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Feb/24 - Closing Valley View Centre in Moose Jaw

Media Release

Self-Advocacy Group Pleased the Government is Doing the Right Thing and Closing Valley View Centre in Moose Jaw

February 24, 2012

Thank you Minister Draude for doing the right thing! Free our people!

Regina—Members of People First of Saskatchewan congratulate the Government of Saskatchewan on doing the right thing and closing the last institution for people with intellectual disabilities in Saskatchewan. Our province joins many other provinces that have recognized that institutions are a thing of the past and that we know now how to support all people in the community.

“This is a great day. Across the country we’ve been working hard to get institutions like Valley View closed” says Shane Haddad, President of People First of Saskatchewan and People First of Canada. “Many of our members were abused in Valley View and other institutions and we’ve worked hard to get the message out. I can tell you that this day means everything to our members. This is about respecting human rights. We all have rights, and we all belong in the community.”

Neil Mercer, former resident of Valley View Centre, attended the announcement in Moose Jaw today and is thrilled. “The horrible stuff that happened at Valley View…I can’t talk about it. I am just glad that is finally getting shut down. The people who lived at Valley View, no one would ever go back. I want people to watch the Freedom Tour and hear our stories.”

The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has been ratified by Canada and accepted by the provinces. It says that people with disabilities have the right to live independently in the community and that they should be consulted in decisions that affect their lives. Some people with intellectual disabilities need support, but already people with every type of disability are being supported and living successfully in the community. People First advocates that everyone should have a home of their own and no one should have to live with roommates they don’t like.

“Our slogan is ‘nothing about us, without us’,” says Haddad. “The people who are affected need to be at the planning table. Peer support is important too. We want to be included in the closure plans, to support people living in Valley View as they move out. We also have a lot of support from across Canada and people who want to help Saskatchewan do this the right way.”

Members of People First have been labeled with intellectual disabilities, but that does not define us. The People First movement is about being seen as a person, first, not their disability. Since the 1980s, People First of Saskatchewan has been standing up for the rights of people who are labeled.

Our goals have been the right:

to work at real, paid jobs;
to get an education;
to speak for ourselves;
to make our own decisions;
to get married and have a family
to choose where we live;
and to get out of institutions.

For more information contact:
Dionne Miazdyck-Shield
People First Advisor

Feb/24 - Government Starting Consultations on Improved Services for Valley View Residents

The Province of Saskatchewan will  begin planning and consultations with residents of Valley View Centre, their  families and key stakeholders for new services to replace the current Valley  View program. The new services will be phased in over the next four  years.

"Our  government is committed to making Saskatchewan the best place in Canada to  live for people with disabilities, and today's announcement moves us another  step closer to that goal," Social Services Minister June Draude said. "Over  the next four years, we will develop services that better support the  inclusion of people with disabilities in our communities and enhance the array  of services available to Saskatchewan people.

"Our  priority going forward will be to work closely with each Valley View resident  and his or her family to develop transition plans and determine the services  required to meet each individual's unique needs. Valley View employees have  provided excellent care to residents over many years, and they will also play  a very important role in this planning."

New services will include  community-based group homes and expanded day programming for current Valley  View residents as well as others with intellectual disabilities, particularly  those with more complex needs. Detailed plans for developing new services and  expanding existing services will be created over the coming months in  consultation with Valley View residents and their families, Valley View  employees, the Valley View Centre Family Advisory Group and the Saskatchewan  Association for Community Living.

"The  Valley View Centre Family Group applauds the decision of the Government of  Saskatchewan to begin a process of long term planning for residents of Valley  View Centre," Valley View Centre Family Group Co-Chair June Avivi said.  "Together with other key stake holders, we will develop a "made in  Saskatchewan" range of services to meet the unique and individual needs of  each resident of Valley View Centre."

"The  Saskatchewan Association for Community Living (SACL) is very pleased to be  working with the Saskatchewan government and other key stakeholders in  developing new services to replace the current Valley View Centre program,"  SACL President Gloria Mahussier said. "Today's announcement marks an important  milestone towards giving individuals in Valley View Centre the opportunity to  choose their place of residence, as well as whom they live with on an equal  basis."

A  joint planning meeting between Social Services, the Valley View Centre Family  Group and SACL will be held in March.

