Regina parents fear policy change could harm foster son with special needs

APTN News
A Saskatchewan couple is fighting a policy change they say will “damage” their Indigenous foster son, Matthew Brandon.

Shannon and Chris Gardiner posted a letter to “Matty Nation” on Facebook seeking supporters’ help in reversing the decision of Ranch Ehrlo Society.

The Ranch is where Matty attends a day program for people with special needs in Regina. It also employs Sami Melles and Nick Davis who provide private respite care for Matty on weekends.

The Gardiners say the weekend arrangement has been working “beautifully” for about five years but the Ranch is now forcing the men to give up the extra respite work.

“What’s going to happen come Fridays when he’s supposed to go with the guys and he can’t do that anymore?” Shannon Gardiner said Monday.

Gardiner says Melles and Davis don’t want to choose or give up either job. She says they know the change will have a detrimental effect on Matty, who has bonded with them and requires strict routine to function well.

“They know how Matty is,” she said. “One slight change can completely set off an avalanche.”

Respite workers Sami Melles (left) and Nick Davis. (right) surround Matthew Brandon (centre).

However, Ranch CEO Andrea Brittin says the policy is about correcting a conflict-of-interest.

“What we’re really trying to make sure of is that the people who work for us have a healthy work-life balance,” she said in a telephone interview.

Brittin says an existing policy was recently “refreshed and renewed” and is now being implemented. She says it has been approved by a labour lawyer.

“When staff work for our agency – some of them full-time – and provide services to other agencies, this has potential to impact the level and the quality of service staff can provide.”

Brittin promised to email a copy of the policy to APTN last week but didn’t. A voicemail was left for her Monday asking her to try again.

Meanwhile, Tim Korol, who runs the board that oversees Matty’s care, says Brittin won’t explain why the policy is being enforced now.

Or acknowledge the harm it will do to such a vulnerable person.

“We are all community,” he wrote in a letter shared with APTN.

“People and non-profits just don’t operate in silos from one another. What one member of the community does can unnecessarily cause damage to someone else.”

Matty, 26, is non-verbal and suffers from brain trauma, autism, cerebral palsy and fetal alcohol syndrome. He functions at the level of a toddler and has lived with the Gardiners since 1997 – even after aging out of provincial foster care.

The Gardiners say they share details of his life on Facebook to educate the public and reduce the stigma around people with physical and mental disabilities.

“This is tremendously upsetting to us. We have a three-prong approach – home, day and weekend,” said Shannon Gardiner.

It’s not the first time the Gardiners have fought a policy they say wasn’t in Matty’s best interest.

Their battle to keep him out of a government group home in favour of family-based care was featured by APTN Investigates in 2015.

This fight is also on that page – For the Love of Matthew – under photos of the respite care workers and Matty.

Shannon Gardiner says reaction has been swift: “People are outraged…they can’t understand why program should have any say on what they do on their own time,” she said.

“Why would they do that? He’s one of their clients, too.”

Brittin acknowledged the change would impact some but said the decision wasn’t taken easily or hastily.

“It is something we believe is important because we believe it protects all of the young people and adults in our care, as well as our staff,” she said.

“What our policy basically says is that if you’re working for Ranch Ehrlo Society that you can’t work for other like organizations.”

Korol says the board tried to resolve the issue privately with the Ranch before going public last weekend.

“At no time has Sami’s or Nick’s care during the last six years ever caused any conflict, scheduling issue or challenge for Ranch Ehrlo,” Korol said on Facebook. “In fact, one could argue that Sami and Nick’s off-time work has developed a relationship with Matthew that is beneficial for Ranch Erhlo’s day program.

“We have asked repeatedly that Ranch Ehrlo explain how their organization could possibly be harmed. No one from the Ranch has given us any example whatsoever.”

Messages left for some Ranch board members were not returned before this story was published.

Shannon Gardiner says it shouldn’t be this hard to get a helping organization to do the right thing by Matty.

“It makes me want to protect him and fight this harder and harder and harder,” she said.

“It shouldn’t be that way though, because his care is already tremendously difficult.”

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12 thoughts on “Regina parents fear policy change could harm foster son with special needs

  1. I have been following Matty online for several years now and have seen the remarkable steps he has taken in socialization and activities. He has benefited from the loving environment of his home with Chris and Shannon, reinforced by his extended weekend families. It just does not seem logical that any agency has the right to disrupt this. It should be aware of the harm that Matty suffered when he was torn away from family before.

  2. We are foster parents of a non verbal boy with cerebral palsy in Manitoba. His transition to adult services with CLDS is a nightmare. Our family is traumatized. We have contacted lawyers and members of government to step in. We hope to bring transparency to this abusive situation. Best of wishes for your family. It’s unbelievable what we have to go through. It’s shameful and sickening. Kelley and Paul Kennedy. Hold them accountable.

  3. I have been following Matty online for several years now and have seen the remarkable steps he has taken in socialization and activities. He has benefited from the loving environment of his home with Chris and Shannon, reinforced by his extended weekend families. It just does not seem logical that any agency has the right to disrupt this. It should be aware of the harm that Matty suffered when he was torn away from family before.

