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What's changed

Posted: 01/31/2014 1:00 AM | Comments: 0

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WHAT'S CHANGED SINCE PHOENIX: Her death was one catalyst for a remarkable decade of change within child welfare

Devolution

The year Phoenix died, the province was on the cusp of completing a massive and messy process of creating a series of aboriginal-run child-welfare agencies. The move was meant to give aboriginal people control over their own children again and atone for some of the damage done by residential schools and the '60s Scoop. Thousands of cases and hundreds of staff were shifted around as part of a complicated new model.

Funding and staffing

Funding for child welfare has more than doubled since Phoenix died. In this year's budget, it stands at about $420 million. That has allowed the hiring of dozens of new social workers and other professionals, many of them aboriginal.

Better procedures

There are new rules that say a child has to be seen before a file can be closed if there is an allegation of abuse, neglect or maltreatment. There's a new intake module that makes prior-contact checks mandatory and available in real time, so if someone has a history with Child and Family Services or is a suspected abuser, social workers will know as soon as the person joins the family. There are better paperwork and record-keeping rules and a new focus on child safety. Social workers now ask whether there's a general risk of abuse or neglect rather than whether there is an immediate protection concern.

More accountability

There are regular audits, called quality-assurance reports, of each agency, where the governance, paperwork, risk management, staffing and procedures get scrutinized every few years. But concerns about micromanaging by chiefs and councillors still exist.

More kids in care

The are now nearly 10,000 children in care in Manitoba. That's up from about 7,200 in the year following the discovery of Phoenix's body. Roughly 80 per cent are aboriginal. That's partly because, in the wake of Phoenix's death, aggressive new protocols were put in place, and social workers were quick to pluck children out of neglectful homes for fear of repeating the kind of mistakes that allowed Phoenix to fall through the cracks.

Prevention

This is a new focus, and relatively under the radar. Child-welfare workers, increasingly concerned about the growing number of kids in care, are trying new ways to keep families intact when a child isn't in immediate danger and any turmoil could be better dealt with through family support. Examples are early interventions, parenting or addictions programs and targeted help from social workers to make families stronger instead of apprehending kids.

-- Mary Agnes Welch

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 31, 2014 B1

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