A Manitoba teenager says she was sexually exploited while placed in a downtown Winnipeg hotel under the care of Child and Family Services.

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This article was published 9/10/2014 (2610 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A Manitoba teenager says she was sexually exploited while placed in a downtown Winnipeg hotel under the care of Child and Family Services.

"I was only there for two weeks, but it was probably the worst two weeks of my life," said Amanda Burling, now 18.

She was 15, a frequent runaway and estranged from her rural Manitoba family when she was taken to a hotel by CFS and forced to share a room with a much more streetwise kid two years older than herself.

Burling said she and her roommate could come and go as they pleased any time, day or night. The succession of women who chaperoned them did not attempt to prevent them from leaving the hotel, nor would they accompany the girls when they went downstairs.

She thinks several of the chaperones were university students.

'I don't want anybody else to have to go through what I went through'‐ Amanda Burling

"We could come and go at all hours. They didn't really care," Burling said. "The impression that I got from it was that they were there for the money."

She doesn't know the name of the company that supplied the chaperones -- and is not absolutely certain the watchers worked for a private firm.

"The girl I was sharing the room with; she was a couple of years older than me. And she got me into sexually exploiting myself," Burling said.

The two would meet men near the hotel after arranging meetings online. To do this they used the hotel computer -- without supervision. One female chaperone even let them use her own laptop, again without keeping watch on which online sites they were visiting.

"I was 15 and I didn't really know what I was doing," Burling said.

She claims she did not see a social worker once during the two weeks she spent in the hotel.

She was brought to the city after a failed foster placement in rural Manitoba.

After her stay in the hotel, she was placed in a shelter in the south part of the city for about three months. Other girls in the shelter threatened to beat her up. She ran away frequently.

Burling said she did not receive any real help until she was placed in a Marymound group home that provided programming for sexually exploited girls.

She spent more than two years there and credits its well-trained staff for helping turn her life around. "They helped a lot and I managed to get myself out of that," she said.

Burling said she is speaking to the media because she feels strongly at-risk kids should not be housed -- even temporarily -- in hotels.

The province has said it only uses hotels when absolutely necessary. This past March, however, it placed an average of 65 kids a day in these establishments. The numbers stayed high through the spring and early summer before declining to an average of 10 per day in August.

Family Services Minister Kerri Irvin-Ross has ordered a review of the province's contracts with private companies that are paid to supervise kids in hotels and some group homes. In 2012-2013, such "purchase service staff costs" amounted to $4.4 million dollars. That same year, the province spent $5.9 million on hotels for kids in its care.

Burling said Thursday the government should instead spend the money on treatment facilities and expanded foster care.

"They're wasting a lot of money in the hotels, in my opinion," she said.

Burling is now back in school, completing her Grade 12. If her schooling hadn't been interrupted, she would have graduated this past June.

She lives on her own, but is still in care of CFS under a program that allows for continued provincial assistance after a teen turns 18.

She has also reconciled with her family.

Her plan is to enrol in a two-year child and youth-care program at Red River College. After that she wants to obtain a social work degree.

"I don't want anybody else to have to go through what I went through," Burling said.

larry.kusch @freepress.mb.ca

Larry Kusch

Larry Kusch
Legislature reporter

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.