Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Awasis director forced aside

Child welfare agency probed

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Another child welfare agency boss has been suspended pending a review of his agency.

David Monias, the longtime executive director of the Awasis Agency, was placed on administrative leave a week ago by the Northern Authority, which is more than a year into a systemic review of how the child welfare agency serves kids in care.

"This is done while a quality assurance review of the agency is underway," said Rachel Morgan, a spokeswoman for Family Services Minister Gord Mackintosh. "The Northern Authority wanted to ensure the review was unbiased."

The Northern Authority, the umbrella office that overseas several child welfare agencies like Awasis, appointed its own administrator under provisions of provincial legislation. Those provisions allow the Northern Authority to suspend an executive director if he is not properly carrying out his responsibilities or if the health and safety of children are threatened.

Despite five calls to the Northern Authority, chief executive officer Marie Lands could not be reached, so it's unclear exactly why Monias has been placed on leave.

Monias has been the agency's head for nine years.

Awasis is one of the province's biggest aboriginal child welfare agencies, serving a dozen of the poorest and most remote communities, including Shamattawa, Cross Lake, Nelson House, Oxford House and Split Lake.

In the last year, Awasis has been plagued by a series of child deaths.

Last November, 13-month-old Cameron Ouskan died while in foster care in Gillam. His foster father is charged with second-degree murder. Earlier that fall, Rephanniah Redhead, 14, committed suicide in Shamattawa and five-year-old Farron Miles drowned about two kilometres from his foster home on Cross Lake First Nation.

The troubles at Awasis date back even further. A 2004 inquest into the abuse, sexual assault and suicide of a Shamattawa teen came down hard on the agency for sending her back into the care of a stepfather just released from jail for sexually abusing her.

More than a year ago, the province launched a "quality assurance" review of Awasis. Normally, reviews are triggered by a child death or management misdeeds, but the province also started systematic quality assurance reviews of each of the aboriginal agencies to find problems before they exploded. Awasis was first on the list. The report was due last month.

As of the end of March, Awasis had 604 children in care.

maryagnes.welch@freepress.mb.ca

 

Child welfare reviews 

The province and its two aboriginal authorities are in the midst of a series of reviews of child welfare agencies. Some were spawned by child deaths or allegations of misspending and mismanagement. Others are more routine, part of a new plan to systematically review each agency on a regular basis. They usually involve checking over each child's case file, interviewing staff and foster parents, reviewing hiring practices, testing board oversight and auditing the books. Here's an update.

 

Cree Nation Child and Family Caring Agency

Based in The Pas, Cree Nation has become the poster child for badly run agencies rife with nepotism and wasteful spending, but it's also been the most scrutinized. The first review of the agency confirmed that nepotism and misspending were rampant, and a bigger financial review released earlier this fall pegged total spending on the executive director and board members at $1.5 million over a four-year period. Now a forensic audit is underway.

 

Southeast Child and Family Services Agency

 The review, which began more than two years ago, was triggered by the inquest into the suicide of 14-year-old Tracia Owen, who had spent her entire life in and out of foster care. It was also launched to look at the cosy relationship between the agency and the Southeast Tribal Council, which shared bank accounts and case information. The agency's director is on administrative leave. The operational review was slated for completion last year, but has taken longer than planned because all 1,150 case files are being reviewed, plus experts are looking carefully at the issue of remote communities like Pauingassi and Poplar River, which are served by Southeast. The review was due this fall.

 

Peguis

The apparent suicide of 14-year-old Roanna Meagan Fontaine, along with questions about hiring practices and operations, triggered the review that began in October 2007. The review was due this fall.

 

Anishnaabe Child and Family Services

This is a quality assurance review and it wasn't triggered by a child death. The Southern Authority was targeting this fall to release the study, but setting up the agency's board of directors has taken more time than expected. The agency's executive director and one other person were put on leave and an administrator was brought in to manage it.

 

 

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 5, 2009 A4

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