Indigenous kids allegedly called ‘cash cows’ of Ontario’s child-welfare system

Indigenous kids allegedly called ‘cash cows’ of Ontario’s child-welfare system

At a group home in eastern Ontario, the owner allegedly called First Nations kids from northern Ontario his “bread and butter.”

Behind the doors of other privately run group homes, former workers say that staff and management referred to Indigenous youth sent there for help as the company’s “cash cows,” “money-makers,” or even “paycheques.”

A year-long Motorcycle accident toronto today investigation has revealed how some private group homes allegedly prey on the vulnerability of Indigenous youth from remote First Nations in order to generate profit.

Indigenous youths are moved hundreds or even thousands of kilometres away from their communities to these group homes, based in southern Ontario — separating them from family, friends, and culture.

Click to play video: '‘These are lives. They’re not a commodity’: Indigenous kids in care allegedly targeted by for-profit companies'

‘These are lives. They’re not a commodity’: Indigenous kids in care allegedly targeted by for-profit companies

The result, according to some workers, child welfare experts and youths, are horrendous experiences some liken to the abuse that took place during the residential schools era.

Allegations of kids being violently restrained. Indigenous youths allegedly punished for speaking their languages. A vulnerable child asking visiting Indigenous social workers if they were there to rescue him.

This Motorcycle accident toronto today investigation, based on leaked and other internal government documents obtained under freedom of information laws, government contract data, and interviews with more than 100 former group home workers, youths and children’s aid employees, reveals:

  • Some for-profit group home companies allegedly target northern Indigenous youth to secure a steady source of revenue.
  • These companies allegedly charge resource-starved Indigenous children’s aid societies in the north higher daily fees to care for their kids compared with what they charge non-Indigenous agencies.
  • Some Indigenous youths receive little to no cultural services, despite pledges by some companies to provide them, according to former workers.
  • These group homes are often compared to a “prison” where staff frequently use physical force to restrain children, former workers and youths said.

“People need to know that Indigenous youth are being monetized by the child-welfare system and that no cultural considerations are being made,” said a former worker of multiple group homes in the Ottawa area, who Motorcycle accident toronto today is not identifying for fear of professional reprisals.

“The average person would be quite shocked and frankly horrified.”

Group home companies contacted by Motorcycle accident toronto today rejected any comparison to residential schools. They said Indigenous youths were placed in their care by children’s aid workers from their home communities. The care of kids from northern First Nations in such homes isn’t funded differently than other youth, the companies added.

$28 million more over 10 years

Motorcycle accident toronto today spoke with more than 50 insiders from Ontario’s child welfare system who said for-profit group home companies are targeting or charging more to care for Indigenous youth. Global is protecting their identities for fear of professional reprisals.

(Motorcycle accident toronto today)

A Motorcycle accident toronto today analysis of spending data by children’s aid societies (CAS) across Ontario revealed that northern Indigenous agencies paid more than their non-Indigenous counterparts for care. On average, northern Indigenous children’s aid societies paid 26 per cent more per day for a child to live in a group home not run by a CAS compared with their non-Indigenous counterparts between 2012/2013 and 2021/2022.

Northern Indigenous agencies paid an average of $410 a day to place kids in private group homes, while non-Indigenous children’s aid societies spent just over $326 on average over that 10-year period.

This discrepancy meant Indigenous children’s agencies in northern Ontario spent nearly $28 million more over 10 years, than if they’d been charged the average rate paid by non-Indigenous agencies across the province, according to data obtained through a freedom of information request.

In Ontario, there are just over 300 group homes, with 135 run by for-profit companies, which each negotiate a daily rate with the province. The remaining homes are run by non-profits, like children’s aid societies, Indigenous children’s agencies, and independent or religious organizations.

These homes hire staff who work rotating shifts to look after multiple kids who may have been abused, orphaned or have complex needs.

For some of those northern Indigenous agencies, the average daily rates they were charged were even higher: 50 to 80 per cent more than non-Indigenous children’s aid societies in Ontario.

Motorcycle accident toronto today reviewed a handful of contracts which northern children’s aid agencies signed with group home operators. They included one under which a company billed $1,242 a day — or up to $453,000 a year — to care for one child with “high level” needs. The youth reportedly had a chronic medical problem and complex emotional needs that purportedly required extra staff.

