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

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Caregivers concerned after kids removed from group homes
Twenty high-risk, high-needs kids are being uprooted following a spat between the Manitoba government and Spirit Rising Group Homes over some teens being given weed as a harm reduction measure. Melissa Ridgen reports. – Mar 14, 2024

Caregivers and parents say a “political fight” between Spirit Rising House, a Winnipeg-based private foster home operator, and the Manitoba government is taking a disastrous toll on teens who are being uprooted as the government “winds down” its relationship with the company.

Several group home staff have reached out to Global News saying that vulnerable teens in Manitoba’s child welfare system are “destabilizing” in the face of being removed from Spirit Rising’s 13 Winnipeg-area group homes. The removals follow reports at the end of February that some teens were 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,” said Adara Curtis, an employee at one of Spirit Rising homes.

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

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Twenty high-needs, high-risk teens who are being removed are wards of the Southeast Child and Family Services, which acts 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.

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.

“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 said.

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 the teen battled hard drugs and exploitation.

The mother said her child is stable and doing well in Spirit Rising House care, but the future is now uncertain.

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

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Both parents said the teen has family support but lacks sufficient support services to stay clean. They said they also 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 said “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 said, referring to past government policies that removed kids from their homes.

“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.”

Click to play video: 'Caregivers concerned after kids removed from group homes'
Caregivers concerned after kids removed from group homes



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