Inside Ontario group properties the place youngsters had been referred to as ‘paychecks’
In a single residence, a decayed ceiling crashed to the ground.
In one other, 2x4s had been erected round a toddler’s crib to stop escape.
Electrical retailers coming free from the wall. Foul-smelling mattress sheets. Water-damaged partitions. Mouse droppings in kitchen drawers. A rusted bathtub and rotten wood stairs.
These are snapshots of life inside Connor Properties, based on photos supplied by former staff and Ontario inspection experiences. For greater than 45 years, the corporate has been a serious participant on the planet of personal foster care and group properties.
However interviews with greater than two dozen former staff, little one welfare specialists, ministry paperwork, and courtroom filings inform the story of a non-public firm that some former staff say positioned earnings over the care of susceptible kids. Consultants within the discipline of group and foster care properties additionally cite the corporate’s troubled historical past, which included a hearth at one among its residences in 2017 that killed two individuals.
A International Information and APTN investigation found the important thing gamers behind Connor Properties, Bob Connor and his son Sean, have amassed real-estate property below their very own names and thru their firms estimated to be in extra of $10 million.
The investigation discovered the corporate has additionally been accused of underreporting critical incidents in its properties, acquired poor inspection outcomes, and not too long ago surrendered its foster care licence. Connor Properties beforehand had its licence persistently renewed for its first 4 many years of operation.
Ont. household behind luxurious trip leases and allegedly rundown group properties
It’s additionally a cautionary story about how Ontario’s little one welfare system allowed a non-public operator with a historical past of regulatory issues to proceed to function. International Information and APTN aren’t figuring out the places of the group properties over privateness issues for the youngsters in care.
There are roughly 100 non-public operators within the province.
“These [Connor] properties that I noticed had been in horrible form,” mentioned a former employee who International Information isn’t figuring out due to the employee’s concern of reprisal.
“The roofs had been disgusting. Electrical energy not working, water not working correctly, the air and warmth not working correctly.
“That occurred frequently.”
In Ontario, kids’s assist societies are answerable for investigating experiences of abuse or neglect of kids and, when vital, taking steps to guard them. Additionally they could take accountability for kids who show too difficult for his or her dad and mom.
Youngsters ‘is probably not secure’ in Ontario’s little one welfare system
If a mattress can’t be discovered for a kid inside its personal community of foster properties, a kids’s assist society can flip to a non-public firm like Connor Properties. These firms are a part of a $1.8-billion ecosystem offering little one protecting providers within the province, based on the most recent provincial information.
In some circumstances, former employees alleged that Connor Properties would hold youngsters so long as doable due to the “price ticket” connected to them. The province funds kids’s assist societies, which in flip pay any non-public operators they place kids with.
Fewer kids can imply much less income.
Interviews with former staff and paperwork obtained by International Information and APTN increase allegations of hardships all through Connor’s group properties: restricted meals budgets, little cash for leisure actions or Christmas presents, crumbling infrastructure and low wages for workers.
The Connors additionally personal one other enterprise. And it seems to be very completely different.
The investigation uncovered a set of upscale rental trip properties owned by the Connor household – primarily Bob Connor and his spouse – by way of a separate entity referred to as Windswept.
The corporate operates three bed-and-breakfasts and rents out 4 nation cottages close to Campbellford, Ont. — a few two-hour drive east of Toronto.
Photographs on its web site present pristine heaps and cabins overlooking the Trent River. Some leases embrace sweeping waterfront views, boat docks, king-size beds and sizzling tubs. One bed-and-breakfast advertises a themed room with “unique African” decor and ensuite showers with towel heaters.
One other is housed on a non-public island to which vacationers can fly their floatplanes.
Utilizing property and company data, International Information was in a position to establish no less than 18 properties owned by Bob or Sean Connor or by way of the numbered firm 511825 Ontario Inc., which lists Bob Connor and his spouse as administrators. The properties embrace group and foster properties, in addition to trip leases.
A International Information and APTN evaluation utilizing market worth estimates and property tax assessments from Ontario’s Municipal Property Evaluation Corp. present these properties have an estimated worth of greater than $10.5 million.
When reached by reporters at a house in jap Ontario, Bob Connor declined to come back to the door. His son Sean additionally declined interview requests and wouldn’t reply particular questions associated to allegations about Connor Properties’ residences, citing “confidentiality” issues.
