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 QMI Agency 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 internal 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 BellevilCAS 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 wdren 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: http://www.scribd.com/doc/124032659/PECAS-Operational-Review
Conclusions from ministry report:
• PECAS is experiencing significant difficulty in a number of areas which is concerning from the perspective of services to children.
• Extent of the difficulties are such that the society will require assistance from external expertise, at least in the short term, to develop immediate remedial action.
Ministry Recommendations and Requirements:
• Address inadequacies in the application of compliance with licencing requirements and tools.
• Implement risk management plan for addressing the impact of the sexual abuse allegations and/or findings in foster care on all complaints and victims, as well as for staff.
• Review, revise and implement policies and procedures for foster homes based on ministry regulation.
• Develop a strategy to increase the capacity of the board to exercise its role.
• The board should consider engaging expertise in implementing changes.
• Initiate a plan for third party file review to determine the current level of compliance with child protection standards as they relate to foster care.
• Review, revise and implement policies procedures for protection services including requirements related to investigation of foster homes consistent with practises in other societies.
• Implement record-keeping practices that reflect continuity of information and improved communication between workers.