Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

It's tough to dig the truth out of CFS bureaucracy

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Lies, damn lies and prevarications.

That's what you can expect when you try to extract the facts of a troubling child welfare case from people sworn to protect children in care.

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Ten days ago, I told you about the latest installment in the lives of six aboriginal siblings whose crack-addicted mother is serving time for running an inner-city brothel. After being belatedly rescued from her, the children were placed with a non-native foster family.

The foster parents have raised the siblings for three years now.

There have been previous skirmishes between the family and the First Nations authority in charge of the kids. In January, the foster parents expressed fear that the kids would be moved to a reserve. That concern was unsubstantiated. This new, heart-breaking situation is all too real. The six children were seized after an allegation of inappropriate discipline by the foster parents. Concerned neighbours say the family and the children are devastated by the removal.

Authorities with Southern CFS have steadfastly refused to reveal any details of the case. Ten days ago, Dave Rundle, administrator of Anishinaabe CFS, insisted the children were not staying in hotels and were being kept together.

What's the precise word I'm looking for here? Right: Horse feathers.

The children were initially placed with a caregiver in a single room at Place Louis Riel. That's a hotel in Winnipeg's downtown. Some days later, some or all of them were put into a St. Vital house with another CFS employee.

At various points, it appears the children were living apart. A young friend of one of the boys reports seeing his distraught buddy at a Wal-Mart with two of his siblings. The child was told the kids had been split up.

I asked Rundle point blank Wednesday why he'd claimed the children weren't in a hotel.

"They weren't in a hotel when we spoke," he stick-handled. Were they ever in a hotel? "I can't make any comments about that."

What kind of game are we playing here? These are vulnerable children.

An investigation into the allegations against the foster parents has been completed, Rundle said. Staff are still writing up the report. So, what are the results? Rundle purported not to know the contents of the report or whether the children would be returned to their foster parents. He might know Friday. Or maybe next week.

Meanwhile, the kids are living apart from two people who have raised them in a stable environment for three years. They're not in their schools. They're away from their friends and their teachers. They're been in least two temporary residences in two weeks.

These are children who were deeply traumatized by their mother and have now been wrenched from everything good and familiar in their lives. And Rundle doesn't know the contents of the report?

Neighbours of the foster family have banded together to protest the situation.

"This is a tragedy," says Barbara Parke, one of the signatories to a letter that will be delivered to Premier Gary Doer and Family Services Minister Gord Macintosh on Friday.

"They want to be in the home. The (foster parents) want them in the home. They are losing out on their school. This is an abuse of a different sort."

In the letter, co-written by local business leader Sanford Riley, Parke said:

"My husband and I have seen the kids through the seasons doing household chores, such as raking leaves, carrying out the garbage, shovelling the walk, etc. They are learning to participate in the everyday duties of being a family ... we see them making good friends in the neighbourhood. These children are delightful people. They may have their problems but with guidance from their foster parents are learning how to be good people."

The letter claims the eldest foster child slipped away from the house where she and her siblings are staying and came home. The foster parents had no choice but to call CFS and have her taken away.

Ida Albo and Ric Bell, co-owners of the Hotel Fort Garry, also know the foster family well. They've become close to the 11-year-old foster child.

"What a perfect kid," Albo said Wednesday. "He's part of the neighbourhood, part of the family."

The neighbours were frankly hoping not to have to send their letter to the premier. Rumours have abounded that the foster parents have been cleared of the allegations and that the kids would return home by the end of the week.

Since Dave Rundle professes to have not read the report, that's a faint hope.

If there is an allegation of abuse, a CFS authority has the responsibilty to promptly investigate.

They have an equal responsibility to ensure the children in their care aren't damaged as they're treated like chess pieces, their fragile futures a coin flip for busy bureaucrats.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 25, 2008

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