Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

If people will come forward a child's life might be saved

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GAGE GUIMOND died under the watchful eye of Child and Family Services, the agency that removed him from a loving foster home and placed him with a distant relative.

It was CFS who was sworn to protect the two-year-old, to make sure his needs were met and that he was in a safe, secure setting.

His great-aunt, who has a criminal record, allegedly battered the toddler so severely that, after being removed from life support, he quickly died.

It took only six weeks from the time the tiny lad was snatched from his foster family until the day his grieving family, including his foster parents, gathered around his body.

This is not a child care system. This is a crime scene.

I'm sickened by this baby's death and by an operation that seems to put its how-to manuals ahead of common sense.

Family reunification is a grand and glorious goal. Perhaps CFS should make sure the family is actually equipped to take care of these vulnerable kids.

My phone rang endlessly yesterday and my in-box filled with e-mails from foster parents, self-designated survivors of the child welfare system, social workers and ordinary, appalled citizens. They were angry. They were grieving. They were afraid.

It's that last part that illustrates some of the rot within CFS.

Foster families are told they cannot speak to the media or they will face having their foster children removed. Social workers are told they can't speak out or they will lose their jobs. What goes on with children in protection is a big fat secret.

But the brave ones phoned and begged assurances that their anonymity would be respected. They are afraid of the people in charge -- and this tells me as much about the child welfare system as Gage Guimond's death does.

"One factor in the attempts to 'fix' the child welfare system that is overlooked is the turnover rate of workers," wrote one CFS worker. "Did you know that CFS social workers are paid less than teachers and nurses? Yet daily they risk abuse by clients, dangers when entering homes, and continual criticism and judgment by the media."

Point taken. Here's part of another note from a local teacher:

"There must be something we can do to change the way things are done. Gage died so it is a story in the news. What about all the kids that are returned to situations like his who don't die...the ones who have broken arms and bruises, who are quietly taken away every day? I know they are there because I have taught some of them."

One woman talked to me about having been taken from foster parents who she adored to be adopted by an abusive couple. Another urged me to investigate how the government is planning to spend the money earmarked to fix the troubled child welfare system.

Here's what I'm going to do.

Reporter Mia Rabson and I have been working on a series of stories about CFS scheduled to run this fall. We're just in the preliminary stages. The story came about as a way to examine the life and death of Phoenix Sinclair.

We never expected to have another dead child to write about.

I want to talk to everyone in this city who has an experience with the child care system. Maybe you're a foster parent who will speak on the condition of anonymity. Maybe you were in care yourself. Maybe you're a social worker, toiling away on the front lines and aghast at what you see every day.

Call me. e-mail me. We'll find the time to listen to your stories.

Maybe, just maybe, if enough people find the courage to step forward we won't have to bury another baby who was supposed to be in a safe and loving environment.

lindor.reynolds@freepress.mb.ca

Lindor Reynolds blogs at www.winnipegfreepress.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 26, 2007

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