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Funding higher for aboriginal child welfare agencies since devolution: official

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Some aboriginal child welfare agencies in Manitoba have seen their funding double since the death of Phoenix Sinclair, a provincial inquiry heard today. Elsie Flette, who heads the Southern Authority, talked about changes affecting care for kids since devolution, when aboriginal organizations assumed authority for children in care, the vast majority of whom are aboriginal. Today, 89 per cent of the approximately 35 employees at the Southern Authority and 81 per cent of 600-plus workers at the child welfare agencies it oversees are aboriginal.

Phoenix died in 2005 when devolution was in its final stages. Winnipeg CFS closed her file without seeing her in March 2005 and she died that summer after moving to Fisher River First Nation with her mother and stepfather, who tortured and murdered her. Her death wasn’t discovered until 2006 and an inquiry into her death ordered by the province began in September.

Flette, who’s worked in child welfare for nearly 40 years, was part of the team that implemented devolution. Since then, a new federal-provincial funding formula agreed to in 2010 is helping the authority that oversees child welfare in 36 First Nations, including Fisher River, she said.

The old funding model it replaces was a "dog’s breakfast," said Flette. "Every region was differently funded." The new funding model is more equitable, she said.

"Every agency has seen an increase," she said. The Southern Authority is receiving $60 million a year — a 49 per cent increase for the agencies it oversees, she said.

"Some had increases over 100 per cent," she said. Sagkeeng’s child welfare funding rose 52 per cent and Peguis increased 89 per cent.

She couldn’t say there are any fewer kids in care today, but said they have aboriginal workers looking out for aboriginal kids and trying to make the system more organized, accountable and less intimidating to the families it is supposed to help.

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

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