Valley  View Centre is a large complex of buildings built in 1955 for a population of  1,500 people with intellectual disabilities. The centre stopped admitting new  residents in 2002, and its population has dropped from 385 at that time to  just over 200. Today, only four other provinces provide care in institutions  for 50 or more people. To better align Saskatchewan with best practices across  Canada, the province will be discontinuing the use of the Valley View facility  once all residents have been transitioned to new services.

"We are committed to planning with Valley View  residents, their families, employees, the Family Group and SACL, with the best  interests of the residents in mind," Draude said.


Feb/22 - Stories of abuse in Nova Scotia

Horror stories

February 17, 2012 - 6:03pm By EVA HOARE Staff Reporter
Tony Smith says he'll never forget what happened to him at the Nova Scotia Home for Coloured Children. (TED PRITCHARD / Staff)
Tony Smith says he'll never forget what happened to him at the Nova Scotia Home for Coloured Children. (TED PRITCHARD / Staff)

THEY WERE BEATEN, raped, groped and robbed of their meagre allowances, and the girls were given birth control pills by their abusers — staff at the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children.

Some said they ate the pigs’ food because they were so hungry.

Others said they were forced to perform sexual acts upon each other for the gratification of some staff members.

One after the other, their sad stories are told in multiple affidavits filed Friday in Nova Scotia Supreme Court as the alleged childhood victims, now adults, seek justice for decades of abuse.

“If residents wanted a drive from (a staffer) to certain locations, it was understood that you would have to perform sexual favours on him,” states an affidavit sworn by Deanna Smith, one of the two lead claimants in a proposed class action lawsuit against the home and the province.

Wagners, a Halifax law firm, will go to court this fall seeking certification.

“There were many occasions when I had to perform sexual favours on (the staffer) in exchange for drives,” Smith’s affidavit says. “In my case, every evening, he entered my bedroom, he would sit on my bed. He would then proceed to lean over and slide his hand down the sheets.

“He would ask if I wanted to ‘touch his.’ I would say no, or else stay silent. This never stopped him.”

None of the allegations in the affidavits have been proven in court, and none of the people named as abusers could be reached for comment for this story.

The same man forced residents to perform in “sex shows,” Smith alleges in the court papers.

“At the instruction of (the same staffer) and other staff, and while they watched, young residents would engage in fondling, oral sex and sexual intercourse with each other. I was forced to have sex with numerous young boys while (he) and other staff looked on. I was forced to have sex with young girls.”

Smith further alleges that a mentally handicapped young resident she calls “David” was regularly instructed to sexually assault other residents.

“Staff members would routinely administer the birth control pills to the girls,” Tracey Dorrington-Skinner wrote in her affidavit.

Dorrington-Skinner, who lived at the home in 1972, said the same staffer named in Smith’s affidavit forced her up against a wall and sexually assaulted her.

“He forced me to perform oral sex on him and he raped me,” Dorrington-Skinner’s affidavit states.

Another woman alleges that as a young girl at the home, another staffer sexually assaulted her more than 50 times.

Others said they were beaten and forced to sleep in urine-soaked sheets, while still others said they were hosed down with water outside on freezing cold days.

Garnet Smith said a staffer the children called “Mrs. Jefferson” sexually assaulted him in the 1940s. She would demand that the boy residents provide her with sexual favours “before they were allowed to pass and go into the dormitory.”

Smith added: “Because I was so hungry, I would eat the pigs’ food.”

Star-Ann Smith, who was 13 when she lived at the home in about 1975, said girls started drawing straws to see whose turn it would be to perform sexual acts on the staffer who gave them drives. She said even when she didn’t get the short straw, she still had to service him at times.

Smith also tells of a room away from the others where the badly beaten would stay.

“All the residents knew that there was a room on the third floor of the home where the severely beaten were taken until they healed,” she said in her affidavit.

She recalls another male staff member, whom she didn’t name, sexually assaulting her eight-year-old brother “down the hall.”

“I have never discussed this with my brother,” she wrote.

All eight former residents whose affidavits were filed Friday said they never saw a caseworker at the home and police never laid charges, even though they were called once after a beating.

Likely at least 63 former residents will ask the court next fall to certify their class action.