The youngsters within the firm’s care are “supported with a remedy plan, weekly check-ins, and wrap-around helps from a multidisciplinary crew together with a social employee, psychotherapist, psychologist, and therapist,” he mentioned in a subsequent assertion to International Information.
“Our evaluation course of was created by Connor Properties and acquired approval from the Ministry,” he mentioned. “Connor Properties’ operations in the end try to exceed the legislated minimal regulatory requirements.”
Connor Properties operated each a foster care company that oversaw foster dad and mom and several other group properties round jap Ontario, the place youngsters reside in a communal setting with shift staff.
At one time Connor Properties had greater than 130 beds throughout the province in roughly 40 group and foster properties however now operates simply three residences with area for as much as 20 youngsters.
Youngsters within the care of Connor Properties had been typically handled as a income, based on staff who spoke with International Information and APTN.
READ MORE: Inside Ontario’s child-welfare system the place youngsters are ‘commodities’
Former staff say youngsters lived in residences with broken roofs, rotten floorboards, and damaged home windows that the corporate was sluggish to repair — even in winter.
“I assumed it was disgusting,” mentioned one former employee, who agreed to talk anonymously for concern of retaliation. “They’ve this lovely enterprise on one facet after which [no] cash on the opposite facet.”
“[Kids] felt like they had been simply there to pay individuals’s paychecks.”
For each little one positioned in its group properties, Connor Properties is paid a publicly funded per-diem between $193 and $213, based on inner paperwork obtained by International Information/APTN. One child may equal greater than $77,000 a 12 months. Youngsters with extra complicated psychological well being wants draw increased day by day charges.
A contract for Connor Properties’ foster care company, obtained by International Information/APTN, confirmed an space supervisor was paid $10 a day for each little one positioned in a house they supervised. They may additionally get a fee of $10 a day for each little one positioned “in a house that the supervisor opened,” even when they weren’t answerable for supervising it — an incentive to recruit extra foster dad and mom.
Consultants say non-public firms like Connor Properties can negotiate increased per-diem charges instantly with the youngsters’s assist society or Indigenous wellbeing society.
“Earlier than you recognize it, it’s $500, $700, typically — I’m not exaggerating — $1,200 a mattress a day,” mentioned Kiaras Gharabaghi, dean of Toronto Metropolitan College’s college of neighborhood providers.
“It’s fairly one thing that we settle for this,” Gharabaghi mentioned.
“The cash that exchanges arms is large. There are some individuals getting very, very wealthy.”
Insiders with information of Connor Properties’ operations say they had been additionally involved that the cash wasn’t all the time reaching the youngsters.
Slicing corners on residence repairs, restricted funds for outings, and youngsters going to highschool with provides in “grocery luggage” as an alternative of backpacks had been among the many allegations made by staff or contained in firm paperwork reviewed by International Information.
Staff described feeling disgusted with how they had been taken for coaching at “fancy” properties utilized by the Connors’ trip rental firm, but youngsters had been residing in properties that had been falling aside.
“Administration was terrible. They only cared in regards to the cash and never the youngsters,” mentioned the previous worker.
Making ready for inspections
Regardless of the delicate nature of caring for susceptible kids, there’s little oversight of group properties by Ontario’s Ministry of Youngsters, Group and Social Companies (MCCSS).
The ministry has the flexibility to conduct unannounced inspections at licensed group properties and foster care businesses — and it says it did 100 such inspections in 2020-2021. There are 303 group properties and 121 foster care businesses throughout Ontario with an unknown variety of foster properties, based on information obtained by way of a freedom of data request.
However former Connor staff mentioned managers typically knew about upcoming ministry visits and employees had been coached on how to answer inspectors’ questions previous to their arrival.
“We had been completely ready by our supervisor,” mentioned a former employee. “I assumed it was sort of humorous that we had been now going to repair all of this stuff that we had been complaining about for months.
“We’re fixing it as a result of we’re getting an inspection completed.”
READ MORE: Inspection experiences reveal disturbing circumstances inside Ontario group properties
And but, inspectors nonetheless discovered 4 Connor group properties in numerous states of disrepair and youngsters residing in shameful circumstances.
Inspection experiences described youth who, at instances, lacked primary medical care, comparable to entry to Tylenol and eye care.
