Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Child welfare hits rock bottom

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Just how badly can Manitoba's fractured child welfare system fail a child in care?

Let me count the ways.

We'll begin with a Child and Family Services worker who didn't know that a child in her care was the victim of sexual predators and drug addicts.

On Thursday, at a sentencing hearing for a crack-addicted mother of eight who was running a brothel out of her home, Judge Ron Meyers was stunned by a tale of one of her victims.

The girl was 13 in 2005 when she had the bad luck to cross paths with the accused. Soon enough, she was introduced to crack and the sex trade by another teenage victim in the house.

She shared her drugs with the accused, a woman whose own children witnessed drug use, sexual activity and violence in their home.

The description of the life of the birth children is harrowing. They are now in a loving foster home, receiving therapy and supported in every possible way.

They'll never recover. You can't come from that kind of horror without permanent scars. Still, as a small comfort, they're in a safe place and getting help for their trauma.

The other victims were, for the most part, left to swing in the wind. They were failed by the system that is supposed to take care of the vulnerable.

As Crown attorney Breta Passler briskly ran through the litany of sins the 30-year-old accused committed upon her children and the others who frequented her brothel, she told court she had followed up on the lives of the other girls who were harmed.

One is in a Brandon foster home, Passler said as part of her summation, and still hasn't received counselling for the abuse.

Judge Meyers was clearly gobsmacked.

"How long does it take an agency to set up a program?" he demanded. "It was 2005."

Passler said the child has gone from worker to worker and home to home. When the lawyer tried to get answers from CFS, she was told the physical files of the child, who now lives in Brandon, were "in another community."

Meyers, clearly dumbfounded, asked if the girl's social worker had even requested the files. Passler didn't know.

You've got a 13-year-old who has been prostituting herself, the judge said, and wondered aloud why no one had pulled these files.

"They're working on it," said Passler, who reined in her own feelings about the CFS system.

Everyone in the courtroom, save the accused, was stunned.

Meyers couldn't let it go.

He wanted to know how many times the victim had been moved from foster home to foster home. Passler -- and let's be clear that this is not her job -- couldn't tell him.

The girl was described as "still unsettled" by her CFS worker, she said.

"They're working on finding a therapist for her," Passler said, and then dropped a bombshell.

Until the Crown attorney called, the CFS worker wasn't aware the child had been introduced to drugs and prostituted to strangers.

Meyers was incredulous.

The person on trial Thursday was a woman who ran a brothel filled with underage girls and drug addicts, while her own children were in her care.

When will there be a trial for a system that, plain and simple, did not know a child in its supposed care had been so abused?

When will it simply be enough?

lindor.reynolds@freepress.mb.ca

Lindor Reynolds blogs at www.winnipegfreepress.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 23, 2008

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