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Saskatchewan Social Services Mandate

Michelle Ross

Since the Fifth Estate November 29, 2000 program "Scandal of the Century", the local media have failed to pick up the questions raised by the show. The main question is what the Saskatoon Board of Police commissioners is going to do with Brian Dueck, the public menace who is superintendent of the west side of Saskatoon. The next important issues to be looked at are the justice department and social services. The scandal around the Ross children could have happened only with the collaboration of all three agencies.

Kathleen Ross

Indeed, they can be seen to have conspired. The whole thing could have been stopped dead in its tracks by any single individual within any of these agencies. The Ross children were in difficulty long before they were apprehended by Social Services. The conditions in which they lived are fully described in the court proceedings. They were placed in a good foster home. Dale and Anita Klassen cared for the children, provided food, shelter, toys and training in manners and social interaction. They knew they were over their heads as far as dealing with the sexual precocity these kids whowed and they regularly sought help and guidance. After three years of doing the best job anyone could be expected to do, they found themselves charged with sexual crimes of which they were totally innocent.

Michael Ross

Carol Bunko-Ruys saw the girls and they were examined by doctors before they were removed from Dale and Anita's care. At that time there was no physical evidence of sexual abuse. Bunko-Ruys knew then and knows now that the people the children named were innocent of the allegations extracted from the children at the Saskatoon Police station. But she and Brian Dueck pursued the interviewing process, even while they knew that Michael was regularly raping his sisters and that Dale and Anita and the other adults the children named could not possibly have done the deeds they were accused of.

Every single person inJusticebusters know who has viewed the Dueck-Bunko-Ruys interview tapes has detected something fishy within the first five minutes of watching them. We can only assume that prosecutors in the justice department had the same misgivings.

The mandate as on the government website February, 1999 | We had previously posted a link Government response to Children's Advocate Report which also had links to the report itself. These important documents are no longer posted. StarPhoenix Report, April 17, 2000: Foster children in peril: review | StarPhoenix editorial, April 17, 2000

Carol Bunko-Ruys

In September, 1991, therapist Carol Bunko-Ruys (right) writes: The benefits of keeping [these] siblings together is highly supported by the writer. This is in a report filled with descriptions of incestuous actvities, the full text of which can be found here. When this report came to our attention it was discovered that the children were still together. The court case for which Bunko-Ruys and Sgt. Brian Dueck had prepared them was over and the kids were bringing in hefty monthly stipends from Social Services for Marilyn and Lyle Thompson in Warman.

In Dec. 1993, Michael Ross was separated from his sisters and sent to Ranch Ehrlo, a privately owned group home for kids in conflict with the law in Regina. He had not been charged with any crime. A year later Michelle was also shipped off to Ranch Ehrlo. She had broken no laws but the Thompsons found her too difficult. She had become lippy and rebellious, in keeping with what we think of as normal development for some adolsecents. They kept Kathy for a while and then she was moved to a home with some people who moved with her to British Columbia.

Deborah Parker-Loewen, the Children's Advocate who released her report following the death of 20 month old Karen Quill, talked to foster parents and to foster children. Her stories resulted in the hair-raising report which the government is now scrambling to bury. We have spoken to many foster children that Parker-Loewen didn't talk to and they confirm her findings. Social Services knew all about the Ross children. They did nothing to help them. Anita Grosse drove Michael to Regina and then her duties were taken over by Diane Ens who spent many hours keeping those children out of our reach -- hours that might have been better spent following the mandate of her department.

Just last year, we ran into the same blank wall when Richard Klassen reported to Social Services a grisly abusive family situation. Ruby Lafayette immediately told the abusive father who the complainant was, nothing was done and Klassen and his family were virtually run out of town. (Constable Champion of the Rosetown RCMP will confirm that all of this is true). We have kept Lafayette posted on this website as another social worker we know for sure does not do her job.

