A private company that ran group homes for vulnerable youth in government care – including Alex Gervais, an 18-year-old who died in September after he was placed in a hotel – employed at least one caregiver who kept weapons in the home and others who were found to have criminal records for offences including assault, according to a government investigation.
Two other employees were facing outstanding criminal charges while they were working for A Community Vision, a private contractor that ran 23 homes for the B.C. children's ministry.
The Globe and Mail obtained a summary of the government's investigation through a Freedom of Information request filed after the death of Mr. Gervais. He was among 33 children and youth who were living in ACV facilities before they closed earlier this year.
The summary outlines conditions that led the province to put a moratorium on placing children in ACV homes as of Jan. 21, 2015. The province ended all of its ACV contracts over ensuing months as soon as it was able to do so, with the last agreement ended in July, a ministry spokesman said on Monday.
The ministry says contractors have a legal obligation to complete criminal record checks. Under B.C. regulations, anyone whose criminal record "suggests they present a risk of physical or sexual abuse to children or a risk of physical, sexual or financial abuse to vulnerable adults" is not supposed to have access to these groups
Sections of the report referring to criminal record checks of several employees are redacted.
But several caregivers involved in the investigation had a criminal record, the summary states, and concerns included "false information on reports."
A review of complaints and responses over the past few years turned up other concerns.
"A review of ACV historical concerns and responses from the years 2008 to 2014 was added to the documentation and revealed several ongoing themes regarding caregivers using substances (one overdose resulting in death in 2010), criminal offences, inappropriate physical discipline, assault of [children in care] by primary caregiver, primary caregiver viewing adult pornography, possession of child pornography, conditions of the home, caregivers having sexual relationships in the resource [home], and domestic violence between the caregivers and their partners," the summary said.
A lawyer for ACV president Peter Finck said he disputes the findings of the report and maintains he was not allowed due process. And Mr. Finck had not seen the report summary until it was forwarded to him by The Globe and Mail on Monday afternoon, lawyer Bryan Baynham said.
"They did a report, refused to produce it to Peter [Finck], and terminated him," Mr. Baynham said. "The report is inaccurate, he disputes what he can see of the report and wants an opportunity to tell his side of the story – which is what he tried to do with the ministry.
"He asked for due process, asked for an appeal, and they said, 'No, we're not interested in your version of the facts and we're cancelling the contract."
When ACV homes stopped accepting clients, the province and at least one aboriginal child care agency scrambled to find housing for 33 children and youth who had been in ACV facilities.
One of those was Mr. Gervais, who died Sept. 18 after he was placed in an Abbotsford hotel. The coroner and the ministry are investigating his death.
The summary of the ACV review includes 11 "substantiated" concerns under child protection laws and 29 "additional concerns."
Substantiated concerns included a youth being locked outside on a balcony as punishment.
Investigators looked at several homes and multiple complaints. In one Mission facility, they followed up on complaints that included "no food in the home, caregiver having weapons in home and mouse droppings," the summary says.
An "outcome" section related to that home says no evidence was found of lack of food or mouse droppings, but "all other allegations above were substantiated."
The type of weapon was not disclosed in the summary.
"Investigation documents released under [Freedom of Information] show why the ministry's action to shut down ACV was completely justified," Ministry of Child and Family Development spokesman Bill Anderson said Monday in an e-mail.
"In fact, out of an abundance of caution and because of child welfare concerns during the investigation, a number of caregivers were suspended before the full investigation was concluded," Mr. Anderson said.
A care plan was established for each child or youth involved with ACV. None of those plans included hotel stays as an option, Mr. Anderson said.
Mr. Baynham said Mr. Finck will have a more detailed response later, but could not provide it by deadline on Monday.
The ACV review highlights issues of accountability and oversight Ms. Turpel-Lafond has flagged in several reports, including one last year called "Who Cares?"
"There are patterns that we saw of children with complex needs being placed in a care environment where individuals who were not skilled, trained or capable of meeting the needs of these young people were working," Ms. Turpel-Lafond said.
B.C.'s Auditor-General has flagged "ministry oversight of contracted services for at-risk children and youth" as one of her projects for 2015-2016.