Much of the Phoenix Sinclair inquiry's time and most of the coverage concentrates on which individual or agency is to blame for this poor child's death. Because this tragedy occurred while she was involved with the child-welfare system, the public's eyes have focused on the social workers who were involved with her and her family. But who is responsible for the ills in our society that produce this mess in the first place?
Manitoba has Canada's second-highest rate of child poverty (depending on what measure is being used). Manitoba is also the province with the highest proportion of aboriginal citizens. Many aboriginal parents are the children and grandchildren of survivors of the residential school system. They deal with the daily reality of racialized poverty and a legacy of broken promises.
No child-welfare system, no matter how good, can fix the resulting problems. Social workers can't guarantee healthy children any more than doctors can. We have to prevent as many of these problems as possible by ensuring every child has an adequate home and enough of the stuff of life to achieve their human potential. When that is not possible, we do our best at damage control for the unfortunate ones.
As a retired social worker myself, I feel that we as a society should all know the strong relationships between poverty and poor health, poor housing, poor nutrition, poor graduation rates and increased substance abuse. We should all know the impact of these factors on parenting skills. These are the issues that lead to child neglect, increased cases of children in care and overworked and underperforming social workers.
Social workers in child welfare have been given the role of cleaning up the human debris caused by structural issues in society. The inquiry does have the mandate to examine "any other circumstances apart from the delivery of child-welfare services directly related to the death of Phoenix Sinclair." It remains to be seen to what degree this part of the mandate is honoured, but it would be appropriate for the media and others following the inquiry to keep them in mind.
When will our society begin to take responsibility for the vulnerable persons it creates and address the poverty and other structural issues it produces? It is long past time for all governments, First Nations, agencies, civil societies and yes, businesses, to use the available research and best practices to come up with the policies and practices that will erase this stain on our country.