In keeping with an inspection report, one boy mentioned he’d misplaced his glasses at one other foster residence earlier than arriving at Connor Properties and was instructed he’d want to attend 9 months for them to get replaced as a result of he was solely allowed to go for an eye fixed examination annually. The inspector famous that employees appeared unaware he wore glasses.
A report says one other woman instructed an inspector that “her mattress was uncomfortable and [she] had to make use of a number of previous blankets to pile below her sheets.”
Former staff supplied International Information and APTN a picture of a house with a rotting ceiling that collapsed onto the ground of an unoccupied bed room. A picture of one other residence confirmed a roof coated with a inexperienced tarp. Workers at that very same location mentioned they’d complained that the odor of mould at one residence was so sturdy it was giving them complications.
Connor Properties received its begin in 1976 when Bob and Elaine Connor welcomed their first foster little one into their very own residence in Campbellford, Ont. They obtained a licence to function a gaggle residence shortly thereafter.
Two years later, they opened properties in two different small jap Ontario cities. Three extra properties had been added in Sudbury a 12 months after that.
The corporate additionally operated a licensed foster care company with a community of “remedy foster properties” that had been meant to serve kids with complicated psychological well being and behavioural points.
By the mid-2000s, Connor Properties had greater than 40 properties, based on testimony by Bob Connor earlier than the Tax Court docket of Canada.
READ MORE: Youngsters restrained over 2000 instances in a single 12 months in Ontario’s child-welfare system
It now seems, based on interviews and courtroom recordsdata, that Sean Connor has succeeded his father because the one overseeing the corporate’s day-to-day operations, with only a handful of properties left in operation.
Tax-court filings counsel that previously, Connor Properties has tried to short-change employees by labelling staff as impartial contractors.
Contractors, in contrast to staff, don’t get advantages and are required to pay their very own Employment Insurance coverage and Canada Pension Plan contributions.
Between 2004 and 2013, a number of staff fought to be designated as staff, based on paperwork obtained from the Tax Court docket of Canada.
Connor Properties battled vigorously in courtroom in opposition to their efforts and was profitable in a single case.
Nevertheless, a federal decide dominated in favour of no less than three completely different staff in 2013 and mixed eight different appeals associated to different staff into one judgement.
Low critical incidence experiences
The revelations in regards to the circumstances inside these non-public group properties are a part of an ongoing International Information/APTN investigation that has discovered the kid welfare system mistreats some kids, lacks certified employees, and has little oversight or accountability.
The investigation obtained information on over 10,000 critical incidence experiences (SORs), that are required by the province when a toddler dies, is injured, goes lacking or is bodily restrained whereas in care, amongst different causes. Though group properties have far fewer beds general than foster care businesses, they account for roughly half of all SORs in residential settings.
Regardless of allegations from former employees and different courtroom or ministry paperwork outlining troubling circumstances in its properties, Connor Properties filed few of those experiences.
SOR information obtained by way of freedom of data signifies Connor Properties submitted simply three SORs from June 1, 2020, to Could 31, 2021 — two for incidents at foster properties, and just one for an incident at a gaggle residence.
Damaged little one welfare methods are a results of earnings being put forward of kids, specialists say
However the International Information/APTN investigation uncovered 17 calls to native police from three properties operated by Connor Properties throughout this era.
Police listed the explanation for 9 of those calls as “hassle with youth,” an assault, or a lacking little one. These doubtless required the submitting of an SOR with the ministry, however none was reported.
An audio recording supplied to International Information and APTN revealed a supervisor advising employees on when and methods to fill out a critical incidence report.
The recording — of a employees assembly held in 2020 forward of a ministry inspection — revealed staff had been confused in regards to the SOR reporting course of.
“I’ve by no means reported one, I don’t know, actually,” mentioned a employees member when requested in regards to the experiences.
Ministry inspections at one residence on Oct. 21, 2021, discovered seven cases of incidents which required SORs to be filed however none had been submitted. A authorities tribunal analyzing Connor Properties’ foster care licence in 2020 additionally highlighted that Connor Properties didn’t file these essential experiences on two events.
2017 hearth kills 2 at group residence
Teen sentenced for deadly Oakwood foster residence hearth
In 2017, a hearth tore by way of a Connor Properties foster residence close to Lindsay, Ont., killing 14-year-old Kassy Finbow, and one of many caregivers, Andrea Reid. One other employee was injured within the blaze.
