An Indigenous-run child welfare agency in southern Manitoba is under the microscope and its long-time executive director has been fired after operational and financial reviews raised flags of “financial irregularities.”
Richard De La Ronde has been the executive director at the Sandy Bay Child and Family Services (SBCFS) for 15 years. The Southern Chiefs Organization (SCO) said in a statement to APTN News that he’s been terminated as an audit of the agency’s operations has been ongoing.
Attempts to reach Richard De La Ronde were not successful.
According to SCO, that process began in June when the Southern First Nations Network of Care, (SFNNC) took over administration of SBCFS.
A statement said that RADKA – a company owned by De La Ronde – is being reviewed for receiving money from the Children’s Special Allowance Program, which SBCFS oversees.
The funds were allegedly pre-paid lease payments for buildings in Sandy Bay, Winnipeg, Portage la Prairie and Erickson.
Sandy Bay’s CFS building burned down in 2019 and they’ve been in a temporary location since.
“As part of the operational review a forensic review by auditors Grant Thornton LLP then commenced, to examine a non-arm’s length company, RADKA Incorporated, that is owned by Richard De La Ronde the Executive Director of SBCFS, and that is leasing property to SBCFS. “ said an email from the SCO.
“Grant Thornton LLP is also reviewing transactions related to the Children’s Special Allowance account and prepaid rent to RADKA for the new offices that are currently not complete.”
The children’s special allowance is a federal government program that provides a monthly amount for each child in Canada under 18.
Parents usually receive this money but in the event a child is in foster care, that money goes to the child welfare agency and is to be “used exclusively for the maintenance of the child” according to the Children’s Special Allowance Act.
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Sandy Bay Coun. Randall Roulette told APTN in a recent interview that some of the buildings are under construction and weren’t even occupied.
“For years there have been concerns about the children in care as well as financial irregularities,” said Roulette. “(Manitoba First Nations) police have been notified and things are being turned over to them.”
The SCO said in the email that they stopped paying the credit card bills for De La Ronde and his wife, who was not employed by the agency, when SFNNC took over.
“I think as things go along, more people will be implicated in the paper trail and a lot more will come out of this,” he said.
Roulette said beyond the financial aspect of the review, community members went to band council demanding to know why their own child welfare agency was placing their children with non-Indigenous families.
“Some of our children are speaking (the Filipino language of Tagalog) as their first language – not Ojibway – not even English,” Roulette said.
None of the allegations have been proven.
A final audit is expected in December to shed more light on the financial situation at SBCFS, which in 2020 had 302 children in care.
Sandy Bay First Nation is 130 km west of Winnipeg.