We also know for certain that Geraldine Nanson, another highly placed Social Worker handed over confidential files containing allegations which had never been investigated to a private detective in 1993. Recently interviewed in the StarPhoenix regarding Serena Nicotine (teen murderess and Fetal Alcohol syndrome victim), Nanson is quoted as saying their hands are tied as far as preventing incidents such as the Montgomery murder.

Who are they letting into Social Work school and just what are their standards? There are some dangerously stupid people getting paid handsomely for jobs which are clearly beyond their competence!

Foster children in peril: review

Social Services workers 'too busy' to investigate abuse claims, report says

Some Saskatchewan foster children who say they're neglected or abused never have their complaints investigated because social workers are too busy, says a disturbing report into the province's foster care system.

A report released Wednesday by the Office of the Children's Advocate says the Social Services Department has major problems in the way it cares for the province's 3,000 foster children.

The agency is either unwilling or unable to follow its own regulations in placing and monitoring the majority of children, says the report, called Children and Youth in Care Review - Listen to Their Voices.

"In my view, these are minimum standards and they're still struggling to maintain them," said Children's Advocate Deborah Parker-Loewen. "Those standards need to be met."

The comprehensive review was ordered by the minister of social services two years ago after toddler Karen Quill died from internal injuries she received while playing with siblings at a foster home. The report on Quill's death chastised the government for many of the same policy violations cited in Wednesday's 162-page document.

The report included an in-depth study of 98 Saskatchewan foster children.

When there were complaints of abuse or neglect, 15 per cent of the cases are never investigated. In another 39 per cent of cases, the child's file doesn't say whether the complaint was looked into.

Policy dictates when placing a First Nations or Metis foster child - roughly 60 per cent of the total - the first priority must be finding a family of the same culture. However, culture and links to aboriginal families were considered in only 40 per cent of cases.

Once children are placed in care, social workers don't visit often enough to ensure the arrangement is safe and positive for both parent and child.

Department policy requires social workers to visit new placements within two working days, but that standard was not met in more than 50 per cent of cases studied.

Once the child is established in the new home, social workers are supposed to visit the child every six weeks and do a formal interview every six months. They met this standard in only 24 per cent of cases. They failed to meet the standard for one-third of the children.

Parker-Loewen is also concerned with the fact that the other 40 per cent of the files had insufficient information to tell what was going on.

The limits on the maximum number of children that can be placed in one home is still being violated - one of the factors that may have contributed to Quill's death.

"Children are just placed wherever there's a spot. It's not fair for kids," said one social worker quoted in the report.

Some of these problems are the result of a shortage of both social workers and foster parents. This comes at a time when the number of foster children is rising each year.

Workers reported that high workloads keep them from doing their job properly.

"It's simple math. If you've got too many places to go, you can't get to all of them," said Bob Bymoen, chair of the Saskatchewan Government Employee's Union.

"They're very proud of the work they're doing but they're stretched to the limit."

Don Toth, Saskatchewan Party social services critic, said the report "reflects the serious problems in the department."

"This is a very damning report about how the government looks after children."

Social Services Minister Harry Van Mulligen said he was unaware there was such a high level of policy violations in his department, and said the report gives it an opportunity to improve foster care in the province.

He said things have likely improved since the data was gathered over the past couple of years. He said the report "reflects a government in transition."

Van Mulligen noted the government hired an extra 50 social workers in 1998 to look into concerns in foster homes. The growth of social services agencies on reserves in recent years should also help ensure more culturally appropriate placements, he said.

He said the government will also work on preventing family breakup, rather than simply improving the foster system.

Foster parents have also received three increases in compensation in the past several years, and are competitive with other parts of the country, he said.

Parker-Loewen outlines seven major recommendations and 45 sub-recommendations that should be monitored by a soon-to-be-created advisory committee.

She says the government should:

Keep accurate, current records on each child;

Recruit and train more First Nations and Metis foster families;

Follow proper protocol when investigating complaints from children;

Legislate the child's right to participate in the plan for their care. According to Parker-Loewen, Saskatchewan is the only province without such a law.