An investigation by the native kids’s assist society discovered a sliding glass door had been sealed off within the room the place Finbow and Reid had been discovered and a gable window made from Plexiglas couldn’t be totally opened.
4 years later, inspectors discovered a window bolted shut with Plexiglas at yet one more Connor residence, experiences confirmed. The paperwork steered the problem with the plastic window was later addressed by the house.
The deaths sparked a large number of investigations and a flurry of lawsuits. Greater than $7 million in authorized actions had been filed in opposition to Connor Properties by victims or their households. A few of these circumstances have since been settled.
In response to a $5-million lawsuit filed by the Reid household, Bob Connor mentioned the “allegations are with out benefit as this residence complied with and exceeded the laws of fireplace, well being and licencing.”
Connor Properties, for its half, filed a $17.5-million lawsuit in opposition to the Kawartha-Haliburton Youngsters’s Help Society after the CAS started refusing to put youngsters with the non-public firm.
READ MORE: Household of caregiver who died in Oakwood foster residence hearth launches $5M lawsuit
Two years after the hearth, the province gave discover that it was refusing to resume Connor Properties’ foster-care company licence. The corporate appealed that call to the Ontario Licence Enchantment Tribunal.
In 2020, the tribunal dominated in opposition to Connor Properties, discovering 16 causes to not renew the licence.
Among the many infractions, the tribunal discovered that the corporate was working the property not as a foster residence with a full-time, live-in caregiver, however relatively as “an unlicensed kids’s residence” with employees who labored in shifts.
It additionally discovered different probably harmful circumstances.
At a foster residence in 2019, ministry personnel discovered the crib of a toddler “jury-rigged” with 2x4s to stop the kid from escaping. The foster dad or mum reported the kid was disruptive and wouldn’t keep in mattress.
The tribunal concluded that the “enterprise finish” of Connor Properties’ operations — its efforts to make sure a steady provide of kids and to maximise income — was subtle.
“It’s regrettable that Connor Properties didn’t convey the same diploma of focus and class to bear on execution — oversight, coaching of employees and the care supplied to kids,” the Licence Enchantment Tribunal ruling mentioned.
Connor Properties appealed the ruling in divisional courtroom, and in April 2021, had the tribunal’s resolution overturned. Nevertheless, on the eve of a brand new tribunal listening to, Connor Properties surrendered its foster care licence on Could 5, 2022.
Investigation finds youth in Ontario’s little one welfare system restrained over 2,000 instances in a single 12 months
Sean Connor mentioned employees and foster dad and mom who labored at Connor Properties’ “underwent common coaching and ongoing check-ins from their regional CAS leads.”
Connor Properties mentioned that following the hearth, the corporate engaged two impartial specialists “to evaluate and consider our Residential Care program.”
“It was the opinion of those specialists that Connor Properties offers secure, high quality care to our youngsters and we’ve been in a position to obtain good outcomes for them,” he mentioned. “This incident stays a horrible nightmare for the households concerned and for our employees and neighborhood.”
The continued International Information/APTN investigation, which discovered allegations of wrongdoing in non-public properties owned by different operators, highlights the questionable position the non-public sector has had in Ontario’s little one welfare system.
Even the youngsters’s assist societies, whereas totally funded by the province, additionally function independently of the federal government.
Some specialists say privatized care takes the “coronary heart” out of caring for susceptible youngsters.
“It’s very a lot on the periphery,” mentioned Gharabaghi, a number one skilled in little one welfare. “Many individuals, many little one welfare staff, will inform you they hate group properties. They hate non-public operators.
“However they’ve to make use of them as a result of they don’t know what else to do. Nothing else is being generated by way of our public methods that’s changing the necessity for this stuff.”
Ontario’s Ministry of Youngsters, Group and Social Companies mentioned in a press release the ministry is “enhancing oversight and accountability” within the little one welfare system.
The province mentioned it has additionally modified its tips to extend the variety of youth and employees interviews carried out for foster care licensing inspections.
Connor Properties continues to have kids in three of its group properties, which raises the query: if the corporate was discovered unfit to function foster properties, how is it nonetheless working group properties?
That’s a query that hasn’t been answered.
“Lots of people don’t find out about what occurs. And they should,” mentioned a former employee. “They should see what’s occurring and why.”
— with extra recordsdata from Elizabeth Sargeant and Rajpreet Sahota
If you need to share your expertise working or residing within the child-welfare system, please attain out to us at [email protected]