Several months after APTN revealed a First Nations child protection agency was directly involved in the sexual abuse of children in its care, an “independent, third party” review of the agency’s operations is about to begin, APTN has learned.
A tripartite steering committee has been working on the terms of reference for the review into Weechi-it-te-win Family Services since last October when APTN began publishing the findings of its investigation into the agency based in Fort Frances, Ont.
APTN’s investigation didn’t just reveal that multiple agency workers have been convicted of sexually assaulting children in care of the agency, but several foster parents have been accused of doing it too.
The reporting confirmed the agency often failed to do proper background checks on foster parents, including one case where children were placed in a home of a man convicted of violent sex crimes only to see a young child placed in the home accuse the man of sexual assault again.
Foster parents are known as caregivers in First Nations child welfare and APTN confirmed that some children placed with caregivers wouldn’t get checked on for months or years.
Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu wrote to the Ontario government on Jan. 26 asking that an independent reviewer be appointed by the end of February.
“I suggest that the review focus on compliance with the provincial legislation and standards, which are in place to assure the safety and wellbeing of the children in question,” Hajdu wrote Merrliee Fullerton, Ontario’s minister of children, community and social services.
Hajdu said she was following up on “our recent conversation” the two ministers had to discuss Weechi.
“I offer my continued support for the Government of Ontario’s urgent undertaking of an operational review of Weechi-it-te-win Family Services in light of concerns with this organization, as highlighted in the media,” she wrote.
Fullerton responded the following month agreeing a review was urgent.
“We share your concern that an independent, third-party operational review of Weechi-it-te-win Family Services must be undertaken imminently,” wrote Fullerton in letter dated Feb. 16 provided to APTN by the Ontario government.
The steering committee is made up of Ontario, the federal government and the president of Weechi’s board, Chief Carrie Atatise-Norwegian.
“This collaborative approach, with all parties equally invested in the review and its findings, and with the support of the nine-member First Nations, will strengthen Weechi-it-te-win’s capacity as an organization and the services First Nation community care teams provide to their community members,” wrote Fullerton.
“We are looking forward to the finalizing of the Terms of Reference and the selection of an independent third-party reviewer in the very near future.”
There were 10 First Nation communities under Weechi, but the Ojibways of Onigaming First Nation left the agency last October citing ongoing issues with Weechi.
APTN has now identified more than 20 current and former children in care of Weechi who have confirmed cases of sexual abuse or have allegations before the court.
APTN reporter Kenneth Jackson can be reached directly by calling or texting 613-325-6073.