Caregiver’s family sues over foster home fire death
The family of a caregiver who died in a foster-home fire is accusing the Ontario government in a $5-million lawsuit of licensing a firetrap.
Andrea Reid’s family alleges that the home, about 58 kilometres west of Peterborough, should have never been allowed to care for children, citing poorly trained staff, the lack of a fire plan or escape routes in the event of an emergency, unbreakable windows and “incompetent” government inspectors.
“The whole situation is outrageous,” said Reid family lawyer Kevin Henderson, who has filed the lawsuit in Superior Court.
The family seeks damages of $5 million from the government, a numbered company that owned the home, the company that operated the foster home — Connor Homes — and the girl who set the February 2017 fire.
The girl, who has severe mental health challenges, is now 18 and serving a three-year-sentence for the fire that killed Reid and a resident, 14-year-old Kassy Finbow.
Henderson said the Reid family hopes the suit forces regulatory changes in foster and group homes run by private companies. “They don’t want another family to go through this, “he said. The plaintiffs in the suit are Reid’s husband, Robert, and her three children.
Reid, 43, was trapped with Kassy and another caregiver in a second-floor bedroom at the foster home on in rural Oakwood. The girl who set the fire had lashed out after learning she would not be going home to the northern Ontario reserve of Grassy Narrows when she turned 18. She used a lighter to set fire to books, cardboard and a couch, according to evidence presented at her trial in March.
The lawsuit alleges employees should have known better than to give the girl a lighter some time before she set the fire. It also claims caregivers did not have the skill or training to supervise the girl — who had schizophrenia and severe developmental delays — and that the home had insufficient staff to “control violent outbursts.”
The upstairs bedroom filled with smoke shortly after the fire started. The only window was too small to squeeze out of, a sliding door was bolted shut and the people trapped were unable to break its glass panes.
The deaths have sparked investigations by police, government officials, the coroner’s office and children’s aid societies.
They reveal a child protection system that doesn’t know if minimal standards of care are being met and has no qualifications for caregivers.