It was kind of ironic.
While a protest against the closure of a group home in his district was occuring at his constituency office, Burin-Placentia West MHA Clyde Jackman was in the process of being shuffled by Premier Tom Marshall to the very department responsible for the change.
In one of several major moves Thursday, Mr. Jackman was shifted from the Department of Education and replaces Paul Davis as the new minister of Child, Youth and Family Services.
Following in the steps of Grand Falls-Windsor and Stephenville, where group home contracts have also changed hands to a privately-owned company, Blue Sky Family Care, roughly 70 people attended a demostration in Burin over the lunch hour Thursday.
One after the next, speakers took to the microphone and called on Mr. Jackman to show his support for the people in his district, unaware that he was being shifted to the new portfolio.
The T.J. McDonald Achievement Home is among three similarly-operated facilities in the province which recently lost their longstanding contracts with the provincial government to provide level four foster care services for children and youth in need of out-of-home placements in staffed residential group homes.
The changes, which the department has said is the result of a shift in the framework for staffed residential care, have affected some 100 young people.
Several dozen members of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees (NAPE) have also received layoff notices as a result.
NAPE president Carol Furlong, who was among those in attendance for Thursday’s protest, called on the provincial government to admit the group homes are a part of the public service, a position the former Child, Youth and Family Services minister contested.
“We’re not saying that some of these homes are not doing a good job looking after people. What we’re saying, though, is that the private sector can’t encroach on the territory of the public sector,” she said.
“Government is providing a wonderful service here. Government, don’t mess it up!”
NAPE secretary-treasurer Bert Blundon also spoke at the demonstration, as did Everett Farwell and Alvin Foote, two long-time members of the volunteer board of directors for the not-for-profit T.J. McDonald group home.
Mr. Farwell, a councillor for the Town of Burin as well as chair of the Burin Peninsula Joint Town Council, said he had a “heavy heart” and was filled with concern for the youth and employees affected.
“I’m very, very, very disappointed with our provincial government,” he said, before leading those assembled in a repeated chant of “shame.”
Mr. Farwell, who has served on the T.J. McDonald board for the past 13 years, suggested the change in service providers will have serious negative consequences for the youth, employees and the community as a whole.
Mr. Foote, who said he has been connected with the T.J. McDonald for about 15 years, acknowledged he’s visits the facility on a weekly basis and knows how staff operates. He said it upsets him greatly to hear the provincial government cite quality of care as a reason for its decision.
“They have heart,” he said, referring to the employees at the Burin group home, “and if you want to have a heart for the people and the children of T.J. McDonald, and the other two homes, come up and learn from some of those people, and they will show you what caring really means.”
Urging the provincial government to reverse its decision, Mr. Foote said it was the first time in 50 years he had ever been “laid off” as a volunteer.
“You know blessed well that when the government starts laying off their volunteers they are in bad trouble.”
WILL LOOK AT FILE
Mr. Jackman told The Southern Gazette Friday morning the youth must come first.
Mrs. Furlong had suggested the possibility of government and NAPE working together to keep T.J. McDonald open during Thursday’s protest
Mr. Jackman said to the best of his knowledge contracts with Blue Sky Family Care have already been signed and as such must be honoured.
He noted he has previously spoken to workers of the group home and said government wants to ensure they receive the benefits they are owed.
Mr. Jackman also stressed he didn’t want to build any false hope now that he’s the department’s minister.
“That’s certainly what I don’t want to do, but it’s one of the files that I definitely will be taking a look at.”