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Free Press work on CFS honoured with Michener nod

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A two-year investigation into the devolution of Manitoba’s child welfare system earned the Winnipeg Free Press a 2009 Michener Award for meritorious public service journalism citation.

Devolution recognizes a child’s right to his or her own culture, and the right of that culture to look after its own children.

A team of Free Press writers — led by columnist Lindor Reynolds, now-Ottawa correspondent Mia Rabson and then-Legislature reporter Mary Agnes Welch — began by examining the deaths of a number of children in care.

Their investigation discovered that the move to devolve CFS was fraught with problems, for reasons beyond flawed legislation.

The change happened too quickly with too little money and not enough trained social workers or foster homes. Cases were dumped at great speed into the new system, which struggled to keep up. Workers’ caseloads were often double the recommended limit and children on remote reserves were not checked.

No one seemed to be accountable.

The Doer government ultimately amended the provincial Child and Family Services Act to make child safety the primary consideration above cultural and all other concerns.

The Michener Award was founded in 1970 by the late Roland Michener, then Governor-General. The judges’ decisions are influenced by the degree of public benefit each entry generated.

The award ceremonies are held annually at Rideau Hall in Ottawa with the presentations made by the Governor-General.

The other nominees include: a joint entry from the CBC and Canadian Press, Le Courrier de Saint-Hyacinthe, the Globe and Mail, the Hamilton Spectator and the Toronto Star. The award went to CBC/Radio-Canada and The Canadian Press for a project that produced a multimedia analysis of Taser stun guns and their use by the RCMP.

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