Staff sound alarm over at-risk teens being “scooped” in group home dispute

What’s been described by caregivers and biological parents as a “political fight” between a private group home company and the provincial government, is taking a disastrous toll, they say, on some of the teens being uprooted by a child welfare agency as the Manitoba government “winds down” its relationship with Spirit Rising House.

Several group home staff reached out to Global News to sound the alarm that many vulnerable teens in Manitoba’s child welfare system, are, they say are “destabilizing” as they face being moved from Spirit Rising’s 13 Winnipeg-area group homes.

This all in the wake of a spat over some of the teens being given marijuana as a harm reduction measure.

“We’ve had suicide attempts, AWOLs, drug use. Destabilization all around the unknown. It’s very heartbreaking to see,” Adara Curtis, an employee at one of the homes said.

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“We were told any time before (March 27) they could be removed. So it could be today, it could the 27th,” Curtis said.

Twenty high-needs, high-risk teens who are being removed are wards of the Southeast Child and Family Services, who act as their legal guardians.

The agency didn’t respond to Global News’ request for details about supports the vulnerable youth are being offered or if there’s room in Manitoba’s overwhelmed child welfare system to take them all in.

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Curtis told CJOB some of the teens, who have had multiple staff caring for them in a group home setting 24/7 for years,  may now be living on their own.

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“It’s pretty disgusting to see, but in the past few days we have kids being transitioned to independent living and they can’t take care of themselves,” Curtis told CJOB News.

Parents of one of the teens in Spirit Rising care, fear what will happen amid the chaos.

“They go to the streets. These are high risk children with no help. ” said a mother, whose 17-year-old has been in a Spirit Rising group home for two years. She and the teen’s father had to relinquish guardianship of the teen in order to get supports, as her daughter battled hard drugs and exploitation.

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The mother says her child is stable and doing well in Spirit Rising House care but now, they don’t know what the future holds.

The parents of the children cannot be named under the province’s child welfare act.

Both parents say she has family support, but support services are lacking to help her stay clean and they fear for other kids in even worse shape.

Caregivers are calling on Families Minister Nahanni Fontaine to hear from the teens themselves.

“Come talk to (the) damn kids,” Curtis said.

Fontaine was traveling and unavailable for comment but a spokesperson from her department says “the priority right now is finding safe new placements for youth in care of Spirit Rising House.”

That isn’t what caregivers feel is happening.

“I believe it’s all political. They don’t have the best interest of the kids in mind,” said Kelly Hrominchuk who works in one of Spirit Rising’s group homes.

“The fact that they’re getting ripped away — when we look back at what happened many years ago — this is happening again to these poor kids,” Hrominchuk says, referring to past government policies that removed kids from their homes.

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“They’re feeling it and to hear them say ‘are we just going to be scooped up and taken out of here’ is gut-wrenching.”

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Caregivers concerned after kids removed from group homes

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