Several former staffers, both men and women, are accused of physical and sexual abuse in the various affidavits.

Claimant Tony Smith, whose story of beatings at the home while he lived there for three years starting in 1965 unleashed a torrent of similar tales of abuse, said Friday he’ll never forget what happened there.

“I vowed ..... that someday I was going to tell my story,” Smith said Friday. He first talked about his experiences at the home in the late 1990s.

The founder of the popular band Tony Smith and the Mellotones said he was traumatized when other kids beat fellow resident Tony Langford, who later died in hospital.

“I told staff what happened. They told me I better stop lying,” Smith said.

“The atmosphere was ‘the strong survive.’ The staff used to get us to fight one another for their amusement.”

Smith said the RCMP told him he’d have to find more alleged victims to come forward if a proper investigation was to be launched.

Jane Earle, executive director at the home for 10 months in 1980, also filed her affidavit Friday, stating racism was behind the provincial government’s failure to act on the allegations of abuse.

“I was advised by Gus Wedderburn, the chair of the board of the NSHCC, that at a meeting with the education committee ..... the deputy minister of child welfare, Dr. F.R. MacKinnon, told him that the only reason for the low per diem rates at the NSHCC was prejudice,” Earle stated in the court papers.

Earle said she was “appalled” at the lack of investigation into the “horrendous” allegations and felt she had to step forward.

In a letter to the home this year advising its board members that she was helping the class action, Earle lamented the troubling lack of funding and the inaction.

“I expected the legal system would deal with the allegations of abuse,” she said. “Unfortunately, over a decade later, that has not been the case. I am absolutely appalled at the amount of time that has passed since the first complainant went to the police and I approached the board of the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children.

“We believe the lack of action by the Department of Community Services in conducting an investigation into the allegations of abuse against children who were ultimately their responsibility is unconscionable.”

Smith said Friday he is grateful for Earle’s contribution to the effort.

“I truly appreciate Ms. Earle coming forward,” he said.

Mike Dull, the Halifax lawyer who launched the lawsuit with fellow lawyer Ray Wagner on behalf of the claimants, said in his affidavit filed Friday that he had no knowledge of any action taken against the alleged abuse.

“In my review of the documents provided by the Nova Scotia Archives, I can see no record or mention of any followup taken by the NSHCC or province to investigate the ‘several other complaints about the children being abused and ill-treated at the Nova Scotia Colored Home.’ ”

Feb/21 - New CEO at Braemore

Troubled special care home gets new CEO

February 18, 2012 - 4:32am By The Canadian Press

SYDNEY — A Cape Breton special care home that had its licence revoked last year after a review found an autistic man was confined to a room for two weeks has appointed a new CEO.

Mildred Colbourne will take over the position at Braemore Home Corp. in Sydney later this month, replacing interim CEO Betty Mattson.

The Cape Breton District Health Authority took over operations at Braemore in October 2011 after the province’s Department of Community Services found that a resident of the home was locked inside a constantly lit room for 15 days in 2010.

A review released late last year outlined a number of management problems at Braemore, saying it was beset by a climate of mistrust and suspicion.

Colbourne said Friday that her extensive background in disability care will help propel the home forward in implementing the review’s nine recommendations.

"I am considered a leader and certainly strong leadership is required for the home right now," said Colbourne, a former director of the Services for Persons with Disabilities program in the Department of Community Services.

"It’s also important for someone coming into this type of role to gain an excellent understanding of the needs of the residents here and of the staff here."

Colbourne said officials have already been working with Braemore staff to develop a more supportive model of disability care and to develop short- and long-term goals.

"They are an extremely committed staff," she said in an interview. "They know the residents and they’ve worked with them for a number of years, so we want to build on that momentum."

The health authority will continue to act as the home’s board until the recommendations have been implemented, but Colbourne could not say when that would be.

The review was ordered after the province concluded the 20-year-old autistic man, who was allowed out occasionally for exercise and meals, sometimes urinated in the room when he couldn’t leave to use the bathroom.

The home’s former executive director, Debra MacPherson, later apologized.

The report by consulting firm Deloitte called on the government to develop standards for special care homes and urged Braemore to work with an organization that specializes in adult autism and residential services.

Braemore provides housing and rehabilitation services for about 130 youths and adults with disabilities.

