Nearly 10 years after devolution and taking over child welfare from the province, the Southern Authority hasn’t created its own culturally appropriate standards, the inquiry into the death of Phoenix Sinclair heard today.
The lawyer for the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs pressed the head of the Southern Authority to explain why the authority -- which oversees agencies serving 36 First Nations -- hasn’t done more to fulfill the intention of devolution: putting the care of aboriginal kids back in the hands of aboriginal people who can provide services suited to their culture.
Jay Funke said the Southern Authority hasn’t developed culturally appropriate standards of its own.
"Why has the authority not done more to… ensure services are done in a culturally appropriate manner?" Funke asked Elsie Flette, who was involved with the implementation of devolution of the child welfare system in Manitoba, a process that began in 2003 and concluded in 2005 with the transfer of Winnipeg Child and Family Services files to aboriginal authorities like the Southern Authority.
Winnipeg CFS closed the file on Phoenix Sinclair for the last time in March 2005. The five-year-old was murdered that summer at Fisher River First Nation by her mother and stepfather. The inquiry into her death, which began in September, is looking into how why the girl's death wasn’t discovered for nine months, which services were or were not delivered to her and her family, and how the system could be or has been improved.
Flette said after devolution, they had to get the Southern Authority up and running and have resources in place to make sure kids were safe before developing the authority’s own standards specific to the culture of the first nations’ families it serves. The authority applies cultural awareness to the province’s foundational standards, she said.
The authority now oversees the files of nearly half of all kids in care in Manitoba. It has been involved in a legal battle with the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs that wants chiefs to have more say in how the authority is run and how child-welfare services are delivered.
Flette testified Tuesday that more than 80 per cent of Southern Authority staff and the agencies it oversee are aboriginal. Just 37 per cent of staff at the All Nation Co-ordinated Response Network (ANCR) intake unit are aboriginal, she said.
Funke wanted to know how many of the aboriginal staff at ANCR are working on the front lines of the intake unit, which is the first point of contact for people in the child welfare system. Flette said she didn’t know how many workers on the front line are aboriginal.
"So there’s a two in three chance the person they’re receiving services from is not aboriginal?" Funke asked.
His cross-examination of Flette continues this afternoon.