Fostering Change: Shifting the focus from ‘What’s wrong with you?’ to ‘What happened to you?’

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Fostering Change: Shifting the focus from ‘What’s wrong with you?’ to ‘What happened to you?’
WATCH: When foster father-of-the-year Garry Prokopishin was charged with sexual exploitation, he had been running a foster home in Alberta for 20 years. But could a similar case of abuse go undetected today? Nancy Hixt brings us part 3 of her series, Fostering Change – Nov 1, 2017

The case of Garry Prokopishin, who was a foster father in Calgary for 20 years before he was arrested for child sex abuse, created a scandal and prompted questions about Alberta’s foster system at the time.

The ministry in charge of foster care still faces the question: could a similar situation happen today?

READ MORE: Former Foster Parent of the Year sentenced to 10 years for sex abuse

From the time Prokopishin became a foster parent in 1990 to the time of his arrest, 54 kids had passed through his home. He was eventually convicted of sexually exploiting four teenage boys.

Watch part 1 of Fostering Change below: Nancy Hixt reports on one man’s story of abuse in the Alberta foster care system

Click to play video: 'Fostering Change Part 1: One man’s horrific story of abuse in the Alberta foster care system'
Fostering Change Part 1: One man’s horrific story of abuse in the Alberta foster care system

Gord Haight prosecuted the case.

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He told Global News Prokopishin used his “stellar” reputation in the community to assist him in committing and furthering his crimes.

“The case was extremely challenging from a Crown perspective because the witnesses, the victims, were all very troubled young men,” Haight said.

“A number of the boys spoke of the fact the accused would say nobody would believe them over him, ‘foster father of the year.’”

Global News has obtained a copy of an independent review of the Prokopishin case from the Alberta Ministry of Children’s Services. It is heavily redacted.

“The contractor found no evidence that any youth had disclosed inappropriate sexual activity by Prokopishin prior to the allegation made to Calgary Police Service in June 2009,” it reads.

But a further file review noted there were red flags.

“There were 12 files where…actions might now…be considered suspicious or indicate boundary issues,” the document reads.

Haight said during the court proceedings, the victims stated Prokopishin would make sexually suggestive jokes — not just to them, but in front of social workers.

“It was almost a front for him. So any sort of innuendo that would go to any authorities would more likely be taken as simply, ‘This is a jocular atmosphere, he’s just being one of the boys.’”

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Michael Matthews, one of Prokopishin’s victims, was previously abused in another foster home.

Matthews said he feels like the system was set up to protect offenders.

Michael Matthews. Dani Lantela / Global News

In his mind, a few simple changes might have spared him from years of abuse.

“They never just showed up randomly,” Matthews said. “Like, if they’d just show up out of the blue…like a house inspection, so you aren’t pre-warning them to get everything in order so it looks like they are doing everything right,” he said.

As Prokopishin has been serving his 10-year prison sentence, the system has been changing.

The question is shifting from: “What’s wrong with you?” to “What happened to you?”

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“In the years since this heartbreaking case occurred, we have strengthened the way we screen, assess, evaluate and support foster parents,” officials from the Ministry of Children’s Services said in a statement to Global News.

It goes on to state all new foster homes are now re-assessed six months after being licensed, and annually after that.

There are also new policies, programs and training to improve support for caregivers and caseworkers, which includes a focus on strengthening critical thinking and assessment skills of front-line workers.

Unannounced visits at foster homes now take place and case workers talk to kids regularly without the caregiver present.

Watch part 2 of Fostering Change below: Recognizing the signs of child abuse

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Fostering Change: Recognizing the signs of child abuse

Forensic psychologist Dr. Sara MacDonald interviews child victims of abuse at the Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre in Calgary.

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“I think there’s a really good chance that this kind of scenario could be prevented today,” MacDonald said.

“We’ve certainly come a long way in terms of education about child abuse and in particular, the indicators of child abuse.”

Matthews has come to accept he will always struggle with the trauma of the abuse he suffered.

But he finds some comfort in seeing his story is fostering change.

Click here for Fostering Change Part 1

Click here for Part 2

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