Click to play video: 'An Indigenous child welfare agency’s fight to restore culture and raise kids at home'

An Indigenous child welfare agency’s fight to restore culture and raise kids at home

These Indigenous child welfare organizations, like Tikinagan in Sioux Lookout, or Payukotayno in Moosonee, care for kids from First Nations near the Manitoba border all the way up to Attawapiskat on James Bay. They serve some of the province’s most remote communities, which often lack basic services like housing, running water, or mental health care.

Former workers and children’s aid employees said some group home companies are well aware that Indigenous children’s agencies are struggling with limited resources.

“They use (Indigenous) kids as cash cows. That’s the name that people say: ‘cash cows,’” said a former worker of multiple group homes in eastern Ontario.

These companies “target” Indigenous youth to provide a steady client base or charge higher daily fees, according to more than 50 former group home workers, former social service workers and other child-welfare experts.

Some group home owners would call northern Indigenous children’s agencies to solicit for clients, according to former workers. Others sent emails.

“(Companies) are aware that these youth can be difficult to place because of the limited resources in their communities,” said one former worker. “They’re willing to increase the cost of the contract because they have limited options.”

‘Another phase of residential schools’

Sylvia Maracle, former executive director of the Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres, is seen in Vaughan, Ont., on Friday, Sept. 20, 2019.


Sylvia Maracle, the former long-time executive director of the Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres, described it as “another phase of residential schools.”

“There continues to be dollar signs placed on Indigenous people in this country,” Maracle said.

“It’s the consumption of children as assets because it brings them money.”

“Non-Indigenous people are making money on the backs of these children,” Maracle added. “You can pretend. But if you’re not Indigenous, if you don’t have an Indigenous child and you get paid to care for them, you are part of the schism that’s being created for the next generation.”

In a 2016 report, the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies (OACAS) warned the Ontario government about both the displacement of Indigenous youth into the child-welfare system and the “very high” rates some companies were charging. OACAS represents 49 Indigenous and non-Indigenous child-welfare agencies.

Click to play video: 'Ont. group home operator facing $60M proposed class-action lawsuit'

Ont. group home operator facing $60M proposed class-action lawsuit

The report said extra fees were “frequently” added through special rate agreements as a “condition of admission” for rural and Indigenous kids with complex needs. The report was submitted to an expert government panel looking to improve the broader system. What happened after that, if anything, is unclear, but high rates continue to be charged.

“Aboriginal youth are more likely to be placed in residential care systems hundreds of kilometres away from their families,” the association’s report said, noting that “youth experience significant culture shock when removed from the only communities they know.”

Companies can tack on these extra fees for special services, like one-to-one staffing or clinical therapy. Or they charge for multiple beds for a child with complex needs who may need extra space.

Motorcycle accident toronto today spoke with 31 current and former group home workers across the province who said companies were frequently short-staffed. One-to-one care wasn’t always provided, they said.

Group home companies contacted by Motorcycle accident toronto today said such extra services are justified, documented and approved by the placing child-welfare agencies.

From Grassy Narrows to a group home 2,100 km away

Heather Pahpasay, 19, said she has experienced more than 30 group and foster homes across Ontario.

(Motorcycle accident toronto today)

Heather Pahpasay anxiously fidgets as she recalls being bounced around to more than 30 group and foster homes across the province.

The 19-year-old has dyed auburn hair that falls just below her shoulders. She is wearing a soft grey T-shirt. Two snakebite piercings rest on her bottom lip.

She alternates between nervous laughter and tears as she describes moving from foster placement to group home. When she points to her arm, there is a trail of scars — a timeline of her life inside the child-welfare system.

A circular wound from a hot lighter allegedly pressed into her flesh by a foster parent, other self-harm marks from emotional pain caused by frequent moves from home to home.

“They’re my battle scars now.”

Pahpasay was born in Asubpeeschoseewagong First Nation, also known as Grassy Narrows, in northwestern Ontario. Just over an hour’s drive from Kenora, the reserve sits among a network of crystal clear lakes and dense forests of poplar and birch trees.

An image of Grassy Narrows First Nation located in northwestern Ontario, just over an hour’s drive from Kenora, Ont.

(Motorcycle accident toronto today)

The First Nation of approximately 1,600 members is struggling.

Fifty years ago, it was discovered that the nearby river system was poisoned. A pulp and paper mill upstream dumped roughly 9,000 kilograms of mercury into the water, contaminating the walleye — a primary source of income and food — and sickening generations of residents.

Families in Grassy are also battling the intergenerational trauma of residential schools. For decades, children were forcibly removed and sent to the McIntosh Residential School and St. Margaret’s in Fort Frances, among others, stripping them of their identities and tearing apart families.

