones than chunks of my flesh bitten out of my body."
Not only did one girl beat the victim with a chair, but the other beat her with a metal rod.
The victim was left "black and blue everywhere" and her face was swollen to the point that one of her eyes was shut.
While it may have ultimately been determined the victim had no broken bones — concerned medical staff had examined her to determine whether her back and arm were broken.
As of Thursday evening, she was still in hospital.
Pompana had also said that help was sent to the victim when she pushed an alarm button in the home.
One source said that’s not the case. Rather, somehow, someone must have alerted an SFH on-call supervisor who notified 911.
Another source questioned whether such an alarm button exists in the home at all. As of the end of last year, there wasn’t such an alarm.
And, the sources say, staff are not trained by Specialized Foster Homes to deal with violent behaviour, as suggested by Pompana.
Some staff may happen to have training in dealing with violence from previous jobs — such as a sheriff or police officer, for example — but otherwise, staff aren’t trained to deal with violence.
The level of supervision at the home was also called into question.
There are seven SFH homes within the city and one near Souris. The residences are called foster homes but they’re more like group homes.
SFH receives funding from DOCFS to care for the youths, but seems to operate at arm’s length.
The youths often run afoul of the law and some have been linked to serious incidents in the city over the years. The sources said it’s common for staff to be assaulted at the homes whether it’s from pushing or punching.
Typically, there are at least four children who live at each SFH home. Each has a licensed foster parent who acts as house manager with some staff who work under them.
When it comes to the Louise Avenue location, that home — where four girls lived under one foster parent — is specifically funded by DOCFS to have two staff members on duty at all times.
However, the sources say the beaten worker was the only one on shift at the time.
"If there was two staff there, we firmly believe that that incident wouldn’t have happened."
In general, the sources said, it’s common for only one staff member to be at SFH home, and at times they aren’t supervised at all during the day.
DOCFS may believe that foster parents live with the children within the homes, but the sources say they don’t because there isn’t enough room.
Not one foster parent lives in the homes with the youths. In the case of the Louise Avenue home, the foster parent lives in a neighbouring suite.
» Twitter: @IanHitchen
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition May 12, 2014