Friday, December 4, 2015

'Government is not an adequate parent': Children's advocate calls for better care options

Darlene MacDonald released a special report, Permanency Beyond Foster Care, on Wednesday, recommending the province assess whether its rules and policies meet priorities set out by the United Nations on the rights of children and indigenous people. (Childrens' Advocate)

Manitoba's children's advocate is urging the province to better protect almost 6,000 kids in permanent care by finding "loving family environments."

Darlene MacDonald released a special report, Permanency Beyond Foster Care, on Wednesday, recommending the province assess whether its rules and policies meet priorities set out by the United Nations on the rights of children and indigenous people.

"If we want the child welfare system to operate in the best interests of children, youth and families, leaving a child or youth to languish in care as a permanent ward cannot be acceptable," MacDonald said.

"We need to see the system get more creative and more assertively seek out extended family and community members who can provide stable, loving, long-term options. Involving family and community is the only way in which the long-term needs of children will be met. The government is not an adequate parent."

Overall, the current system lacks stability and permanency, MacDonald said.

"It's concerning because children just stay in care. There are babies who come into the system who do not get secure homes, whether that's through custom adoption or other opportunities with relatives."

In 2014, there were 10,293 children in care in Manitoba and of those, 5,848 (57 per cent) were in care as permanent wards, the Office of the Children's Advocate reports.

Children have a right to grow up in a continuous family environment in which they can flourish, the report states.

"When it is not possible to return children to their immediate family, the government must fulfil its obligations to work in a child's best interest and actively build solutions that provide loving family environments to children in care," it states.

"Developing extended family and community or kin placements must be made a priority for how the child welfare system operates."
First Nations get more say in child welfare under proposed Manitoba law

The report also calls on the government to support custom adoptions that reflect indigenous values for First Nations children.

MacDonald declined to outline what custom adoption should look like, saying she would like to see indigenous community leadership set forth that vision.

"What we've seen is kids want a connection to the community. Kids want to know who their parents are and they want stability," she said.

"We need to work with them so it happens in a safe manner."

Just before the children's advocate's report was released, the province announced it is pursuing legislative changes to the Child and Family Services Act that would see more traditional methods of care put in place for indigenous foster children.

'They're damaging children' - Family courts criticised for failing to enforce their own orders

A general view of The Ministry of Justice building

Joanna Morris / Thursday 3 December 2015 / News

THE family courts are damaging children and vulnerable families by failing to enforce their own orders, says a Darlington woman.

The woman, who did not want to be named, and her former partner were ordered to attend mediation sessions and complete parenting courses after a custody battle went to the family courts.

She completed the requirements laid out in the court order but thus far, she said her ex-husband has failed to comply.

If she wants to ensure he obeys the order, she has been told she must take him back to court for another hearing at her own cost.

With the cost of hearings often exceeding £200 and legal aid increasingly difficult to access, the woman cannot afford to pursue the matter – a predicament she believes may face many vulnerable and low income families across the UK.

Accusing the legal system of lacking the teeth to ensure people comply with orders issued, she said the onus should not be on people like her to foot the bill for others’ failings.

She said: “This is not just about me or my children, it must affect hundreds.

“Social services can’t help because it’s not a safeguarding issue and the courts say we need to go back for another hearing, which costs £276.

“I did everything the courts asked me to but he’s refusing, even though these courses would improve life for our children – nobody’s a perfect parent.

“In order to make sure my kids are looked after properly, I have to pay to take him back to court.

“The courts are issuing these orders but not following through with them and it’s costing people a lot of money.

“Like many, I can’t afford a solicitor, court costs or to take the time out of work to do this.

“It means people are getting away with this kind of thing and it’s a situation that will only get worse.”

She added: “A lot of people split up this time of year and they don’t know what to do for the best – they need to know the pitfalls.

“They need to know even if they go to court, they can’t force people to comply with orders.
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“This issue needs to be addressed because the system is letting children down.”

A spokesman for the Ministry of Justice said: "The family court must always act with the best interests of children concerned. If any conditions are breached the court can consider appropriate enforcement action."

Scandal fallout: Oregon pulls foster kids from another provider

Oregon officials have stopped placing foster children with a Clackamas County agency that landed on a state "radar list" of troubled providers, the Department of Human Services said Thursday — more fallout from accusations the department did little to stop neglect by a Portland provider.

The provider, Youth Villages Oregon, is a local branch of a national organization. It was led, until this winter, by Oregon Health Authority director Lynne Saxton. A statement from a Department of Human Services spokesman didn't say why the provider was put on the radar list or how many children were affected.

The department plans to release a letter Friday detailing problems and threatening Youth Villages with the loss of its state license.

Connie Mills, a spokeswoman in Youth Villages' main office in Tennessee, told The Oregonian/OregonLive "we disagree with some of [the department's] conclusions." But she acknowledged that Oregon officials had "asked us to hold off on admissions to our residential campus program for the time being." The provider works with children facing serious behavioral and emotional issues.

Mills also shed some light on some of Oregon's concerns, saying they involved training and supervision issues.

"They have some questions about this program and we are actively addressing those while we work with [the department] on a corrective action plan," she said in a statement. "Some of the things we're doing include enhancing supervision of youth by significantly increasing highly skilled and trained staffing, as well as conducting additional trainings and evaluating other areas in which we can make improvements."

