Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Children die in agency's care

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A northern First Nations community is reeling after two deaths of youths in the care of a Manitoba Child and Family Services agency in less than a week.

The chief of the Shamattawa First Nation is demanding child-welfare officials increase their presence in the community.

A funeral for Rephanniah Redhead, 14, will be held today in Shamattawa, about 750 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg. The girl took her own life on Sept. 25.

Her father, Ernie Redhead, said Wednesday night he was devastated by the suicide. He said his daughter was in the care of Awasis, an agency with Manitoba CFS, when she committed suicide after being taken to Winnipeg about one year ago for medical care.

Shamattawa Chief Jeff Napoakesik confirmed that another child in care, who was originally from his community, also died. Earlier this week, five-year-old Farron Miles drowned about two kilometres from his foster home on the Cross Lake First Nation. He was also a ward of Awasis, after he went to live with foster parents soon after his birth.

"Our community is grieving," said Napoakesik, who said 1,200 people live in his community, including about 500 youths.

He said the community needs better communication with Awasis.

"We have a message for them, and that message is we don't want children taken out of Shamattawa... We believe in the families in the community and believe if there's something lacking, then it can be placed there, they can help us support," he said.

The chief said he wants the complement of full-time Awasis agency workers increased to at least 10.

"To do things that should be done, there should be 10 to 15. The five that are there are overworked and they've extended themselves too far to do the things we want them to do," he said.

Napoakesik also said he still must receive more information about the circumstances of the two tragic deaths.

"That's one of the many questions we have for our organization, the Awasis agency... We still have a working relationship with them, but not to the degree we're satisfied with. We'd like to see more interaction and more information," said Napoakesik.

Ernie Redhead said the two deaths have hit the close-knit community very hard, and he is grieving for his own daughter and for the young boy, whose biological parents he knows personally.

"It is shocking. I think they should really look at the safety and the protection of the children that go under care," he said. "After the funeral is over, that's when I'll be asking questions."

gabrielle.giroday@freepress.mb.ca meghan.hurley@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 2, 2008

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