Wards of state deserve better

At a time when discussion about government remains almost solely fixated on tax cuts, a damning report by the children's advocate is a reminder that the needs of our most helpless citizens are getting short shrift.

Deborah Parker-Loewen's scathing report on the care of foster children in Saskatchewan is based on interviews with everyone from social workers and foster parents to the children themselves.

Parker-Loewen's conclusion that the Social Services bureaucracy has trouble meeting the needs of nearly 3,000 children in the government's care is dismaying.

It's especially heartbreaking because the advocate's charge that the system is still struggling to meet minimum standards comes nearly two years after recommendations to improve the system which arose from the death of 19-month-old Karen Quill in foster care.

The advocate's disturbing findings are that some children's allegations of neglect and abuse haven't been investigated at all, that workers lost track of a baby placed in foster care and that workers are too busy to meet requirements on follow-up visits to children placed in care.

Given the nature of Parker-Loewen's findings, most reasonable persons would expect that Social Services Minister Harry Van Mulligen would be anxious to rectify matters speedily. You'd think that the plight of children in most dire need of society's caring and nurturing would be beyond crass politicking. Sadly, it appears that such is not the case.

As minister, Van Mulligen is the de facto legal parent of children in the government's care. Frankly, he's shown himself to be a less than ideal father with his handling of this file.

It's dismaying to find out that, instead of responding in a forthright way to the advocate's concerns, Van Mulligen's impulse is to attack the credibility of the report. When the minister says: "If they are true, then they reflect very poorly on some of the practices in the department," he's questioning the veracity of Parker-Loewen's report.

This is the same minister who, when the report was released on Tuesday, professed surprise at the high number of policy violations involving such things as workers failing to visit nearly half of new placements within two days as required. It's almost as if Van Mulligen has completely erased from his memory banks the way he shrugged off concerns expressed by front-line staff members about high case loads, calling it "pre-budget posturing."

The fact is that, despite some small gains over the past few years, the system and all those ensnared in it - workers and clients alike - remain under great stress. The number of children and youth in government care had risen to 3,030 last year from 2,534 in 1996, with about 60 per cent of them coming from the aboriginal community. As Parker-Loewen makes it abundantly clear, the system is ill-equipped to handle the load.

But it's not just Van Mulligen who has to shoulder the responsibility to ensure kids in care are given a chance at a better life and to create conditions that will result in fewer kids being placed in care. It's the responsibility of all legislators.

In promising tax cuts and balanced budgets, politicians have a duty to consider the ramifications. Surely, such savings as those gained from keeping a lid on the number of social workers, whose job ideally is to work with families to head off problems, must be balanced against long-term costs of foster care; the expense of early childhood development help against the benefits of hard-wiring young brains for lifelong learning.

From the Opposition (which was questioning Parker-Loewen's reappointment as children's advocate only days before her report was filed) to the government (which is now busily trying to undermine her message), it's time that politicians put the needs of these children ahead of their partisan gamesmanship.

Taken from Social Services government website:

How are children protected in Saskatchewan?

In Saskatchewan, we have a law to protect unmarried children under 16 years old against abuse or neglect by a parent or guardian. The purpose of this law is to:

- prevent child abuse or neglect - help families stay together - find out if there is abuse or neglect - decide who will care for the abused or neglected child

Saskatchewan Social Services helps apply this law in Saskatchewan. The court makes the final decision about whether there is abuse and neglect, and what will happen to the child.

When does a child need protection?

The law says that a child needs protection if he or she is abused or neglected. It is not abuse to reasonably discipline your child.

Child abuse is

physical violence, cruel punishment or injury sexual abuse or sexual activity with a child emotional abuse

Child neglect includes

not providing enough food, clothing, shelter or health care for the child leaving a young child alone or without proper supervision or care

The law also protects children who may suffer physical or emotional harm because of family violence

What if you think a child is being abused or neglected?