Youth Villages, formerly known as ChristieCare, is one of two providers facing sanctions after Department of Human Services officials this month reviewed seven providers on the most recent radar list.

The other one is Scotts Valley School in Douglas County, which treats behavioral problems and accepts private clients from across the country. Scotts Valley has been on the list longer than any other provider and is expected to receive a letter Monday, officials said. It does not treat any state-paid clients.

The Department of Human Services released information about the list and the results of its review in response to requests from three media outlets, including The Oregonian/OregonLive.

Those requests came during a tense legislative hearing last month on how the Department of Human Services deals with troubled providers. The hearing followed reports that top officials continued to send children to a Northeast Portland foster care provider despite knowing about serious financial issues and abuse accusations.

The state Department of Justice has filed suit against that provider, Give Us This Day, accusing its operator of misspending $2 million in state money to pay for personal expenses such as cosmetic surgery and vacations.

Give Us This Day spent 28 months on the radar list, officials testified at last month's hearing. The list, issued every few months by the department's licensing arm, looks at factors including media attention, the volume and severity of complaints, and chronic noncompliance. The licensing office has three staffers in charge of tracking 203 child-care providers.

"The document became known as the 'radar list,' but it was never intended to be more than an advisory about licensed facilities that someone thought should be added or removed to ensure that DHS executives were informed if asked," department spokesman Gene Evans wrote. "It was never a 'watch list' of locations where immediate action was needed or recommended — it was only an internal advisory document."

Gov. Kate Brown responded to the Give Us This Day scandal last month by replacing the Department of Human Services' interim director and announcing an independent investigation of the state's child welfare system.

Her choice to lead the department, state administrator Clyde Saiki, told lawmakers last month that human services managers lacked a central mechanism for spotting troubled providers. Evans said Saiki ordered the review that led to Thursday's announcement.

Evans said Saiki has "established an ongoing review process" to make sure managers meet and track concerns involving child-care facilities.

"This cross-agency team and regular review is one early outcome of the governor's charge to improve oversight of the child foster care system," Evans wrote.

Sen. Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis, who convened last month's hearing, is working up legislation to toughen licensing requirements and financial rules, and to give regulators the power to suspend a provider's license over abuse claims and other safety violations.

Gelser also has proposed changing how the department processes abuse and neglect allegations. Last year, more than half of complaints were ruled closed during an initial screening, in part because state law strictly limits investigations, usually to cases involving serious injury or an ongoing threat.

Gelser wants to set a lower threshold that would include threats, neglect through the denial of food or medicine, financial fraud and lesser injuries that don't leave a child near death.

— Denis C. Theriault

503-221-8430; @TheriaultPDX

DHS investigating 7 foster homes

Children have been removed from one foster home as part of a DHS investigation ordered by Gov. Kate Brown and increased media scrutiny of the agency.

Children at the Clackamas County foster care provider Youth Villages have been removed from the facility, according to information released Thursday from the Department of Human Services.

That information became public following DHS's fulfillment of a public records request by the Statesman Journal and other media for the DHS "radar list" of foster care providers.

The list is periodically delivered to DHS executives to alert them about providers that have a high number of complaints or high severity of complaints, a record of chronic noncompliance with rules, or anticipated media attention.

Scotts Valley School, a therapeutic boarding school in Yoncalla, has been on the list for at least 36 months, the longest of any provider. The school does not have state-placed children, but is a private organization accepting payment to house and treat troubled children. Scotts Valley School did not return phone calls Thursday.

Along with Scotts Valley School and Youth Villages, other facilities on the "radar list" are: Chehalem Youth and Family Services, of Newberg, Eastern Oregon Academy, of Burns, Inn Home for Boys, of Portland, Kairos, of Grants Pass, and Youth Progress, of Portland.

The list released Thursday did not include details of any allegations against the organizations. DHS spokesman Gene Evans declined to comment on why those facilities are on the list, although he said Youth Villages and Scotts Valley School are the most serious cases.

"We're not releasing detailed information on those yet, because that's all being redacted," Evans said.

Connie Mills, public relations manager at Youth Villages, a national organization with several campuses, said in a statement that Youth Villages is improving its programming and disagrees with some of DHS's conclusions, but is "extremely concerned about this" and "taking these issues very seriously."

"We believe in being transparent about our work and constantly enhancing our program, so we are working closely and openly with DHS," the statement said.

DHS is working with the Department of Justice to issue "intent to revoke" letters notifying Youth Villages and Scotts Valley School of corrective actions they must take to stay licensed. Those letters are expected to be publicly released following DOJ review and will include detailed information about the allegations.

The existence of the radar list was first reported after journalists learned of it at a public hearing last month. DHS officials testified to the Interim Committee On Human Services and Early Childhood about how they are working to fix problems with the agency's child care system, and mentioned the list.

Gov. Kate Brown ordered an independent review of DHS following media reports that now-defunct foster care provider Give Us This Day had allegedly pocketed upwards of $2 million meant for childcare and provided substandard living conditions. Despite knowing of abuse and mismanagement, DHS officials did not revoke Give Us This Day's license.

Following those revelations, Brown demoted acting-DHS Director Jerry Waybrant and appointed State Chief Operating Officer Clyde Saiki as interim DHS director. Saiki said he plans a "deep" investigation of DHS.

A committee has also been created to guide the investigation, which is ongoing., (503) 399-6653, on Twitter @gordonrfriedman or