Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
System overhauled, but the deaths continue
Before five-year-old Phoenix Sinclair's body was discovered in March 2006 and the horrors of her abuse and torture spotlighted a child-welfare system in crisis, 145 kids in care had died, according to a provincial report, since devolution began in 2003.
Since Phoenix's death, the province's child-welfare system has been overhauled and pumped with money. But at least 16 kids in care or with open Child and Family Services (CFS) files, still died from homicides, suicides or accidents. Many are still anonymous because the province won't release details of the deaths, citing confidentiality.
Here is a snapshot of what we know.
Phoenix Sinclair, 5
Died June 11, 2005, discovered March 2006
Phoenix was in and out of foster care most of her life. In 2005, she was living with her mother, Samantha Kematch, and her mother's then-common-law boyfriend, Karl Wesley McKay, in Fisher River. Despite allegations of child abuse, Winnipeg CFS closed Phoenix's case just a few months before she died from repeated beatings, neglect and confinement in a cold, dark basement. McKay and Kematch were convicted of first-degree murder earlier this month.
Venecia Shanelle Audy, 3
Died Aug. 14, 2006
Venecia and her siblings had been involved with the CFS system most of their lives but were living with their mother in Bowsman when Venecia was murdered. Around suppertime the day she died, Venecia's mother called 911 saying her daughter had fallen down the stairs, but officials later determined she died from a blow to the abdomen. Melissa Audy has been charged with second degree murder and is out on bail awaiting trial. Her next court date is Christmas Eve in Dauphin. Her common law husband, Jason Allen Kines, has also been charged with sexual assault and sexual interference related to the case .
Roanna Meagan Fontaine, 14
Died June 24, 2007 while in the care of Peguis CFS
Roanna was found dead outside a North End residence in the early morning following a party. According to a source, an incident involving an older man left the 14-year-old so distraught she jumped from a sixth-floor balcony. Fontaine and her 16-year-old sister were on a weekend visit to Winnipeg to attend the Red River Exhibition. Her death prompted many in Peguis to slam their local branch of Child and Family Services, saying that despite repeated warnings the girl was at risk, the agency did nothing.
Gage Guimond, 2
Died July 22, 2007 while in the care of Sagkeeng CFS
Gage and his sister were taken from their mother and sent to live with an experienced foster family shortly after Gage's first birthday. In the winter of 2007, he was moved from that foster home to live with his grandmother, who warned CFS workers she wasn't able to care for him, and where he was neglected. He was eventually placed with his great aunt, Shirley Guimond, where he died six weeks later from severe head trauma. Shirley Guimond has been charged with manslaughter and a host of assault charges. She is to be in court for a preliminary hearing next fall.
Fonessa Lynn Louise Bruyere, 17
August 30, 2007 while in the care of Sagkeeng CFS
At the time of her murder, Fonessa had been in and out of foster care during her short life. The system returned Fonessa to a family member's home less than three months before she died, despite allegations such a move would expose her to both drugs and prostitution. Fonessa herself struggled with drugs and the sex trade before her body was found in a field on the outskirts of Winnipeg. No one has been charged in her death, but police are still investigating.
Samuel Luke Maytwaywashing, 5 months
Died March 26, 2008 while in the care of Anishinaabe CFS
Samuel died in his Lake Manitoba reserve home of what his mother said was pneumonia. But sources said the infant was dehydrated, had a high fever and was possibly malnourished at the time of his death. His four siblings were seized just before Samuel was born when his mother said she was living in a shelter for abused women, but Samuel was left in her care when he was born.
Will Trout Jr., 16
Died May 26, 2008
Trout hanged himself in a Winnipeg foster home. Child welfare sources claim an accusation was made to authorities that another child in the foster home was being abused. Trout was not removed during the investigation, and it's unclear what prompted him to commit suicide.
Keayne Franklin, 14
Body recovered Aug. 16, 2008
After leaving his home at the Poplar River First Nation, Keayne was in foster care in Riverton when he drowned while swimming.
Farron Miles, 5
Died late September, 2008, while in the care of Awasis CFS
Farron drowned about two kilometres from his foster home on the Cross Lake First Nation. He was a ward of Awasis, after he went to live with foster parents soon after his birth.
Rephanniah Redhead, 14
Died Sept. 25, 2008, while in the care of Awasis CFS
Rephanniah took her own life after being taken to Winnipeg for medical care from Shamattawa in late 2007. The Manitoba Children's Advocate is investigating.
Gerrod Head, 7
Died while in the care of Cree Nation CFS
Head was one of two boys killed in an abandoned shed fire on the Opaskwayak Cree Nation. He was taken by Cree Nation from his mother's care earlier this year and placed in foster care with his grandparents. The Children's Advocate is investigating.
Cameron Ouskan, 13 months
Died Nov. 13, 2008 while in the care of Awasis CFS
Cameron was living in a foster home in Gillam, when he died. RCMP officials said they believe Ouskan's death was a homicide, and the Children's Advocate automatically launched an investigation. Dr. Thambirajah Balachandra, the province's chief medical examiner, said the child had multiple fractures at the time of his death.
"It looks like everyone dropped the case," said Balachandra. "The child had fractures, and no one followed it up."
- Mary Agnes Welch
Deaths of children in care since Phoenix Sinclair was found in March 2006:
Kids in care
2006 -- 6,629 children
2007 -- 7,241 children
2008 -- 7,837 children
70 per cent: number of kids in care who are from First Nations (as of March 31, 2008)
9 per cent -- Métis
6 per cent -- First Nations (non-status)
14 per cent -- Not aboriginal
Number of front-line workers hired since Phoenix's remains found -- 99
Total: 697 front-line social workers
$242,893,800: Provincial budget for child welfare in 2007-08.
$89,851,600: Provincial budget for child welfare in 1997-98.
170 per cent: Increase in provincial child-welfare budget in last decade.
$48 million: Increase since Phoenix's death.
($42 million in funding to agencies plus $6 million for foster families)
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 21, 2008 A1
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