Caregivers quit on B.C. foster child, blame low pay
Published Sunday, January 11, 2015 4:09PM PST
Last Updated Tuesday, January 13, 2015 5:31PM PST
A Maple Ridge mom is devastated after caregivers for her hard-to-handle teenage girl in foster care quit, claiming they had little support and a pay rate worse than minimum wage at the private company tasked with looking after her.
The teen’s primary caregiver told CTV News she gave her notice to the company, Community Vision, after she said it wouldn’t provide more help to handle the mentally ill teen’s violent outbursts -- and told her to hire someone else from her own pay.
“It hurts me that I have to walk away, but I have a family on my own,” Elena Cyr said.
The girl and her mom can’t be identified by law. CTV News is referring to the girl through a pseudonym “Beth.”
Out of about 8,300 foster kids, about 500 are in the custody of private companies, often because they are too disruptive to be raised in foster homes. Community Vision contracts with the Ministry of Children and Families were worth $3 million in 2014.
The director of Community Vision, Peter Finck, told CTV News in an e-mail that such disruptions are rare, but did not answer questions specific case of the teen. He said his company is fully accredited and pays above industry standard wages.
Beth’s mom said she was a bubbly kid but started lashing out at around age 7, diagnosed with several mental illnesses.
Beth has been in hospital so many times her mom has lost count, she said.
About three years ago, Beth’s mom decided she couldn’t help anymore and voluntarily signed her up in government care.
“I was extremely stressed out, and I can’t…I had to reach out for help,” she said between tears.
After several other placements, the B.C. government finally put Beth in a house operated by Community Vision, with caregiver Elena Cyr.
Cyr, who had worked as a subcontractor for Community Visions for two years, found the girl difficult to handle. Photos obtained by CTV News through another source besides Cyr show clothes strewn about the room, milk sprayed over the floor, and a door off its hinges.
Cyr said she asked Community Vision for more help, but her superior there told her there was no more money.
Normally workers cannot be paid less than minimum wage, but Cyr was not an employee – she was a contractor. Cyr said she was paid $150, the equivalent of $6.25 an hour, for a 24-hour shift. She said that was usually acceptable because an easier-to-handle child would have allowed her breaks to sleep and recover.
However Beth was up at all hours, disappearing and sometimes being found in a different city by police, according to her mom.
Cyr said the company told her that if she wanted to hire another staffer for help it would come out of her income. She said that would reduce her wage from $150 to $75 a day, so she and another worker spoken to by CTV News quit last week.
“The whole organization is great, but there are too many middle people in there,” Cyr told CTV News.
Beth reacted by disappearing for days. Her mom was relieved when she was finally found in Maple Ridge, but said she’s worried it could happen again.
“I have no hope. Basically, I feel like my daughter is being failed,” Beth’s mom said.
B.C.’s Representative for Children and Youth was unable to comment on the specific case, but Mary Ellen Turpel Lafond said she has recommended that multiple levels of contracting out can cause problems.
“This is a major concern to me,” Turpel Lafond said. “In the end you can have a low wage, low-skill staff taking care of young people with high needs. You’ll have a lot of turnover and you won’t have control. You’re creating a recipe for a problem.”
Company director Peter Finck said in the e-mails that he could confirm one resignation but said low pay was not mentioned in the resignation letter. He said he could not confirm if another worker quit without receiving written notice. He would not address questions about the teen’s care.
He said his fully accredited agency pays $172 per day to primary caregivers. In general, workers at his agency do not quit in this way, he said.
“Our information suggests that $172 a day is above industry standard for this type of work,” he said. “Community Vision has a high level of caregiver retention.”
Beth’s mom said she has been in contact with a person from the Representative’s office, who told her he is looking into the situation.
“I think they should do a full investigation,” she said.
Beth’s mom has been able to care directly for her, but that will end this week. She has asked the B.C. government to find another placement for her child, but said the government could only find one company willing to take such a hard-to-handle youth: Community Vision.
Beth will return there on Monday.
* The story was edited Jan. 13, 2015 to remove specific details of Beth’s medical conditions.