  4. We are foster parents of a non verbal boy with cerebral palsy in Manitoba. His transition to adult services with CLDS is a nightmare. Our family is traumatized. We have contacted lawyers and members of government to step in. We hope to bring transparency to this abusive situation. Best of wishes for your family. It’s unbelievable what we have to go through. It’s shameful and sickening. Kelley and Paul Kennedy. Hold them accountable.

  5. I have known Matthew and Chris and Shannon Gardiner when i first met them they have treated Matthew as one their child for a lot of years he has a wonderful truly amazing person that anyone has ever asked for when i first had a play date with Matthew personally when i was younger he was more happier and still to this day he is the mr smiles that i have always known too. Shannon and Chris im thinking of youguys right now

  6. I have worked in this business for over 30 years. I have seen, sadly, more unsuccessful placements than anything. So, why, when all of these people have come together to allow this young man to have a successful, rewarding life, would you tear them apart?
    If you learn anything in this business, it is that if people are happy, thriving and having all their needs met…leave it ALONE! It is stated that these gentlemen have not missed work, nor had any other work related issues due to the respite care they provide. What is the problem here? I think it has nothing to do with Matthew, his family not the respite workers. It has to do with the Ranch. Where is the conflict here?
    Hmmm these men, on their own time, provide hair cuts, integrate Matty into their families, entertain him, LOVE him and guide him. How is this a conflict?
    I, personally, think the Management of the Ranch should be ashamed. This poor man has been dealt a huge, debilitating hand in life. Through luck, God or whatever he landed into these peoples lives. They have all lovingly provided Matty with the best they can. Now you want to rip that apart. Almost looks like you want it to fail.
    How do you sleep at night knowing that you’ve done this to him? Will you be the ones that go deal with the behaviours that will possibly occur because of this decision? I hope your conscious allows you to change this decision you made and do what’s right!
    Matty deserves it!

    1. thank you kindly, bev…we are so blown away by the outpouring of support for this and this letter is no exception. we are just as appalled as the many of you are. “don’t break what doesn’t need to be broken”, “don’t fix what doesn’t need fixing”…we never tire of hearing this. makes sense. but somehow some still don’t want to see this model succeed. it is heartbreaking to no end. thank you for staying the course and keeping the faith <3

    2. I totally agree with you. Matty is happy. Why would the Ranch management interfere with this set up?

      So upsetting for all concerned but most of all for Matty. Citizens with disabilities suffer the most when changes are made to their living arrangements, supports and services.

      Matty has had exceptional care from Shannon and Chris Gardiner plus the respite workers. I believe he could not get better care any other way.

      Why would the Ranch Management upset this system that works? I mean so what if the respite workers work at the Ranch and at the home of the Gardiners? What difference does this make? It’s a dumb policy to prevent workers at the Ranch from working elsewhere with clients. The only conflict of interest is in the minds of management in my opinion. Or are they concerned about liability issues?

  7. I have known Matthew and Chris and Shannon Gardiner when i first met them they have treated Matthew as one their child for a lot of years he has a wonderful truly amazing person that anyone has ever asked for when i first had a play date with Matthew personally when i was younger he was more happier and still to this day he is the mr smiles that i have always known too. Shannon and Chris im thinking of youguys right now

  8. I have worked in this business for over 30 years. I have seen, sadly, more unsuccessful placements than anything. So, why, when all of these people have come together to allow this young man to have a successful, rewarding life, would you tear them apart?
    If you learn anything in this business, it is that if people are happy, thriving and having all their needs met…leave it ALONE! It is stated that these gentlemen have not missed work, nor had any other work related issues due to the respite care they provide. What is the problem here? I think it has nothing to do with Matthew, his family not the respite workers. It has to do with the Ranch. Where is the conflict here?
    Hmmm these men, on their own time, provide hair cuts, integrate Matty into their families, entertain him, LOVE him and guide him. How is this a conflict?
    I, personally, think the Management of the Ranch should be ashamed. This poor man has been dealt a huge, debilitating hand in life. Through luck, God or whatever he landed into these peoples lives. They have all lovingly provided Matty with the best they can. Now you want to rip that apart. Almost looks like you want it to fail.
    How do you sleep at night knowing that you’ve done this to him? Will you be the ones that go deal with the behaviours that will possibly occur because of this decision? I hope your conscious allows you to change this decision you made and do what’s right!
    Matty deserves it!

    1. thank you kindly, bev…we are so blown away by the outpouring of support for this and this letter is no exception. we are just as appalled as the many of you are. “don’t break what doesn’t need to be broken”, “don’t fix what doesn’t need fixing”…we never tire of hearing this. makes sense. but somehow some still don’t want to see this model succeed. it is heartbreaking to no end. thank you for staying the course and keeping the faith <3

    2. I totally agree with you. Matty is happy. Why would the Ranch management interfere with this set up?

      So upsetting for all concerned but most of all for Matty. Citizens with disabilities suffer the most when changes are made to their living arrangements, supports and services.

      Matty has had exceptional care from Shannon and Chris Gardiner plus the respite workers. I believe he could not get better care any other way.

      Why would the Ranch Management upset this system that works? I mean so what if the respite workers work at the Ranch and at the home of the Gardiners? What difference does this make? It’s a dumb policy to prevent workers at the Ranch from working elsewhere with clients. The only conflict of interest is in the minds of management in my opinion. Or are they concerned about liability issues?

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