Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Mr. Gerrard goes to bat for children

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Liberal Leader Jon Gerrard is to be commended for his work in reviewing Manitoba's troubled child-welfare system, which continues to see rising numbers of children apprehended and taken into care. His recommendation that child and family services agencies be made to show the results of their work -- whether all interventions are actually helping children and families in need -- and to study the models elsewhere that have been shown to be reducing the number of apprehensions, are particularly important.

Mr. Gerrard consulted a number of studies and different models of child welfare service delivery. He would like to see Manitoba adopt a model used in western Australia, which he says could turn around the "apprehend first, ask questions later" approach he sees still at work in this province 26 years after a system-wide review advised prevention programs were needed to halt rising apprehensions.

Mr. Gerrard's analysis of the problems in Manitoba relies heavily on first-hand anecdotes, the result of hard work he has done to consult, talk to parents and hold public forums to understand why this province apprehends more and more children every year. More than 80 per cent of kids in care today are aboriginal.

He notes the success seen at Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation, in northern Manitoba, where prevention and intervention are a community-wide project. At NCN, the suite of programs that support parents and children in need has seen apprehensions fall, fewer children born with fetal alcohol syndrome and the caseloads of child welfare workers drop. NCN often puts a worker in the home, or removes a parent, rather than a child.

Mr. Gerrard remains convinced children are being taken before adequate assessment of risk is done. Another problem, he found, is some parents have lost their kids due to poverty -- a lack of running water, too few beds or absence of food in the fridge.

These are serious allegations. Poverty is a bad reason to tear a family apart. If risk assessments are not being done before apprehensions, that should accounted for. Family Services Minister Jennifer Howard should undertake an audit of child welfare files to ensure assessments are being done properly and apprehensions are appropriate where done.

There is also good evidence, in Manitoba and abroad, of models of care that keep children safe and in their homes, supporting families in turmoil before harm or tragedy strikes. Ms. Howard must get to the root of why Manitoba has among the highest rates of apprehensions in Canada and internationally.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 2, 2013 A10

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