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NEWS RELEASE: (click red bar to expand to read full text)

March 19, 2012 - Truck Driver's Story Reveals Foster Care Nightmare:

Gal-Friday Publicity

Click Here to see posted article.

Foster Care Abuse subject of Revealing New Book

 

Airdrie, AB- The month of April has been designated as Child Sexual Abuse Awareness Month, and at first glance a truck driver working in the Alberta oil patch may not seem the likeliest candidate to pen a memoir about the subject. But in fact, Greg T. Van Riper’s fascinating autobiography belies the relative conventionality of his current occupation. And putting pen to paper played a key role in allowing the author to come to terms with his varied and harrowing past experiences.

 

At the age of 12 Van Riper was placed in foster care, a decision his parents and social service workers believed would benefit a somewhat ‘wild’ child. Little did they know that the decision would mark the beginning of a terrifying journey for Van Riper and the other children, left with a nightmarish family who appeared to thrive on physically and emotionally torturing the children in their care. Despite repeated warnings to government agencies and the RCMP, nothing was done to stem the horrific abuse at the hands of his foster family.

 

The details of what Van Riper and fellow foster children experienced are so shocking that it’s difficult to comprehend how they all survived. Which is precisely why he felt so strongly that an account of events needed to be shared: “When you’ve experienced the kind of trauma I went through, you have to find some means of processing it all and working your way through it. For me that healing came through writing and sharing,” Van Riper says.

 

Some may be surprised at the frankness of Van Riper’s account, but it was a deliberate decision--“I didn’t want to sugar-coat my experiences; it’s important for people to be shocked if it means that they really connect with the terror children felt at the hands of these abusers. And it’s all the more important when you are also writing to ensure that no other children are subjected to this kind of treatment.”

 

Greg T. Van Riper’s memoir, Throwaway Children, is published by Essence Publishing and is also available through his website: http://www.gregvanriper.com/ and by calling 1-800-238-6376 ext-7575.

 

To book an interview contact:

Rachel Sentes, Publicist

604-366-7846

Rachel@gal-fridaypublicity.com

 

ARTICLE: (click red bar to expand to read full text)

March 17, 2007 - Out for justice:

Canada.com by the Edmonton Journal

Click Here to see posted article.

 

Greg van Riper suffered through years of abuse in a foster home. He survived the trauma, but now wants the province to take responsibility for the way the system failed him.

 

Greg van Riper is a can-do guy.

 

"I'm not a 'poor me' person," says the 39-year-old trucker. "People who complain and look for sympathy do not get their problems solved."

 

A former Alberta welterweight boxing champion, he's a married father of two who works in the oilpatch around Grande Prairie and volunteers overseas as a Christian missionary.

 

He's also a former foster child. And he's suing the province and his former foster parents for more than half a million dollars, alleging he was the victim of physical, emotional and sexual abuse. His case raises a vital question. How do we compensate adults who were abused years ago, while in our provincial care?

 

Van Riper grew up in Medicine Hat. His parents were divorced. His mother was raising three kids on what she earned as a cashier. Greg started skipping school, stealing, joy-riding. When he was 12, his mother turned him over to provincial care. In 1980, he was sent to a foster home on a farm near Medicine Hat. He was one of 11 foster children there. Neighbours called the place the Plantation because the children were worked like slaves. The hard farm labour, says van Riper, was only one form of abuse. His foster mother, he alleges in his statement of claim, whipped him with a black rubber hose. Other abuse, he alleges, was administered by the older foster children.

 

"There were about five kids who were older and bigger than the rest of us. And she'd get them to beat the younger kids when they did something wrong."

 

Once, van Riper alleges in his statement of claim, he was punished by having his feces rubbed in his face. Other times, he was disciplined by being yanked by his nipples.

 

Children, he claims, weren't allowed to use the phone or even receive letters from family. They were never left alone with social workers or with their parents. The foster mother, he says, stayed in the room or listened through the heat ducts. And, he says, she used religion to terrorize the kids in her care.

 

"It was like she had an open line to God. She'd say to you, 'God told me you did this. God told me you didn't do that.' She told me I was going to go to hell. After about three months, I started to have panic attacks and insomnia. I had headaches from grinding my teeth. I thought God was slowly torturing and killing me. I thought she was right."

 

He ran away. The second time, he made it to his mother's house. She returned him to the foster home.

 

"I told my mom, 'Please don't send me back there. They're beating the kids.' But my mother had been brainwashed and indoctrinated like everyone else. She said to me, 'Don't be ridiculous. They're Christians!' "

 

Another time, he ran to a neighbour's farm and begged to use the phone. He called the RCMP to report the abuse, but they never investigated his claims.

 

Only after two years at the home, and a fourth escape, did he finally get away. Eventually he went to live with his paternal grandmother.

 

Three years later, the province finally closed the foster home. Social workers removed the seven children who were there at the time, citing medical neglect, social isolation, physical and sexual abuse as well as misuse of funds.

 

Confidential social services files recently obtained by The Journal reveal that social workers, teachers, health professionals and parents had been complaining about abuse and medical neglect at the home for years. The province's records document serious concerns dating back to 1976 -- nine years before the home was shut down and four years before van Riper was sent there.

 

COMPLAINTS MADE

 

In two separate cases, nurses and doctors complained the foster mother refused to let her foster children wear glasses. As a result, the children's eyesight deteriorated profoundly.