Maria Swain, the program manager of Grassy Narrows Child and Family Advocates, speaks with Motorcycle accident toronto today in July 2023.

(Motorcycle accident toronto today)

Maria Swain is a survivor of residential schools and is now the program manager of Grassy Narrows Child and Family Advocates. Her office helps families navigate the child-welfare system and fights for kids to stay in the community.

Sitting in the community’s pow wow grounds, Swain reflected on how many of the children who attended those schools are now parents and grandparents struggling with historical trauma, mental health and addictions.

“All the family systems were a lot stronger before — but those things are broken, or you know … we’re broken,” she said.

Grassy is also experiencing a housing crisis, leaving few families with homes to accommodate kids in an emergency.

“There’s a (housing) waitlist for two to three years — but we can’t wait that long. We can’t keep families separated,” Swain said.

Click to play video: 'Ontario ombudsman report exposes failures in Indigenous youth care'

Ontario ombudsman report exposes failures in Indigenous youth care

In desperation, and with few other options, Anishinaabe Abinoojii Family Services (AAFS) — the local Indigenous children’s agency — has had to place kids far from home in recent years.

It was only after witnessing too many of its kids receiving poor care, including some who went missing or suffered alleged abuse, that AAFS recently stopped sending them south, according to a source familiar with the decision who wasn’t authorized to discuss it publicly.

Instead, most children who need care are now in placements in Kenora, about 90 minutes away.

Life at Bayfield Treatment Centres

It’s against this backdrop that Pahpasay was uprooted from Grassy at a young age, eventually arriving at Bayfield Treatment Centres, over 2,000 kilometres from home.

The company, located in eastern Ontario, markets itself as providing “exceptional quality” with “therapeutic horseback riding, water sports, team sports, crafts, YMCA outings, provincial park visits.”

Interviews with Pahpasay, former workers and other youth who lived at Bayfield described a different environment: a cold place, like a “prison,” and highly punitive. Former workers did not allege the company was charging more for northern Indigenous youth.

“There were locks on everything. … Some of the couches were ripped,” said Pahpasay, who said she was 15 when she arrived at Bayfield. She said her outings were often limited, with occasional trips to the YMCA.

“(They) didn’t make it feel like a home.”

Staff often rushed to physically restrain children — holding them down on the floor or up against a wall by their arms and legs — instead of focusing on de-escalation, former workers said.

“The way they spoke about (physical) restraints was terrifying because a lot of them joked about it,” said a former Bayfield worker whom Motorcycle accident toronto today is not identifying for fear of professional reprisals.

“In one restraint, (a youth) threw up and her face continued to be pushed into her own vomit.”

Indigenous kids ‘punished’ for speaking their language

Ethan Pokno during an interview with Motorcycle accident toronto today.

Carolyn Jarvis / Motorcycle accident toronto today

Ethan Pokno, whose father is from Batchewana First Nation, near Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., said he still has nightmares about his time at Bayfield, where he lived from 2014 to 2017.

“I’ve seen a kid’s arm broken in a restraint,” said Pokno, who is now 21.

“I’ve seen staff going to grab the kid, restrain them, literally smash their whole face off the table, nose bleeding.”

Interviews with young people who lived at Bayfield, former workers, and documents from Highland Shores Children’s Aid Society revealed significant concerns about mistreatment of First Nations kids.

“You weren’t allowed to talk in your tongue,” Pokno said. “Staff would get mad, send you to your room, restrain you.”

Some workers at Bayfield said attempts were made to help Indigenous youth connect with their cultural traditions, including, for a time, contracting an Indigenous worker. But other workers said there was little or no cultural programming in the homes.

“In our training, it was very much promoted that (Bayfield) provides various cultural experiences and they honour individuals, cultures. There was nothing,” said one former Bayfield worker.

“It sounds really nice on paper, but it’s not what’s put into practice.”

Click to play video: 'Investigation finds youth in Ontario’s child welfare system restrained over 2,000 times in one year'

Investigation finds youth in Ontario’s child welfare system restrained over 2,000 times in one year

Bayfield declined a request for an on-camera interview.

In a statement, the company said it was “offensive” to compare its operations to a residential school.

“Bayfield does not seek out or target Indigenous youth for placement,” the company said. “They are referred as a result of their significant behavioural, psychological and educational needs.”

“Indigenous youth that are placed with us are brought to Bayfield by placing agency workers from their home communities.”

