Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

First Nation votes to remove troubled CFS agency

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BLOODVEIN First Nation has voted to boot the Southeast Child and Family Services agency off the reserve.

The chief and council passed a band resolution at the end of October that would remove the CFS workers -- one supervisor and two social workers -- from the reserve.

The Southeast CFS agency is the subject of an operational review, triggered by the findings of an inquest into the suicide of Tracia Owen, a 14-year-old resident of Berens River First Nation.

Bloodvein, on the east side of Lake Winnipeg near Matheson Island, is home to about 1,400 people.

The chief could not be reached Thursday.

Elsie Flette, CEO of the Southern First Nations Child and Family Authority, which oversees Southeast CFS, said the agency, the authority and chief and council are working to overcome their differences.

But Flette said she is confident services to children and families in Bloodvein are continuing without disruption.

"The staff are out there and they are working," she said.

Flette said the decision by chief and council relates to "general concerns about the service" being delivered, but would not elaborate on the specifics.

Southeast CFS is also under fire for the suicide Tuesday of another 14-year-old Berens River girl. The teen was in the care of Southeast, but had bounced around between various homes, including at times living with her mother, who is accused of killing the girl's father.

The Tracia Owen inquest report is not yet finished, but there were enough concerns raised to warrant the review of Southeast.

Owen was moved in and out of foster care and group homes 64 times in her short life, and was sent home to her parents 17 times despite concerns they weren't prepared to care for her due to alcohol addiction.

Owen's use of drugs and involvement in Winnipeg's sex trade led the chief medical examiner to call the inquest to examine the issue of youth drug use and sexual exploitation.

The inquest questioned whether Southeast CFS was properly monitoring the teen in the weeks before she died. Southeast CFS head Michael Bear testified social workers were carrying workloads in excess of 35 files each. He said 20 files would be more appropriate.

Heavy workloads were cited in a recent Free Press series as one of the most prevalent problems in the Manitoba child-welfare system.

The stories uncovered a system in chaos, with social workers carrying workloads so heavy they were unable to work with families to help keep kids with their parents, conduct proper risk assessments, or monitor their cases to ensure children were safe.

There were questions raised about whether children were being returned to their families without enough investigation to determine the safety of such a move.




Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 9, 2007

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