 

In another instance, the couple were given charge of a girl with epilepsy. According to the province's records, the woman refused to let the girl take her seizure medication or see her doctor, apparently on religious grounds. The doctor and the girl's mother complained to Social Services Department. But when the foster mother threatened to stop fostering the girl if she was on anti-seizure drugs, the department gave in. The girl stayed, her "fainting spells" continued untreated.

 

Social workers raised concerns about the way the couple spent government money, too. For example, they received an extra $128 per child to take the children on vacation, but there was no indication such a holiday ever took place.

 

WARNINGS UNHEEDED

 

Yet the home stayed open. Social workers reported later that when they'd complained to managers, they were told not to get involved because the couple were so good at handling hard-to-place kids.

 

In 1985, Pat Johnson stepped in. She was the president of the Foster Parents Association of Medicine Hat. When she heard disturbing stories about the Plantation, she asked for an investigation.

 

"You always take everything with a grain of salt. Still, I thought it was my duty to say we had a problem," she says.

 

Johnson, who later became a social worker, was shocked by what the investigation uncovered.

 

"It was just terrible," she says. "They really had this attitude of spare the rod and spoil the child."

 

Several of the children who had been at the home later came to live with her -- including a boy who had been deprived of his glasses.

 

"I was just appalled when he didn't have glasses and couldn't see. The first thing we did was go out and get him a pair of glasses. And they were thick."

 

Others who came to her exhibited signs of serious emotional abuse.

 

"One of the boys was a 17-year-old who was so baby-like, he laid in a fetal position, sucking his thumb, with his head in my lap."

 

Greg Bender was the social worker who investigated Johnson's complaint -- and the person who finally got the home shut down. Today, he's a Medicine Hat school trustee. Even now he can't discuss details, bound by government confidentiality rules. He'll only say it was difficult to get the home shut down.

 

"It was tough to make a stand, not only inside the office, but inside the region," he says. "But I'm glad I did."

 

Why did this home stay open so long?

 

In part, Pat Johnson believes, it was because the farm was a significant drive from town.

 

"Caseloads got bigger and bigger, and there were more and more kids in care. In a rural area, driving how many miles from foster home to foster home? A phone call seemed to suffice.

 

"It was different people and a different time," she adds. "The system is more accountable now. And there are more supports for foster parents."

 

"I'm really sorry for what they did to those kids. But there is no justice. There is no amount of money that can ever repay those kids for what they went through."

 

RCMP INVESTIGATE

 

The RCMP did a criminal investigation. But the Crown refused to prosecute, largely because the victims were foster children.

 

"It may well be that some questionable conduct ensued, however that has to be tested with the context of the type of children that the couple were harbouring," Medicine Hat RCMP were told in a 1986 letter from a senior agent of the attorney general. "Certainly they were all management problems to begin with and one has to fairly assume that the whole milieu of the home might be much more rough and tumble than the ordinary middle-class family environment."

 

The neglect and abuse the government's own records reveal went far beyond "rough and tumble." Some of these children may have been "management problems." But that can't excuse the treatment they received -- or the province's shocking failure to close the foster home, despite the litany of disturbing complaints.

 

The Department of Children's Services won't comment on Greg van Riper's lawsuit or its allegations while the matter is before the courts. The province will only say that the rules have changed, that such large foster homes are no longer allowed and now all homes are licensed and inspected.

 

QUESTIONS OF COMPENSATION

 

Medicine Hat lawyer Jeffrey Neumann acts for van Riper's former foster parents. He says his clients have filed a statement of defence denying all of van Riper's allegations. "As the matter is currently before the court, I have no further comment," he says.

 

Twenty years later, is there any recompense for van Riper and others who were allegedly abused at the Plantation? What restitution does the province owe these children for what they suffered while the province turned a blind eye?

 

Jean LaFrance was the acting deputy minister of social services when the foster home was shut down. He later went on to become Alberta's children's advocate. He estimates hundreds of people were abused in foster care in Alberta over the last 40 years. But he's not sure lawsuits are the best way to help them.

 

"I can understand in some ways that people want compensation. But by the time they get through the litigation process, it can be doubly wounding. It's so dehumanizing and demeaning."

 

It might be better, he says, for the province to create some kind of fund to provide financial compensation for former foster children, modelled on the formula to compensate aboriginal Canadians for abuse at residential schools.

 

But as much as anything, he says, those who were abused need recognition.

 

"People, as part of their healing, need to have their stories heard. What we owe them, aside from litigation, is an acknowledgement of their suffering," he says. "It's absolutely shocking to hear some of these stories. But nothing at this point surprises me about the insanity and cruelty of some people, when caring for other people's children."

 

It has been five years since van Riper filed his statement of claim, with little legal progress. And he faces a particular legal hurdle. The province's ultimate statute of limitations for civil suits is 10 years -- his lawyer must show van Riper was too impaired by post-traumatic stress and depression to sue within 10 years of the abuse.

 

But van Riper says he couldn't have sued earlier. He was too traumatized, plagued by anxiety, insomnia and stress-related illness, convinced God was punishing him. Only after extensive counselling was he able to believe he could sue without inciting God's wrath.

 

Van Riper feels lucky. He survived. He pulled his life together. Still, he wants the province to take responsibility for the way its foster care system failed him.

 

"It's not about the money. But justice should still be done. When I broke the law, everyone was so quick to punish me. Now that I want justice, no one is quick to fight for me."

 

psimons@thejournal.canwest.com