Anyone who has a reason to believe that a child is being abused or neglected has a legal duty to report it.  If you do not report it you could:

be fined up to $5000, or get a jail term of up to six months, or get both a fine and a jail term

You can report information to:

any Social Services office; a community crisis centre or unit; a police officer; or an Indian Child and Family Service Agency

Social Services keeps the report private. We do not release the name of anyone who makes a report unless the name is needed at a court hearing.

You can protect children from abuse and neglect by reporting your information. The majority of reports are made out of real concern for the safety and well-being of a child. Anyone who makes a report out of spite, anger, revenge or a desire to cause problems for a parent could be subject to legal action taken by the person against whom the false report is made.

What happens if I make a report?

Reports are investigated by trained, professional staff who assess and decide, usually in discussion with the family, what would be the best plan for the child and the family. As noted above, every person has a responsibility to report a situation where they have reasonable grounds to believe a child may be in need of protection. The majority of reports are made out of real concern for the safety and well-being of a child.

Why do people abuse or neglect their children?

Parenting can be a difficult job and some parents are overwhelmed by the responsibilities involved. Others have unrealistic expectations of their children or find themselves without the skills necessary to cope with the pressures and demands of raising a family. Unfortunately, abuse or neglect is sometimes the result. Many people who neglect or abuse their children were themselves abused or neglected by their parents. Tragically, growing up abused or neglected may lead to life-long problems. Factors which may lead to abuse or neglect include:

marital/personal/financial problems; alcohol or drug abuse; lack of family or friends inadequate housing lack of knowledge and understanding about normal child development; inappropriate discipline; little or no parenting or child care experience or knowledge; demands created by a special-needs child; growing up in an abusive or neglectful situation

What are the signs of child abuse or neglect?

Some common signs of abuse or neglect are:

a child is unusually interested in or familiar with sexual acts a child has unexplained injuries or repeated injuries of the same type a child runs away from home or will not go home a child is always sick, hungry, or not wearing proper clothes a child lives in a home with on-going family violence

What will Social Services do?

When our department gets a report about a child we must look into the report to find out if the child is abused or neglected and if the child is in danger. We may question the child, the parents and others to get all the facts.

What happens if the child is abused or neglected?

If our department decides the child needs to be protected from abuse or neglect, we,

must write to the parents telling them this must offer family services to the parents may offer to mediate with the parents to work out an agreement

Family services include counselling, help and advice for parents, and support for families having problems. Social Services offers these service free of charge. If the parents use family services, but there is still abuse or neglect, our department must ask the court for a protection hearing. At the protection hearing, a lawyer for the department, and a lawyer for the family present their case and the judge makes the final decision about whether the child is in need of protection.

What happens if the child is in danger?

If Social Services decides the child is in physical or emotional danger, we will do what is necessary to protect the child, including,

offering family services, or taking the child away to safety, if no other arrangements are possible

The child must be returned to his/her parents when the danger no longer exists. This may not happen until after a hearing.

What happens if the child is taken away?

As soon as Social Services takes the child away, we must tell the parents,

the reasons for taking the child away the address and phone number of the Social Services worker in charge of the case that they should contact a lawyer

What happens if the child is not returned?

If the child is not returned within 48 hours, Social Services must ask the court for a protection hearing. We

have 7 days to ask the court to set up a protection hearing have to make sure the hearing date is within the next 30 days

Social Services may ask a family review panel to decide where the child will stay until the hearing. If the decision is made that a review panel is not necessary, the department determines where the child will stay.

Can abuse and neglect be prevented?

Child abuse and neglect can be prevented by helping parents to:

gain a greater understanding of normal child development and what they might reasonably expect from their children; enhance their parenting skills, including inappropriate and effective methods of discipline acquire knowledge and skills related to successful resolution of family conflict; develop productive ways of coping with stress whether it is related to personal, marital, financial or other problems; identify and seek help to deal with addictions to alcohol, drugs, gambling or other compulsive behaviours which may be interfering with their ability to meet the day-to-day needs of their children