Family Services Minister Kerri Irvin-Ross made a tearful pledge to Manitobans Wednesday to keep children in the care of the state safe, and to move immediately to find foster homes for those who are warehoused in hotel rooms.

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Editorial

Family Services Minister Kerri Irvin-Ross made a tearful pledge to Manitobans Wednesday to keep children in the care of the state safe, and to move immediately to find foster homes for those who are warehoused in hotel rooms.

Ms. Irvin-Ross brought down a June 1 deadline for halting the use of hotel rooms in the wake of yet another tragedy — a young girl being housed at a hotel was brutally assaulted downtown on Wednesday.

Phoenix Sinclair

SUBMITTED PHOTO

Phoenix Sinclair

Aside from the police investigation, the Family Services Department and the responsible agency will review how this happened, how a child in their "protection" fell into grievous harm. Ms. Irvin-Ross says the department will fix what’s wrong. Again.

Manitobans won’t get a chance, however, to scrutinize the role a child-welfare worker or agency played in this latest outrage. Similarly, they are told there are investigations still going on into how Tina Fontaine, a 15-year-old in the care of CFS, was slain and dumped into the Red River, shortly after she was taken to an emergency hotel room by an agency.

The minister insists those reviews can’t be disclosed publicly; they must be shared on a need-to-know basis.

This sounds discouragingly familiar. The 2013 Hughes inquiry into the abysmal failure of Child and Family Services workers to protect Phoenix Sinclair, a five-year-old who was murdered nine months before anyone at CFS knew she was missing, could have written this script.

Phoenix’s 2005 death at the hands of her mother and stepfather was reviewed by the chief medical examiner’s office and by an internal department investigation. The findings were damning and held secret until the Hughes inquiry eight years later.

Incredibly, the workers whose conduct came under fire were never told the results of those reviews. So much for the value of review, government style.

The inquiry recommended Manitoba’s children’s advocate, having since assumed the job for external review in such cases, be given the power to publicly release its investigations. Ms. Irvin-Ross says they are thinking about how to do that, but departmental and agency reviews will remain secret.

Ms. Irvin-Ross’s department says it cannot release the internal reviews, because the reports "touch on the intimate details of the lives of children and families" who have a right to privacy.

That’s a facile excuse and transparently convenient for a politician. Privacy of individuals can be protected by removing identifying details in the reports. If the minister needs a primer on how that is done, she can pull off her shelf the Section 4 Review In Regard to the Death of Gage Guimond, conducted by Southern CFS Authority and released publicly by former minister Gord Mackintosh in July 2008. The account of how a CFS agency failed the little boy, taken from a loving foster home and put into a relative’s home, was written for public release.

And if the minister wants to know how the provincial advocate’s reports can be publicly disclosed, she can look next door to Saskatchewan.

Saskatchewan’s advocate publishes reports into the deaths, or critical injuries, of children in care, edited for privacy. Two reports were released last year. That agency has the ability to include identifying information, if the public interest outweighs privacy rights.

Meeting the tests of public accountability and privacy are not mutually exclusive. Saskatchewan has done both for decades.

The government is taking convenient cover, behind privacy legislation, to shield itself from the public blowback that understandably follows when a child taken into "protection" is hurt or killed. That unconscionably puts the interests of children behind the political interests of the government.

Ms. Irvin-Ross says her department will learn from the latest failure to keep a young girl safe from the mean streets. Manitobans should not expect to simply trust her word. The minister should release the reviews and findings when child-welfare agencies fall down in their duties to kids.