The Government of Manitoba acknowledges the failure of the child welfare system to protect Phoenix Sinclair and will immediately act on the recommendations of the Hughes inquiry and continue strengthening protections for children in Manitoba, Family Services Minister Kerri Irvin-Ross said today.
“On behalf of the Government of Manitoba, I want to offer an apology for the child welfare system’s failure to protect Phoenix Sinclair. My sympathy goes out to all who cared for her. Today is about remembering a little girl and doing everything we can to learn from her death,” Minister Irvin-Ross said. “We thank commissioner Ted Hughes for his dedication, his hard work and the invaluable insights that will help us better protect our most vulnerable children.”
Hughes heard from 126 witnesses during 91 days of testimony that delved into the circumstances surrounding the tragic death of Phoenix Sinclair. He has made 62 recommendations for improving the child welfare system and addressing underlying issues of poverty that can lead to child abuse, neglect or deaths.
“The responsibility to keep children safe cannot be borne by any single arm of government, or even by a single government,” Hughes stated in his report. “It’s a responsibility that belongs to the entire community.”
The minister said the province has already taken action on 20 recommendations and action on another 11 is underway. Further actions include:
appointing an implementation team for the remaining 31 recommendations headed by Barbara Bruce to report back to the minister by Sept. 30;
drafting legislation to establish critical incident reporting similar to what is in place in the
implementing a new information management system to be sure that vulnerable children do not fall through the cracks; and
requiring the Social Work Profession Act transition team to complete its work and submit it to the minister by May 31 with the goal of establishing as soon as possible the Manitoba College of Social Workers with professional standards and governance similar to other colleges.
Minister Irvin-Ross said improvements to the child welfare system will be built on earlier initiatives, particularly the Changes for Children child protection plan, that implemented recommendations stemming from six reviews of the Manitoba child and family services system after Phoenix’s death. Changes for Children increased funding for child welfare, improved foster care and child safety, and strengthened accountability of agencies that care for children. This expanded on the work done to improve the child welfare system initiated under the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry – Child Welfare Initiative.
The minister also noted the government has made it a priority to put in place long-term solutions that tackle the root causes of poverty, which can create stresses for families and bring them into contact with the child welfare system. A key plank of the ALL Aboard Poverty Reduction strategy responds to concerns raised by Hughes by focusing on safe, affordable housing in supportive communities; education, jobs and income support; strong, healthy families; and accessible, co-ordinated services, Minister Irvin-Ross said.
The new Block by Block community safety initiative was put in place to help prevent individuals and families from falling into crisis, the minister said. Provincial departments, the Winnipeg Police Service, child and family services, and community agencies are working together to break down any existing barriers, to develop an immediate action plan and offer urgent services, she added.
“It will require significant investments, a collaborative effort, as well as the support of all Manitobans to continue improving the child welfare system,” Minister Irvin-Ross said. “We are committed to working with families, First Nations and Métis communities, and other levels of government to protect all children in care. The recommendations of the Hughes inquiry will help guide us toward that goal.”
The cost of the inquiry was $14 million and the implementation team will cost $350,000.