© Star photo by Frank Gale
A request by Blue Sky Family Care for the operation of a foster care home at this residence at 8 Russell Heights has been denied.
Stephenville town council voted unanimously to uphold a decision to deny a permit to Blue Sky Family Care at 8 Russell Heights. The town held a special meeting Wednesday to deal with the proposal.
Council originally turned down a permit request for the foster care home May 8, but held the special meeting following a written request from Denis J. Fleming of Cox and Palmer, legal counsel representing Blue Sky Family Care, which asked to operate a group home at the location.
Mayor Tom O'Brien said that in the letter from Fleming there was a request town council would overturn the decision made at the May 8 meeting. The letter was discussed by council and to make it official the town called a public meeting to respond to Blue Sky's legal counsel.
Deputy Mayor Mike Tobin moved the decision be upheld and council would not rescind the motion, to which unanimous consent was given. A second request to grant a temporary, 180-day permit for the home at the same location was also unanimously denied.
O’Brien said council wouldn’t be legally allowed to give a temporary permit in a zone where something is not permitted.
Anne Whelan, executive director of Blue Sky Family Care, said she was not surprised town council turned down the permit, but was surprised Blue Sky, or its lawyer, wasn’t informed this meeting was taking place.
“It’s not respectful for council to not tell us they were having this meeting.”
She said an appeal is already filed to the West Newfoundland Regional Appeal Board on the May 8 decision.
Whelan said it’s her opinion it is not an institutional home and she said when that's proven, a permit can’t be denied in a residential setting.
Whelan said with the current stance that the town council has taken, there is nowhere in the town Blue Sky can operate.
"We felt they (council) would want it in their community, but it seems there’s a not-in-my-backyard message.”
Whelan said there are many of these homes operating in the province and none of them are zoned institutional.
“We plan to exercise our full rights under the law,” she said. “Our long-term plan is to operate a group home in Stephenville. It’s pretty simple.
In the House of Assembly Wednesday, Gerry Rogers, NDP Child, Youth and Family Services critic, had more questions on what she called a “looming crisis” in three group homes in the province.
She said the homes are being transferred to a private operator and there was not enough time allotted, that there has not been adequate communication with the youth affected and the qualified people who have worked with the youth will be replaced by lower-waged, less-experienced employees.
Rogers presented a petition, gave a private member’s statement on behalf of workers at current group assessment homes, and asked the minister questions.
She said 3,800 people signed petitions asking Clyde Jackman, minister of Child, Youth and Family Services, to reverse the decision to privatize the care of the most vulnerable children and youth in group homes.
Rogers asked if privatizing their care to save money is worth the upheaval and suffering this move is causing the children in these communities.
She said children in Stephenville were scheduled to be moved by Monday and still do not know when and where they will be moved.