HALIFAX – An advocacy group is calling for an investigation into allegations that a Nova Scotia youth struggling with a conduct disorder was physically abused on the weekend by staff at a treatment facility in eastern Ontario.
Roch Longueepee, founder of Restoring Dignity, a non-profit group that seeks justice for victims of institutional child abuse, said Monday that the 15-year-old should be removed from the Bayfield facility in Consecon until a specialized treatment program can be set up for him in Nova Scotia.
Longueepee said the youth, who can’t be named, told his aunt that two male staff members refused his request to go to the washroom on Sunday, then threw him to the floor, punched him in the ribs and kneed him in the throat.
The aunt issued a statement saying he was left with a black eye, cuts to his head and scratches on his body.
“We have to react and respond to this boy’s cry for help,” Longueepee told a news conference. “We are concerned that the situation is out of control … I am concerned that this boy is in danger.”
The accusations have not been proven. Sharlene Weitzman, chief operating officer for the privately run facility, declined comment citing privacy concerns.
However, Longueepee released a copy of a Justice Department document that shows the province received a call from Bayfield on Sunday at 4:25 a.m., stating that the youth had been allegedly inciting others to attack staff before punching and kicking at some of them.
The document, produced by the Provincial Emergency Duty Program, says the boy was “placed in a position of control.” No other details were provided.
Court documents show the boy has been receiving government help since he was four years old, having been in the care of foster homes, group homes and other programs for years.
He has been in the care of Nova Scotia’s Community Services Department since November 2008, when it was deemed he required intensive, long-term care because he was a risk to himself and the community.
Longueepee said the boy is a sexual abuse victim who was abandoned by his parents before he was five.
As well, he said the boy has “cognitive issues,” but none of the diagnoses he has received are conclusive.
Last summer, the Nova Scotia Supreme Court approved the department’s plan to send him to the Bayfield facility near Trenton, Ont., because the province had exhausted its options.
“It was evident that none of those services had achieved the goal of preventing the situation then faced by the minister and the adolescent’s grandparents,” Nova Scotia Supreme Court Justice Beryl MacDonald wrote in a decision released in April.
MacDonald said the adolescent was “totally out of control,” would not obey instruction and “presented as a risk to himself and to his community.”
The judge also noted that the province had to send the boy outside the province because it does not have a secure, residential facility that can provide long-term, intensive treatment.
At first, the court agreed to send the youth to a facility in Utah, but that fell through and Bayfield was recommended.
Vicki Wood, the department’s director of child welfare, also declined to comment on the allegations.
“I have no knowledge that a child was punched in the ribs or kneed in the throat,” she said.
Wood said the department would investigate any allegations of abuse, noting that under an interprovincial protocol, the Ontario facility is expected to follow Nova Scotia rules pertaining to the use of physical restraint of youths who put themselves or others in danger.
“They would never restrain a child for punitive reasons,” she said. “It’s to intervene in a situation of danger.”
Wood confirmed that the department and the boy’s family can’t agree on the treatment he should receive.
“There’s a forum for the family to bring forward their concerns — that would be the court, not a press conference,” Wood said. “The judge is going to make a decision based on information presented to the court, not a third-party organization such as Mr. Longueepee’s, which has no real knowledge of the case.”
The boy’s grandparents, who have been caring for him for most of his life, approached the advocacy group in March after they learned of the boy’s complaints at Bayfield.
Longueepee said his organization has received complaints of abuse from former residents of Bayfield and their families.
He said the problem is that provinces like Ontario and Nova Scotia continue to cling to the belief that the best place for troubled teens is in an institution.
“These institutions can’t be the parents for these children,” he said.
His group is proposing a specialized foster care program that would cost the province about $175,000 to set up in the first year.
The plan has been submitted to the provincial government, but it has yet to respond, he said.