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Troubled agency's director on leave

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The executive director of Southeast Child and Family Services has been placed on administrative leave during an ongoing operational review of the troubled agency which faced criticism over the suicide of a 14-year-old girl in its care.

Elsie Flette, CEO of the Southern First Nations Child and Family Services Authority, said Michael Bear is now on paid leave to help facilitate necessary changes to the structure and governance of the agency.

"The governance isn't woRandall King as well as we'd like it to (right now),'' Flette said.

There are no allegations of wrongdoing on Bear's part, she said.

A temporary administrator has been appointed and will function until June, when Flette hopes a new board of directors will be trained and in place to monitor the agency and the executive director and other employees.

She said there is a lot of confusion over who does what at the moment.

"We need clear lines of accountability,'' Flette said.

Southeast is one of the largest CFS agencies in Manitoba, with more than 1,300 active files, including almost 1,000 kids in care.

The southern First Nations authority launched an operational review of Southeast last fall after an inquest into the suicide of 14-year-old Tracia Owen. The review was launched before the inquest judge's report was released after testimony at the inquest uncovered serious problems monitoring the teenager, who was moved in and out of foster care and group homes at least 64 times in her life.

Owen was addicted to drugs and involved in Winnipeg's sex trade when she hanged herself in a Winnipeg garage in 2005.

When the inquest report came out in January, Justice John Guy portrayed the child and family services system as one that was failing kids on remote reserves in Manitoba, causing high numbers of kids on reserves to be in care, and few services and programs available to families in trouble.

In Little Grand Rapids, Tracia's home reserve, 40 per cent of the kids under 18 were in care at the time of the inquest.

Flette said Tuesday the number is equal or higher in at least three other reserves handled by Southeast CFS.

Bloodvein First Nation Chief Craig Cooke, where more than 100 of the reserve's 275 kids are in care, ¬ ¬ ¬ ¬ said the current structure at Southeast prevents the first nations themselves from having much input into the system and how their families and children are aided.

He said the director of operations of the agency and other senior managers make decisions all the time about how things will be handled, but know little about the communities themselves.

"They have never been in my community or haven't been for at least five years,'' Cooke said.

He said they also do not respond to input from first nations. He said he spoke with Bear more than a year ago about establishing a positive-parenting program in Bloodvein, but 15 months later he hasn't heard back.

"He's asking my parents to relocate to Winnipeg to take positive-parenting classes,'' Cooke said.

Bloodvein is about 200 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg on the eastern shore of Lake Winnipeg. Cooke said there are enough parents in his community needing help it that it would be far more efficient to bring the service to Bloodvein, He added most of the parents in his community do not have the means to get to Winnipeg for an extended period of time to get the help they need.

In November, Bloodvein voted to boot Southeast off the reserve over disputes about how the agency was woRandall King. The impasse was quickly resolved, but the sentiment about Southeast remains.

Removing senior management during an operational review is becoming a theme in Manitoba. In December, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada put three senior bureaucrats of the Manitoba regional office, including the regional director, on paid leave while an audit of that office continued.


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 5, 2008

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