Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 15/10/2015 (677 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It is now law that any grievous injury to a child in care in Manitoba must be reported. It’s a good move, but long past due. How those incidents are investigated, and how the information is then used, is key to helping to protect children at risk.
As of this week, anyone involved with children in the Child and Family Services system, including foster parents and group home workers, must immediately inform an agency of a serious injury. That information is relayed up the lines of authority.
But missing from the chain, so far, is the Office of the Children’s Advocate, the independent investigator of any death of a child who is in the system or receiving services from a CFS agency. The children’s advocate is in the best position to gather the information, report to the legislature and to the public on the deaths of and injuries to children.
The stumbling block here is the office has not yet been made truly independent, under its own legislation, with expanded investigation and reporting powers — as recommended almost two years ago by commissioner Ted Hughes, who led the inquiry into the 2005 death of Phoenix Sinclair. The five-year-old was murdered and hastily buried nine months before anyone at CFS knew she was missing.
The inquiry found that for all the reviews and investigations done in the wake of Phoenix’s death, very few people — even front-line social workers — were informed of the findings, why the agencies that were supposed to protect her failed in their duties.
The expansion of the advocate’s powers was supposed to keep those investigations and reports from getting swallowed by the black hole of bureaucratic secrecy.
Family Services Minister Kerri Irvin-Ross, however, was loath to fully implement the Hughes recommendations. Her half-baked response — Bill 25 — was tepid and has since been aborted. Now Manitobans are waiting for a remake, promised this fall.
The government says the children’s advocate will also be involved in reviews of injuries to children in care, that this will be clear in the legislative redo. In light of that, advocate Darlene MacDonald should be in the loop on the reviews underway into current cases, including the near-fatal beating of a teen who was housed by CFS in a hotel room and the repeat abuse suffered by a boy placed, with CFS approval, in the care of a man with a criminal history.
Ms. MacDonald’s job would be easier if the minister had followed through, by now, with another key Hughes recommendation: to appoint a deputy advocate from the indigenous community. In exasperation, and as the number of aboriginal children taken into care rises, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs appointed its own child-welfare advocate. But Cora Morgan has not been welcomed into case discussions between families and CFS.
There may be good reason. Ms. Morgan, a vocal critic of CFS, was hired to "blow the lid off this system." So discussions naturally would be polarized, which is not useful in an already emotionally charged atmosphere. She works for AMC and thus is not independent. Families relying on her help should ask who she really represents. It would be unethical, perhaps illegal, for CFS workers to disclose confidential, personal information in such conditions.
The children’s advocate — separated from government by a legislative firewall — needs an indigenous deputy. The minister’s dithering has only complicated the fraught relations between agencies and the aboriginal communities.
The new bill should be the first introduced in the coming session. It needs to make good on Mr. Hughes’ vision for a strong advocate who can speak for children and hold agencies fully, publicly to account when things go wrong.