Feb/01 - Don’t shut disabled kids out of society

ANDRÉ PICARD - Globe and Mail

“Loneliness is the most terrible poverty.”

– Mother Teresa

There are few things more heartbreaking than a child with no friends.

But being friendless is the norm for Canadian children with physical and developmental disabilities.

A new study, written by Anne Snowdon, a nurse and professor at theOdette School of Business at the University of Windsor in Ontario, shows that 53 per cent of disabled kids have no friends.

Even those with friends have very limited interactions. Outside offormal settings such as the classroom, less than two hours a week spent with their peers is the norm; only 1 per cent of children with disabilities spend an hour a day with friends.

The problem is most serious for boys – who tend to have far more developmental disabilities and fewer social skills – and it gets worse with age. In childhood, efforts are made, but by the time kids hit age 10 or so, when cliques and social circles form outside of parental control, ostracization and isolation is near complete.

In Canada, we talk a good game about integration, about breaking down barriers to allow the inclusion of people with physical and social disabilities in every aspect of daily life. But reality is more stark and harsh.

Real integration requires a lot more than building ramps, adoptinghuman rights legislation and funding programs. Grudging accommodation, with a dash of tokenism, is not enough.

If we want people to be healthy – physically, mentally, emotionally – and to reach their full potential, they need to be full citizens.

Kids with disabilities can’t be segregated and shut out of mainstream society. They need to be like every kid, in school, in swim class, on the bus, in the playground and hanging out at the mall with friends.

That is the underlying theme of the new report, Strengthening Communities for Canadian Children with Disabilities, which Dr. Snowdon presented last week at the annual conference of the Sandbox Project. (Sandbox was founded in 2009 by pediatric surgeon and now MP Kellie Leitch, is designed to spur improvements in the health outcomes of Canadian children in areas such as injury prevention, obesity, mental health, and the environment.) “Children and youth with disabilities and their families need and want to connect andengage with their communities in a meaningful, accessible and accommodating way that enables social interaction and development,” she said.

To conduct the research, Dr. Snowdon and her team conducted in-depth interviews with 166 families in Regina, Fredericton and Toronto, along withsome focus groups. All the families had children with physical and developmental disabilities (ranging from Down syndrome to autism). Childrenwith psychiatric disabilities such as bipolar disorder were not included, but one can imagine the issues would be similar.

Above all, the report focuses on the practical. What are the challenges caregivers face and what help is available to them?

Interestingly, the most common complaint was not lack of services but poor communication.

“Finding information on what is available is a big challenge,” said Sally Jordan, a caregiver to her 22-year-old nephew with severe developmental disabilities. In this, the communications age, she relies on word-of-mouth and tips from other parents to find out what services are available.

As far as anyone can tell, there are a plethora of programs for kids with disabilities. But a startling 78 per cent of parents said their children don’t participate regularly in community programs. There are a variety of reasons. Many programs are inaccessible (and that doesn’t mean there are no ramps, it means they are at inconvenient times or in inconvenient places). Transportation is a major problem for children who, because of their disabilities, can’t use public transit. And cost is a big factor, especially as parents of children with life-long disabilities often stop paid work to become caregivers.

In the report, Dr. Snowdon makes three main recommendations:

* Create a single online reference tool that lists all community programs, services and professional care available to people with disabilities.

* Invest in programs where disabled kids are integrated, not segregated, so they can feel part of their community.

* Find ways to expand the social networks of children and teenagers to break the isolation.

Facebook and other social networking tools have been a godsend fordisabled kids because they removes barriers – like being judged for the way you look. But being a “virtual” citizen is only a baby step in the right direction, it’s not enough.

Dr. Snowdon said she was surprised to learn from parents and children themselves that isolation was far more painful to live with than physical or development disabilities themselves.

It’s an issue, she said, that really tugs at the heartstrings.

But beyond the emotional response, there are practical consequences. Social interaction is key to quality of life: It’s how we find love, how we find work and how we have fun.

Having a disability does not obviate those needs; if anything, it magnifies them.

Sometimes we need to stop and reflect on the value of friendship, of a sense of belonging, and the value of community itself to our individual andcollective health.

Relationships matter more than fancy programs, but where programs do exist, they should be known and accessible and, above all, foster interaction.