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Kids in care not tracked as well as cash: Bellringer

Sinclair inquiry gets Manitoba auditor general's take

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The computer system that monitors money for Manitoba Lotteries is a new Cadillac compared to the old beater used to keep an eye on children in care, the inquiry into the death of Phoenix Sinclair heard Thursday.

"If they can track every dime at Lotteries why can't we track every kid?" Manitoba's auditor general Carol Bellringer asked while testifying at the inquiry Thursday.

Seven years after conducting an audit of Manitoba's Child and Family Services division, she says she still has concerns child welfare's computer system isn't good enough.

She was comparing the Child and Family Services Information System that tracks kids in care to a more advanced platform used by the Crown corporation, Manitoba Lotteries.

The central data bank that's used to ensure kids in care don't fall through the cracks was mentioned as a problem in the 2006 auditor's report and was still a problem when Bellringer conducted a followup review in 2012.

She said Thursday the CFSIS system is still not being used appropriately by all agencies and there are problems with the system itself.

A new system would cost more than $10 million and take more than a year to implement but could be a good investment, said Bellringer, who worked 30 years as an accountant.

"I've seen numerous examples of an information-technology solution used as a launching pad for organizational change," she said. "It can do amazing things."

The auditor's recommendation to address problems with the computer system was one of 86 made in her 2006 report on Child and Family Services. In 2012, the auditor checked up on just 29 of those recommendations to see if they'd been addressed.

Bellringer said they would've followed up with a more comprehensive review sooner had it not been such a huge undertaking. The audit was conducted before she took over as auditor general and before the massive overhaul of the child-welfare system occurred with devolution, she said.

Bellringer said it would've been better to conduct the audit after devolution but there was still valuable information in the report. She wanted to follow up on its recommendations with a review in time for the inquiry into Phoenix's death. To do that, her office was limited to reviewing 29 of the recommendations.

Of the directives reviewed last fall, 15 were implemented and 14 were "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.

The initial auditor general's report came out in 2006, the year Phoenix's death was discovered. The little girl was in and out of care from the time she was born in 2000 until she was murdered in 2005 by her mother, Samantha Kematch, and stepfather, Karl Wesley McKay. Her death went undiscovered by authorities for nine months and prompted several investigations and an inquiry that began in September.

In 2006, the chief medical examiner, the ombudsman, the Children's Advocate and CFS all reviewed what happened to Phoenix. After receiving close to 1,000 recommendations from them, the province's child-welfare system didn't balk at more from the auditor general, said Bellringer.

"We never had any push-back," she said.

Gord McKinnon, the lawyer for the Department of Family Services and Consumer Affairs, asked if it would be a "Herculean" task for any government department to handle the recommended overhaul.

"I appreciate this department had a lot to address and face and come up with answers for," said Bellringer. "But that is common in all departments of government. I would say it's not that much larger a task than every other department has had to face."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 26, 2013 A13

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