Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Children in poverty perceived as neglected

Phoenix Sinclair inquiry hears from child-welfare expert

  • Print

CANADA'S aboriginal children end up in care so often mainly because of poverty that's perceived as neglect, the inquiry into the death of Phoenix Sinclair was told Monday.

"There's a tendency in child welfare to codify poverty as neglect," said Cindy Blackstock, executive director of First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada. The woman, born in British Columbia and part Gitxsan, got her start as a front-line social worker with B.C's Squamish First Nation.

She said she often saw aboriginal children making up the majority of kids in care not because their families didn't care about them but because they couldn't access the resources needed to care for them.

"Poverty, poor housing and substance misuse are things we can do something about," she said. Generations of people taken away from their families to residential schools never received counselling for trauma and they're echoing forward," Blackstock told Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs' lawyer Jay Funke.

"There is tendency for those with unresolved trauma turning to substance abuse," she said at the inquiry that began in September. It was ordered after the 2005 death of five-year-old Phoenix was discovered in 2006. The Winnipeg-born child had been in and out of care her entire life before ending up with her mother Samantha Kematch and stepfather Karl Wesley McKay, who tortured and killed her on the Fisher River First Nation.

The inquiry heard earlier the couple had collected welfare benefits for Phoenix even after they'd killed her. It also heard Kematch smoked crack cocaine and Phoenix's biological father, Steve Sinclair, who cared for her off and on until she was nearly four, was known to binge-drink. Both Kematch and Sinclair grew up in care after being taken away from parents with residential-school roots.

Blackstock didn't refer to Phoenix's case specifically, but said study after study shows the single best indicator of child welfare is income level, and as long as aboriginal kids are the poorest in Canada, they're going to end up in care more often.

Every dollar spent on prevention of child-welfare problems saves society $7 down the road in social problems, said the woman, who holds a doctorate.

Her non-profit organization developed a program for First Nations communities called Touchstones of Hope that became a pilot project in northern B.C. aimed at improving the lives of children.

The program brought people from all parts of each community together to look for strengths in the community and how people could put them to use helping kids have a healthy life, said Blackstock. It could access housing funds if housing was the problem keeping a child down, for example, she said.

Child-welfare visitors from Australia with similar problems who wanted to see how the program worked were most struck by how well the First Nations people and the child-welfare workers worked together, said Blackstock.

"They focused on what was best for kids," she said.

The program saw the growing number of kids in care level off until it lost its funding, she said.

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 30, 2013 A6

History

Updated on Tuesday, April 30, 2013 at 8:03 AM CDT: adds photo

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

The Whiteboard - Jets' 5-on-3 penalty kill

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • Two Canadian geese perch themselves for a perfect view looking at the surroundings from the top of a railway bridge near Lombard Ave and Waterfront Drive in downtown Winnipeg- Standup photo- May 01, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • A baby Red Panda in her area at the Zoo. International Red Panda Day is Saturday September 15th and the Assiniboine Park Zoo will be celebrating in a big way! The Zoo is home to three red pandas - Rufus, Rouge and their cub who was born on June 30 of this year. The female cub has yet to be named and the Assiniboine Park Zoo is asking the community to help. September 14, 2012  BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

What's your take on the Jets so far this season?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google