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Province working on plan to fix child welfare

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Manitoba’s Child and Family Services minister said he is saddened by the death of two-year-old Gage Guimond while in the care of the province’s child welfare system.

Gord Mackintosh said he is frustrated he can’t, by law, comment on the specifics of Guimond’s case because it is under investigation internally and by police.

But he said the province has just embarked on a plan to fix the province’s troubled child welfare system, a plan sparked by the 2005 death of five-year-old Phoenix Sinclair.

“This is a profoundly sad and heart-rending tragedy from all accounts,” said Mackintosh. “It’s very painful for many people. That has to be what’s first and foremost.”

Guimond died Sunday after falling down the stairs in his Magnus Avenue home, but police say the boy had been severely abused while in the care of his great aunt, Shirley Guimond.

Mackintosh said his government has just embarked on the biggest overhaul of its child welfare system in the province’s history, and the system received a 25 per cent funding boost to address some of the staffing and training shortfalls.

But a frustrated Mavis Taillieu, opposition critic for child welfare, said another child killed while in care points to the ongoing failures of the embattled system.

“We’ve gone through so many reviews of the system, so many recommendations, so much money pumped into it, but we still have a system that’s failing,” she said.

Taillieu said she supports the principle of devolution, where native and Métis agencies control child welfare services.

“But culture aside, you better be sure you’re putting a child in a better home than the one they left,” said Taillieu.

Last fall, three reviews highlighted failures in the child welfare system, including overworked staff and underfunding. The reports outlined 220 recommendations for improving the child welfare system, including better staff training and province-wide caseload standards.

But the reports — prompted by Sinclair’s death just months after her child welfare case file was closed — found that the system’s failures did not directly contribute to the deaths of as many as 145 children connected to the child welfare system between 2003 and 2006.

The studies also said the hand-over of child and family services to Aboriginal agencies, which began around the time Sinclair died, was not too blame for her death.

Most of the 145 children died of natural causes, but another 69 died of accidents, suicides, homicide or some other undetermined cause.

Not long after the trio of reports were released, Manitoba’s auditor general slammed CFS for failures in the management, record-keeping and accountability systems. Those problems were not fixed before devolution, said the auditor.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 24, 2007

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