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Child-welfare fixes taking too long: report

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The provincial government is making slow progress in implementing key child-safety initiatives and still lacks an effective central data bank to ensure kids in care don't fall through the cracks.

Those are some of the findings of a report on Manitoba's Child and Family Services division that provincial auditor general Carol Bellringer released Wednesday.

The report followed up on an audit Bellringer's office conducted six years ago. Of 29 improvements to child welfare Bellringer recommended in 2006, only 15 have been implemented. She categorized the status of the remaining 14 as "in progress."

The auditor found the child abuse registry is not up to date, and the province has made little progress in conducting recommended background checks on foster parents.

Bellringer said a key area of concern is the continued lack of an effective central information system to track children in care. The system is plagued by information gaps and duplication.

"That's the area that I would have expected to have seen more progress," Bellringer said.

Opposition politicians said the report shows after more than a dozen years in office, the NDP has made little progress in improving the child welfare system.

Conservative Leanne Rowat said it is "shameful" the government has implemented so few of the auditor's recommendations in six years.

"The government is failing Manitoba children in care," she said.

Liberal Jon Gerrard said it's evident the government still lacks a strategic plan for child and family services. "The NDP still haven't figured out what outcomes they want for CFS," he said in a release.

Manitoba's child welfare has been in turmoil for much of the last decade. The number of children in care has almost doubled in that time and stood at 9,432 as of last year.

The government's move to transfer control to aboriginal-run authorities in 2004 created uncertainty among workers.

Family Services Minister Jennifer Howard said the government has had to contend with nearly 300 recommendations to improve to child welfare from a variety of reports since 2006.

Of those suggested improvements, some 80 per cent have been implemented, she said Wednesday.

The government has prioritized the recommendations that directly affect child safety, Howard said.

It added more than 200 positions to reduce social worker caseloads and provided staff with better tools to assess children who may be at risk.

Howard said CFS is looking to improve its computerized case-management system, but it's loath to spend tens of millions of dollars on a new one. In an era of tight budgets, she said, the government is forced to choose between investing in computers or in social workers. It's chosen the latter.

The minister said the government has beefed up staffing so the child abuse registry is better maintained.

In light of the slaying of Phoenix Sinclair, it has also implemented a policy requiring social workers to see every child during every visit to a home. Sinclair was beaten to death at the age of five, months after she was removed from a foster home and returned to her mother.

Howard pointed out the government has amended the law to stress that child safety be the highest priority when placing children in care.


Where Manitoba

falls short

Areas of concern in the auditor general's report:

There's been little progress in developing an effective central information and case-management system for children in care;

The child abuse registry needs more timely updating and is incomplete;

The province has been slow to require foster parents to undergo criminal record, child abuse registry and other checks that were recommended six years ago;

Little progress has been made in monitoring the financial reports of child-welfare authorities that supervise service providing agencies;

The government still lacks a strategic plan that sets out measurable goals for child welfare in Manitoba.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 27, 2012 A5

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