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Review reveals complicated relationship between tribal council, child-welfare agency

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WINNIPEG - The chiefs who ran a child welfare agency that moved a teenaged girl dozens of times before she committed suicide offered little oversight of the agency, even though they had unprecedented control over the agency’s cash, a review has found.

A massive review of Southeast Child and Family Services was released Thursday and detailed shoddy documentation of case files and demoralized staff who felt isolated and abandoned on reserves.

The review, which began more than two years ago, was triggered by the inquest into the suicide of 14-year-old Tracia Owen, who had spent her entire life in and out of foster care. Owen was moved more than 60 times before she hanged herself in a dilapidated garage in Winnipeg’s West End in 2005, ending a downward spiral of drug use and prostitution.

The review's major findings relate to the complicated and questionable relationship between the child welfare agency -- which is meant to be arm's-length from chiefs -- and the Southeast Resource Development Council, the tribal council run by the region's chiefs with offices located in downtown Winnipeg.

The child welfare agency's finances were so intertwined with the tribal council and its various offshoots that investigators struggled to unravel it all, suggesting cash meant for kids was often diverted for other purposes.

"There was no effectively functioning board to fulfill the governance role in setting policy direction and monitoring the affairs of the agency," wrote the review team.

Chiefs from the tribal council are split on the review’s findings.

 

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