Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dubé has released a report titled “Missing In Inaction, Misty’s Story”, which details how multiple child welfare organizations failed to ensure the safety of an Indigenous girl named Misty, who repeatedly went missing while receiving supervised services from a foster care agency.
Misty, who was 13 years old and from Northern Ontario, had unique vulnerabilities, a history of substance abuse, and was a suspected victim of sex trafficking. She went missing seven times while in the care of Johnson Children’s Services, a foster care agency in a Southwestern Ontario city, and suffered physical and sexual assaults, drug abuse, and an overdose during these absences.
The investigation by the Ombudsman was launched after concerns were raised about the adequacy of measures taken to ensure Misty’s safety by Johnson, Anishinaabe Abinooji Family Services (AAFS), an Indigenous children’s aid society, and the children’s aid society in the city where she went missing, referred to as the “Southwestern CAS” in the report.
AAFS placed Misty with Johnson when it was unable to find resources near her home community that met her complex needs. Johnson had a history of failing to comply with provincial regulations, but AAFS considered itself out of options.
The report found that Johnson did not provide the 1-to-1 support for Misty that it was paid to provide and repeatedly assured police there were no concerns regarding her safety. Johnson also overlooked the requirements of its protocols related to missing children and delayed notifying police for more than four hours after Misty disappeared for what turned out to be 19 days. It also demonstrated significant gaps in its documentation, record-keeping, and training practices.
The investigation found that AAFS shared some responsibility for the poor service Misty received. AAFS did not consider using a child welfare warrant during her 19-day disappearance, failed to scrutinize the conditions placed on Johnson’s license, and monitor the quality of care it provided. AAFS also failed to notify the Southwestern CAS that Misty was in its catchment area or enter into a courtesy supervision agreement with it.
The Southwestern CAS did provide services to Misty but did not obtain a child welfare warrant because it said Misty already had several other arrest warrants for breaching her bail conditions. Both AAFS and the Southwestern CAS were also required by regulation to report the type of injuries Misty suffered to the Ombudsman’s Office but failed to do so.
The Ombudsman made 58 recommendations to the three agencies to improve services provided to children and young people in care, including improving staff training and record-keeping, obtaining signed service agreements with other agencies, and ensuring all foster parents and staff receive Indigenous cultural safety training, as well as training on relevant legislation and agency policies.
All three organizations have accepted the recommendations and will report to the Ombudsman’s office every six months on their progress in implementing them.