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This article was published 29/9/2014 (2575 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Workers supplied by a company contracted by the provincial government to babysit at-risk kids in hotels are given no prior information about the child in care and often fear for their safety.
A former staffer with Complete Care, the company most frequently contracted to supervise kids in hotels, said her job was to spend as many as 12 hours at a time, primarily with children aged 15 and older.
Vivian Ketchum said she worked with Complete Care In-home and Hospital Health Services Inc. for more than two years beginning in 2009.
As well as supervising children in hotels, she was also sent to private homes and the occasional group home to provide support for CFS agencies. Her former company received $8.4 million from the Family Services Department in 2012-13.
"Sometimes you go to the hotel and the teenager is not there," Ketchum said in an interview Monday.
Ketchum said when she worked for Complete Care, she reported to the company supervisor, not to a social worker. If a child ran away, she was to contact her boss, who would then contact an on-call social worker.
"Sometimes, if you get there in the evening and the teenager wants to leave, you can't do anything. They're going to go," she said, adding a child could be "long gone" before authorities are notified.
The fact that care for at-risk youth such as Tina Fontaine is being contracted to private companies is raising red flags about Child and Family Services.
Fontaine, the 15-year-old whose body was discovered in the Red River last month, had been taken to a downtown hotel by a CFS worker before she disappeared.
Charlene Paquin, a provincial Family Services official, said Monday the proper protocol when a child runs away is for the contract worker to report to her company supervisor -- and to contact police as well as provincial emergency placement resources. She said the policy has been in place for more than a decade.
But Ketchum said that was not what she was told by Complete Care when she worked for them a few years ago. She no longer works with children, saying she became burned out.
"These are kids that have no boundaries," she said of the teens she watched over in hotels. "I had one girl who brought her boyfriend in, and I didn't know what to do."
She recalls being concerned about "keeping the girls from patrons of the bars" of some hotels as she escorted them to the coffee shop for meals. She wanted to avoid anybody who would try to take advantage of the teens.
Ketchum said while she had crisis intervention and counselling training as well as suicide-prevention training, most of the workers supplied by Complete Care had little or no training and barely spoke English.
Some of them prized the hotel work because their meals were paid. The pay was little more than minimum wage.
Complete Care has refused to comment on its CFS work.
Ketchum said among her concerns when she was employed by Complete Care is she was not told anything about the children she was to supervise on a given day or evening. There were no logs kept on what had happened on previous shifts. There was no medical history provided.
"You go in with no information," she said.
Neither was there any continuity in care. Seldom did she see the same child in successive shifts.
Asked to describe the children she encountered, she responded with one word: "lost."
"They already had a tough shell around them," she said. "They just see too many people come and go and they don't want to build up any relationships with anybody."
Progressive Conservative Family Services critic Ian Wishart said he was troubled by several points raised by Ketchum, particularly on the apparent lack of information provided to contract workers.
If a child is at risk of running away, a worker needs to know, Wishart said. "You need a reporting system that identifies and transmits the information both ways.
"They shouldn't be in the hotels in the first place," the PC MLA said of such CFS placements. "But if they're going to be there, they need to be properly, adequately supervised.
Should the province use private contractors to care for at-risk children? Join the conversation in the comments below.
Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.