“The requests are then considered and approved (or denied) according to the funding agency’s own assessment of the need,” the company said, adding it provides documentation for how staffing hours are allocated.

Bayfield said the information Motorcycle accident toronto today is presenting is incomplete and that the small percentage of verified allegations have been addressed.

The company said its staff are doing “very difficult work” with youth with high-risk behaviours and strongly denied staff were initiating physical restraints with kids or teens in Bayfield’s care.

“Our staff are human and, like in any profession, they are not immune to making errors in judgement,” Bayfield said, adding that physical restraints are only used when “de-escalation attempts have been unsuccessful.”

Are you here to rescue me?

The minutes of a meeting between Tikinagan and Highland Shores Children’s Aid Society in 2015.

(Motorcycle accident toronto today)

Warnings about treatment of kids inside Bayfield had been circulating for years.

In 2015, workers from Tikinagan, an Indigenous children’s aid agency that serves 30 First Nations in northwestern Ontario, visited Bayfield and Connor Homes to check on their kids.

They later described what they saw during the visit to Bayfield as “heartbreaking.”

“None of the kids in Bayfield are treated with an ounce of humanity,” said a copy of the minutes summarizing the meeting afterwards between Tikinagan and Highland Shores Children’s Aid Society (CAS). The CAS serves children in Hastings, Prince Edward, and Northumberland counties east of Toronto.

“Each boy asked if they could leave with (the worker),” the document said.

“One boy asked if they were there to rescue them.”

In 2018, more concerns surfaced about the “safety and security” of kids at Bayfield. They were laid out in an 11-page letter sent via urgent email by Highland Shores CAS to the Ontario Ministry of Children, Community, and Social Services. Motorcycle accident toronto today obtained copies of the email and letter through a freedom of information request.

“(We) continue to be extremely worried about the safety, care and welfare of the children placed at Bayfield,” wrote Tami Callahan, then director of services at the Highland Shores CAS, noting there had been “incidents of alleged abuse, maltreatment.”

Click to play video: 'Ontario won’t publicize information about ‘high-risk’ group homes: Global News investigation'

Ontario won’t publicize information about ‘high-risk’ group homes: Motorcycle accident toronto today investigation

The company said it was cleared of any misconduct related to the 2015 allegations by Tikinagan. It pointed to a 2015 letter from Highland Shores CAS that praised Bayfield for having “dedicated staff that are responsive to the needs of the highly challenging population it serves.”

Bayfield initially told Motorcycle accident toronto today that the “cultural education and maintenance of this knowledge remains the function of the youth’s home communities, family, placing agencies.”

When asked whether it was violating Ontario laws for not providing cultural programming, the company provided a second statement.

“Bayfield works with the youth’s team, which includes the placement agency and the legal guardian, and in some cases outside consultants, to ensure cultural needs are met,” the company said, noting that it funds hotel stays for parents whose kids are unable to travel and where the family does not live close enough “for more frequent visitation/involvement.”

Recruiting from ‘the north’

Click to play video: 'Whistleblowers from Ontario group home say money came before kids'

Whistleblowers from Ontario group home say money came before kids

At other group homes — from Ottawa to Guelph, Ont. — former workers said these companies would target Indigenous youths as a steady source for lucrative contracts.

In May 2017, the CEO of a company called Connor Homes sent an email soliciting children’s aid societies across Ontario, announcing that his company had “developed a certification process for homes to care for Native youth.”

The email was sent shortly after two First Nations youths died in Ottawa-area group homes that were unaffiliated with Connor.

“We currently have 37 Indigenous youth in our care: Ojibway, Oji-Cree, Cree, Mohawk, Chippewa and Oneida. We aim to provide treatment that is culturally relevant to specific tribes in understanding cultural differences,” the email stated.

An Ontario children’s aid director was left “fuming” after getting this email, saying the timing and language of the missive was offensive. It read like an “aggressive marketing campaign” for Indigenous kids and teens.

One former worker said Bob Connor, the founder and owner of Connor Homes, talked openly about efforts to “recruit” from the north.

“We can charge more in the premium per month. We need to get kids from up north,” said one former employee, recalling remarks allegedly made by Connor.

Click to play video: 'Connor Homes: Ontario family behind allegedly rundown group homes also own luxury vacation rentals'

Connor Homes: Ontario family behind allegedly rundown group homes also own luxury vacation rentals

And while some staff said there were occasional cultural offerings at Connor Homes, other former workers said the company was motivated by profits.

