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Less than a year before an autistic girl died while being restrained in an Ontario group home, children's aid workers removed five other children from the same facility because the workers felt staff were using excessive restraints and force.

The decision to withdraw the children from Digs for Kids in Brampton was made by Waterloo Family and Child Services in September, 1997, after a girl suffered bruising to her buttocks and thighs that was so severe she could hardly walk, according to the agency.

Nine months later, another girl, 13-year-old Stephanie Jobin, died after being restrained at that home. Stephanie, who was autistic, died in June of 1998 after workers put a beanbag chair on her back and sat on it for 20 minutes. The new revelations follow a joint Globe and Mail/W-FIVE investigation into Stephanie's death.

Peter Ringrose, executive director of Waterloo FCS, said yesterday the decision to move the children was made as a result of marks found on their bodies.

"Concerns centred on the frequent use of restraint and that [children]had marks and bruises that seemed likely to have resulted from restraints."

Mr. Ringrose said after several attempts to get Ontario's Ministry of Community and Social Services to intervene, his agency had no choice but to withdraw the children in order to protect them.

"The ministry said if a placing agency such as ourselves had concerns, it was our responsibility to sort it out," he added.

Mr. Ringrose said he informed the ministry of the reasons for the removal, but The Globe has learned that the information was not shared by the ministry with any of the other Children's Aid Societies who continued to place children at Digs For Kids.

Jim Thompson, director of foster-care placement for the Toronto Children's Aid Society, expressed surprise when told that another Ontario CAS had pulled its children out of Digs For Kids.

"If we knew about it, we would be concerned. But we were never told about it," he said. Toronto CAS currently has 10 children there.

In fact, Mr. Thompson said the ministry routinely does not share information with a children's aid society about problems it uncovers during its investigations or licensing inspections of group homes unless it directly involves one of the society's wards. This continues to be a major flaw, he said.

Meanwhile, The Globe has also learned that officials from Ontario's Ministry of Community and Social Services are currently inspecting Digs For Kids, combing through its files as part of a widening investigation into allegations of abuse and injuries at the home.

Central to that investigation is an incident that occurred in November, when staff at Digs for Kids restrained a resident face down on a mattress. That incident occurred just two months after John Baird, Ontario's Minister of Community and Social Services, was forced to issue a provincewide directive on the dangers of face-down restraints following a jury's verdict of homicide in the death of a second teenager, William Edgar.

William died in 1999 after a 113.5-kilogram worker at another group home in Peterborough, Ont., pinned him face down to the floor for 40 minutes.

Chief Child Advocate Judy Findlay said yesterday she will ask the Ontario Coroner to conduct an inquest into Stephanie Jobin's death. "I'm very disturbed by reports I've been hearing and about what happened to Stephanie at Digs For Kids and as the Child Advocate, I will investigate all information brought forward to my office by family or interested parties."

Ben Hamilton, press secretary to Mr. Baird, noted that if a children's aid society wants information about a group home, it can always make an informal phone call to the ministry's regional office.

"We'd be only too happy to identify problems for them if there were any."

CORRECTION A story in Wednesday's paper about restraints used in an Ontario group home included a description of an injury suffered by a child that was attributed to Waterloo Family and Child Services. The description should have been attributed to the girl's mother. (Thursday, February 28, 2002) (Page A2)