N.L. judge expresses 'grave concern' over assault of 14-year-old girl at Key Assets care residence

Key Assets, established in Newfoundland and Labrador 15 years ago, has headquarters in St. John's. (CBC - image credit)

A Newfoundland and Labrador judge is calling for an investigation into the circumstances that led up to the assault of a 14-year-old girl at a residence where she was living and being cared for.

Judge Wayne Gorman sentenced a 23-year-old man Thursday to 10 months' imprisonment for assault and breach of probation. The Crown had asked for half that.

"How he was able to have an 'intimate relationship' with a child living at a Key Assets' residence and how he had access to where she was residing was not explained at this hearing, but it is of grave concern and should be investigated," Gorman said in his decision at provincial court in Corner Brook.

The judge noted the man was at the Key Assets residence where the girl was residing when he assaulted her in March.

He grabbed the teen by her arms and her throat and threw her onto her bed. A Key Assets employee saw him raising his fist to her.

"The gravity of the assault offence committed … is obvious," Gorman noted in the decision.

"He assaulted a child with whom he had an intimate relationship in the place in which she was being cared for."

The decision does not directly address whether the victim was a ward of the Department of Children, Seniors and Social Development.

Key Assets is the biggest provider of Level 4 care for children with complex needs in the province, according to data obtained by CBC News through an access-to-information request.

The provincial government paid Key Assets more than $30 million in the last fiscal year to care for kids in group homes, emergency placement homes, individualized living arrangements and family-based placements.

Level 4, the highest tier of provincially funded care, sees children live in staffed residential placements run by private-sector companies and organizations.

A CBC News investigation published this week revealed that those Level 4 costs have skyrocketed in recent years, up to a total of nearly $90 million in 2023-24, to care for 225 kids.

In a recent statement to CBC News, government officials stressed that monitoring and oversight of staffed residential placements is a "comprehensive, continuous process" under the department's licensing regime.

Key Assets has not responded to messages from CBC News.

Minister says investigation is underway

On Tuesday morning, Children, Seniors and Social Development Minister Paul Pike said a review of the situation is underway.

"We certainly are aware, but I have to say to you that we can't comment on individual cases like that," Pike told CBC News.

"But be rest assured that our staff are investigating that as we would with any other case."

The minister declined to categorically say whether the public will find out the results of that investigation.

"That remains to be seen. It's early in the analysis that is taking place, but we certainly will be tracking that," Pike said.

"And if there is information that can be released to the public, it will be. If not, then we have to respect the privacy of others."

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