A former worker said Bob Connor discussed First Nations kids who needed two-to-one support and not wanting to “lose” the contract.

“(Indigenous youth) were legitimately a paycheque,” said the former Connor Homes worker. “It was never, ever about the youth. It was always about money.”

During the same 2015 meeting with Highland Shores CAS officials, Tikinagan workers voiced concerns about living conditions for their kids after visiting them inside Connor Homes.

Tikinagan officials also complained bitterly about Indigenous youth at Connor Homes being prohibited from speaking their language and added they felt “gouged” by the company, minutes of the meeting show.

One participant at this joint meeting, the minutes show, reportedly stated they had “kept challenging Connors staff on programs and they just couldn’t justify what they are providing and what Tikinagan is paying for.”

“(There’s) great concern that the kids say they are not allowed to speak in their Native language,” said the same leaked document, summarizing the meeting between the two agencies.

“(The kids) are accused of being sneaky or sketchy.”

Highland Shores raised more red flags about Connor Homes two years later.

The company was investigated after a First Nations child attempted suicide twice despite the fact the girl’s child-welfare agency back home had been paying for “one to one supervision,” according to a 2017 Highland Shores report obtained by Motorcycle accident toronto today.

Connor Homes declined to be interviewed or answer detailed questions for this story, and did not respond to the allegations it engaged in gouging.

In a written statement, the company said it provides each child with “wrap-around supports from a multidisciplinary team including a social worker, psychotherapist, psychologist and therapist.”

“Historically, we’ve had Indigenous children in our homes and provided culturally appropriate programming through an Indigenous Treatment Coordinator,” the company said, noting none of its current youth are Indigenous.

“In our experience, Indigenous children have not been funded differently than others. All are based on individual need, requested, approved and managed by their Native Agencies.”

Little connection with traditions

Click to play video: 'Ontario proposes child welfare system changes'

Ontario proposes child welfare system changes

Under Ontario law, operators like group homes are required to “make reasonable efforts” to connect First Nations, Inuit and Métis youth with culturally relevant services.

But the Motorcycle accident toronto today investigation found some group homes or other care operators often don’t.

An analysis of more than 60 Ontario government residential inspection reports from 2019 to 2022, involving more than a dozen companies in southern Ontario, found 212 failings involving cultural requirements, including inadequate staff training and little evidence kids had cultural programming.

A worker at one group home said “cultural programming” could be anything from “Italian night” to “Mexican night.”

When there are no considerations for Indigenous traditions, kids become disconnected from who they are, said Maracle, the former long-time leader of the Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres.

The dollars spent keeping kids in group and foster homes in the south should be invested to “build up” northern Indigenous communities and keep kids close to their traditions, Maracle said.

More money is needed for treatment programs or child and youth workers, anything to help parents, Maracle said.

“These young people should be getting what we all owe them,” she said. “We’re the ones who are borrowing from their future and we’re not giving them a chance to fly and survive.”

Michael Parsa, Ontario Minister for Children, Community and Social Services, at the Ontario Legislature, Queen’s Park, Toronto, on Oct. 16, 2023.


Michael Parsa, Ontario’s Minister of Children, Community and Social Services, declined to be interviewed for this Motorcycle accident toronto today investigation.

In a statement, his Ministry highlighted new regulations that took effect July 1, 2023, which require companies to consider a youth’s culture when drafting plans for their care.

The ministry also proposed changes in 2023 to the Child, Youth and Family Services Act that would allow inspectors to fine anyone caught breaking child-welfare laws, like group home or foster care operators, up to $1,000 per day of non-compliance to a maximum fine of $250,000.

The proposals are not yet enacted.

Click to play video: 'Supreme Court upholds Ottawa’s Indigenous child welfare law'

Supreme Court upholds Ottawa’s Indigenous child welfare law

As bureaucrats and legislators debate how to fix the system in Ontario, Indigenous youth continue to be placed into care far from home.

It is a cycle Heather Pahpasay is determined to break.

But as a new mom, she is facing the same kinds of challenges her parents once confronted. She has a one-year-old daughter who has also been in care.

Pahpasay thinks about her all the time.

“Sometimes I do think about giving up. But then I think of myself as a little girl. All I wanted was my mom,” said Pahpasay, who now lives in St. Catharines, about two hours from Toronto.

“I wish she didn’t give up on me, so I’m not going to do that on her.”

–  With additional data analysis by Emma Wilkie and Andrew Bailey. Additional reporting from Tessa Bennett and Maitri Shah