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Minister apologizes for failure of system

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Manitoba’s family services minister began her response to the Phoenix Sinclair inquiry report with an apology — and then she pledged that the government would do a better job of protecting kids.

"On behalf of the government of Manitoba, I want to offer an apology for the child-welfare system’s failure to protect Phoenix Sinclair," Family Services Minister Kerri Irvin-Ross said in a statement. "My sympathy goes out to all who cared for her. Today is about remembering a little girl and doing everything we can to learn from her death."

Facing a throng of reporters in a Legislative Building committee room, Irvin-Ross acknowledged the failure of the province’s child-welfare system to protect Phoenix Sinclair and promised to act on recommendations set forth by inquiry commissioner Ted Hughes.

"We need more accountability. We hear that loud and clear," Irvin-Ross said. "We need to make sure that our standards and our policies and procedures are being followed."

However, she would not say whether social workers and supervisors would be disciplined in the future if the policies are not followed. "I can only tell you that we’re going to reinforce the importance of following procedures (in) protecting children...," the minister said.

Irvin-Ross said the province has already acted on 20 recommendations and is working on another 11.

The government will draft legislation to establish critical incident reporting for family services similar to what is in place in the health care system.

It will implement a new information management system to ensure that vulnerable children do not fall through the cracks, Irvin-Ross said.

And it will enable the establishment of a Manitoba College of Social Workers to enforce professional standards, similar to that in place for doctors and nurses.

She said a recommendation by Hughes that social-work caseloads not exceed 20 per social worker was "achievable" and that the system is not far off from that target right now after adding 280 staff since Phoenix’s death.

As for the creation of a new body to replace the Office of the Children’s Advocate, the minister was more circumspect, saying the government would study the idea while it moved on other recommendations first.

Although the minister offered an apology today for the department’s failure to protect five-year-old Phoenix, Hughes said in his report that the mea culpa should have come sooner.

"Despite the department’s admissions of failure, and acceptance of responsibility, neither the department or the agency (Winnipeg CFS) apologized at the inquiry, either for their failings or for the loss of Phoenix," Hughes said in his report. "I find this regrettable and express the hope that an apology will be forthcoming."

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

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