Andrew Russell, Carolyn Jarvis, Michael Wrobel, and Kenneth Jackson | Hillman Foundation

2023 Honourable Mention

Andrew Russell, Carolyn Jarvis, Michael Wrobel, and Kenneth Jackson
Global News and APTN

Andrew Russell, Carolyn Jarvis, Michael Wrobel, Global News
Kenneth Jackson, APTN

Global News and APTN’s landmark 18-month investigation revealed how some of Ontario’s most vulnerable children are being treated as commodities — or “paycheques,” according to former workers and youth.

Ontario’s child-welfare system has more than 12,000 kids — 17 years old or younger — in its care, according to the latest data from 2019. These are children and youth who’ve experienced abuse, have complex mental health needs, or, in some cases, are orphaned.

Of the roughly 300 licensed group homes in Ontario, nearly half are run by private “for-profit” companies. A startling investigation into the care they are receiving at over 130 for-profit homes revealed allegations of underqualified staff, overmedicated kids, violent and physical restraints, and human trafficking. In many cases, the only qualification to work in one of these care homes is to have a driver’s license and a high school diploma.

To uncover what was happening inside these for-profit group homes, the reporters spoke with roughly 200 current and former workers, supervisors, youth, and child-welfare experts. Whistleblowers provided images of the housing conditions, which included videos in which the screams of a child are heard as she is restrained, a ceiling caving in and bug infestations. Reporters filed over 35 freedom of information requests, scoured lawsuits, and obtained a secret draft report which outlined how one group home company continues to operate despite serious red flags having been raised.

By dogged document digging, the investigation showed how the owners of group home chains and their families built real-estate portfolios valued in the tens of millions, and amassed luxury vehicles, boats, beautiful cottages and vacation getaways, including one in the Florida Keys.  

The reporters uncovered repeated staff reports of human trafficking at a private group home chain involving girls as young as 12 that fell on the “deaf ears” of company management, the children’s aid society, police, ombudsman and even the provincial ministry.  

The reporters built a database of more than 10,000 serious occurrence reports (SORs), which are filed when a child is injured, goes missing, is physically restrained or dies. An analysis of the data found that while private operators make up only 25 per cent of beds across the province, they filed 55 per cent of all SORs at foster care and group homes, including 83 per cent of all physical restraints, 66 per cent of reports of missing youth, and 31 per cent of serious injuries.

A deeper investigation into physical restraints showed they are disturbingly common in group homes despite the province’s 2017 pledge to “minimize” their use. Global News/APTN found there were over 2,000 reports of physical restraints between June 2020 and May 2021.

The reporters also built a second database of more than 40 inspection reports from private group homes which are not posted publicly. The province’s investigators found instances of kids sleeping on soiled mattresses, waiting months for eyeglasses, missing vital medical appointments, lacking access to medication and proper nutrition, and living in homes in states of disrepair. In one foster home in 2019, ministry personnel found the crib of a toddler “jury-rigged” with two-by-fours to prevent the child from escaping.

Global News revealed an internal government list of “high-risk” homes that the Ontario government had not shared with children’s aid societies who were placing kids into those very homes. Two people died in a fire in one of those homes. A 15-year-old died in a fire in another. 

The series prompted days of debate in the Ontario legislature. The Minister of Children, Community and Social Services called the findings “horrific” and promised action. Premier Ford vowed to toughen inspections and oversight of the sector. Opposition parties, meanwhile, called for a larger investigation into one of Ontario’s largest group home operators and called for an end to for-profit care. They also called on the Ontario government to reinstate the Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth.  

New regulatory changes are scheduled to take effect in Ontario in July 2023. They will require new hires to have a degree, diploma or certificate in a relevant field or experience and skills relevant to their duties. The changes stop short of demanding a degree or diploma in child and youth care, specifically. But experts say the glacial pace at which changes are being implemented is reflective of the fact the children caught up in the child-welfare system are “almost invisible at a political level.” And so far, the government has no plans to end for-profit care.

Andrew Russell is a national investigative reporter with Global News. His work has helped change legislation at multiple levels of government, launched investigations into companies, and sparked national conversations on a range of issues affecting Canadians. Russell got his start in journalism in 2013 with an internship at Global after completing degrees at the University of Toronto and Humber College’s graduate journalism program. He’s reported for both, Global National, and the current affairs show, The New Reality, tackling stories on Canada’s COVID-19 response, the long-term care industry, First Nations’ lack of access to safe drinking water, financial crimes in Canadian real-estate, and the opioid crisis. His series, Inadmissible, exposed discrimination inside Canada’s immigration system. He is currently based in Toronto.

Carolyn Jarvis is Global News’ award-winning Chief Investigative Correspondent, possessing an exemplary track record of seeking accountability, exposing the truth and piecing together complex stories. Jarvis’ work has helped changed laws, launched investigations into corporations, and sparked national conversations. Her credits include Who’s Watching? which exposed shortcomings in Ontario’s probation system and Canada’s Toxic Secret which shone a light on a troubling trend of industrial leaks and spills in Sarnia, Ontario’s “Chemical Valley” – and prompted the Ontario government to fund a health project in the region. Under Fire, her hour-long investigation into the Moncton RCMP deaths put a spotlight on a concerning lack of training and equipment among frontline members of the RCMP and elicited a nationwide response followed by labour code charges against the RCMP.  From 2008 to 2016, Jarvis was the Chief Correspondent of Global News’ current affairs show, 16×9. Prior to that she was the west coast correspondent and weekend anchor for the network’s flagship nightly newscast, Global National. Hailing from Richmond, B.C., Jarvis comes from musical roots. She has a Bachelor of Music in vocal performance, has sung professionally with classical ensembles – such as Alberta’s Pro Coro – and was previously a board member for the Canadian Opera Company.

Michael Wrobel is a Montreal-based investigative and data journalist with Global News. He previously worked at Concordia University’s Institute for Investigative Journalism. The IIJ brought together media organizations and universities to work on large-scale projects in the national interest while offering students hands-on training in investigative and data journalism techniques. He has contributed to national collaborations involving the Toronto Star, Le Devoir, Global News, APTN News, Canada’s National Observer, the Saskatoon StarPhoenix, the Regina Leader-Post, The Tyee and the Associated Press. In 2019, Michael was awarded the Fédération professionnelle des journalistes du Québec’s Grand Prix Judith-Jasmin and the CAJ’s Data Journalism Award for “Tainted Water,” a Canada-wide investigation into municipalities’ water quality. The project was also a finalist for that year’s Michener Award and prompted changes to provincial regulations and reinvestments into municipal infrastructure across the country.

Kenneth JacksonAPTN, is based in Ottawa, and has worked for more than two decades in the business. He got his start in community newspapers before joining the Ottawa Sun in 2007 where he worked the police beat. In 2011, Jackson joined APTN to break the Bruce Carson scandal with Jorge Barrera that sparked three federal investigations into the former senior advisor to then Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Carson was later convicted of fraud sparking a court battle to the Supreme Court of Canada. The conviction was upheld based entirely on APTN’s investigation. Over the last five years, Jackson has largely focused on the child welfare system in Ontario. The work has earned multiple awards, including the 2020 Michener Award.