WEATHER ALERT

Third-party firm to probe the Link

Province announces review after allegations of poor management, racism at youth agency

Advertisement

Advertise with us

The Manitoba government is hiring a third party to look into a taxpayer-supported agency that helps youth and families in crisis, after employees began raising allegations against its executive and board.

Read this article for free:

or

Already have an account? Log in here »

To continue reading, please subscribe with this special offer:

All-Access Digital Subscription

$4.75 per week*

  • Enjoy unlimited reading on winnipegfreepress.com
  • Read the E-Edition, our digital replica newspaper
  • Access News Break, our award-winning app
  • Play interactive puzzles
Continue

*Pay $19.00 every four weeks. GST will be added to each payment. Subscription can be cancelled anytime.

The Manitoba government is hiring a third party to look into a taxpayer-supported agency that helps youth and families in crisis, after employees began raising allegations against its executive and board.

Families Minister Rochelle Squires said the Link (formerly Macdonald Youth Services) was informed of the decision Tuesday.

“We take all issues very seriously when concerns have been raised about our service providers,” she said.

Families Minister Rochelle Squires has asked for an evaluation to review things such as the Link’s service delivery and financial accountability in response to staff complaints about management practices, racism, understaffing and financial decisions. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Squires confirmed she asked for an evaluation to review things such as the Link’s service delivery and financial accountability in response to allegations in a letter to her office and reported by the Free Press on Jan. 6.

The government can make decisions based on any recommendations, she said.

The terms of reference have been established, but a firm has not yet been hired to handle the review of Manitoba’s largest youth-serving organization.

Squires is hoping it is a swift process, given the province and more than 10,000 clients depend on the Link to provide support for mental health, addictions, emergency shelter, housing, education and employment.

“The quicker the better because we know there’s a lot of important work the Link does,” the minister said.

Squires acknowledged her personal relationship with Link chief executive officer Kerri Irvin-Ross, a former family services minister and deputy premier for the NDP.

Squires appointed Irvin-Ross to serve as co-chairwoman of a provincial youth leadership council in December.

The Tory minister was adamant the review of the Link will be done at arm’s length. The government will be transparent with the third party’s findings and recommendations, she said.

Sherry Gott, Manitoba advocate for children and youth, is also carrying out a review of the allegations, after receiving a letter from employees.

Irvin-Ross said the Link will fully co-operate and collaborate with any reviews.

“We would certainly welcome a program evaluation as part of our ongoing collaboration and oversight with officials,” she wrote in an email. “Throughout the year, there are a number of internal and external reviews that occur focused on programming and financials.”

She said the Link provides reports to its funders on a regular basis, and its financial statements are audited by a third party.

All licensed programs are reviewed annually, with home inspections, program outcomes, incident reports and communication logs, she added.

Irvin-Ross has defended the Link’s leadership, while current and former staff raise allegations about management practices, racism, understaffing and financial decisions, among other issues, at the non-profit agency.

Three workers who spoke to the Free Press earlier this month claim a crisis is hurting the quality of service to youth and families.

The group wants its executives to be replaced by Indigenous-led leadership, given about 80 per cent of its clients are Indigenous.

The group also demanded an independent investigation and financial audit.

“We are relieved to hear there is going to be an evaluation taking place at the Link,” an employee, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Tuesday. “Our hope going forward is there is a legitimate and thorough investigation into the service delivery, cultural workplace and financial accountability.”

Gott said her office has the power to review the allegations to ensure children and youth are receiving accessible and effective services which value their cultural background.

“Our office also has a legislative responsibility to ensure that any designated service operates in a way that respects the rights and interests of children and youth,” she said in a statement. “We are looking at these allegations with these responsibilities and powers in mind.”

The Link receives almost all of its funding — about $26 million — from the province and Child and Family Services agencies, its annual reports show.

It receives smaller amounts from donors such as the federal government, United Way and Winnipeg Foundation.

The 91-year-old organization employs more than 300 people.

Earlier this month, the group of employees sent letters to every MLA, including Premier Heather Stefanson. The group did not sign the letter, fearing retribution.

An Instagram account, called Dark Side of the Link, has been posting allegations and anecdotes from staff and clients. The account has more than 850 followers.

Earlier on Tuesday, Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont repeated his call for the government to replace the Link’s executive and board, and launch an independent investigation into the allegations.

He wants the province to work with Indigenous organizations to set up an interim leadership team.

Whistleblowers should be protected and former employees should be released from non-disclosure agreements, he wrote in a letter to Stefanson, Squires and Alan Lagimodiere, Manitoba minister of Indigenous reconciliation and northern relations.

Natalie Huneault, a spokeswoman for Employment and Social Development Canada, previously said the federal department is taking the allegations “very seriously.”

The department would not say if it is taking any action in response to the claims.

chris.kitching@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @chriskitching

Chris Kitching
Reporter

As a general assignment reporter, Chris covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.

History

Updated on Wednesday, January 25, 2023 8:03 AM CST: Slight change to headline

Report Error Submit a Tip

Advertisement

Advertise With Us

Local

LOAD MORE