Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

What the deputy children's advocate says:

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COREY La Berge hopes the recommendations will become a fitting tribute to a little girl who fell through systemic cracks and wound up murdered without anyone realizing it for months.

"I'm hopeful that Phoenix will be remembered -- that her legacy will be moving this province forward and improve the odds of other children like her," said La Berge.

"I think there's a lot of committed people. This is a decent road map and I think that the recommendations, from what I've seen, make a lot of sense," he said.

La Berge signalled he is keenly interested in the recommendations that would shift the child-welfare system's focus from protection and apprehension of kids to prevention and supporting families so they don't have to be removed in the first place.

As well, an overhaul of the Child and Family Services internal computer system would be "huge," he said. "Information-sharing, that needs to happen. There's no excuse for that in this day and age."

He's concerned with the notion the next children's advocate should be appointed for a one-year term if the decision is ultimately made, as Hughes recommends, to replace the agency with a new one with independent status in line with the provincial ombudsman and auditor general.

"Children need a strong voice. You don't want to have somebody in there who's 'acting' in an indefinite period while they're cooking up new legislation. You don't know how long that's going to take," said La Berge. "I say reappoint... let's have a strong advocate now."

Created in 1993, the Office of the Children's Advocate became an independent office of the legislative assembly in early 1999.

-- James Turner

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 1, 2014 A5

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