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Child Welfare (1-5)

Still Waiting: Investigating Child Maltreatment after the Phoenix Sinclair Inquiry”

March 11, 2021

Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth – released a new special report, “Still Waiting: Investigating Child Maltreatment after the Phoenix Sinclair Inquiry” that examines the lives of 19 children who died after being severely maltreated while under the age of five. Roughly seven years after the final report from the Phoenix Sinclair Inquiry “Still Waiting” from the Acting Manitoba Advocate tracks the province’s progress on Hughes’ 62 recommendations and in her report makes five more recommendations for child safety and system change.

“What Manitobans will see in our independent report is not nearly enough change has occurred within public systems and child-serving organizations to protect kids. This should be among our highest priorities as adults,” said Ainsley Krone, the Acting Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth. “Children are still dying of maltreatment similar to what Phoenix Sinclair experienced and what is clear is that systemic inequities and social determinants of health are contributing factors in these deaths,” she continued.” More resources and improved supports for families and communities in Manitoba are needed to help them with preventing child maltreatment. Too often, help still arrives after a child’s death, when what families need is help much earlier in establishing safety so children are protected.”

In Hughes’ inquiry report from 2014, he laid out 62 recommendations to better protect Manitoba children after the death of five-year-old Phoenix in June 2005. Despite his recommendations for sweeping changes and repeated acknowledgements by the provincial government in years since that improvements are underway, the Advocate’s latest investigation found that progress has been slow. According to the Advocate’s analysis, 55 per cent of Hughes’ recommendations have been completed so far, seven years after the release of his report. At the current rate of progress, it will be 2028 before all of the recommendations are completed.

Some major changes have occurred in Manitoba’s child welfare system in the past 15 years, including the continued devolution of the system, new child welfare agencies being established, and, more recently, federal legislation aimed at ensuring children can be looked after by their home communities, with sovereign systems for First Nations, Inuit, and Metis peoples. While these large-scale changes alter jurisdictions, legal mandates, stakeholder responsibilities, and other structural factors, the Advocate’s office continues to question whether outcomes and safety for children are improving.

Seven years after the conclusion of the public inquiry, the provincial government has yet to proactively release a complete status report on the Phoenix Sinclair Inquiry’s recommendations.

Krone’s five recommendations made to the provincial government and child welfare authorities are:

RECOMMENDATION ONE (System Level): The Government of Manitoba must implement the outstanding recommendations from the Phoenix Sinclair Inquiry.

RECOMMENDATION TWO (Community Level): Consistent with Call to Action 5 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the Government of Manitoba must work with First Nations and Metis governments and community stakeholders to ensure access to evidence-informed and culturally-safe parenting programs and resources for caregivers of children under the age of five across Manitoba, with attention to rural and remote communities.

RECOMMENDATION THREE (Organization Level): Each child and family services authority must develop and provide the necessary resources to implement a culturally-appropriate reunification policy within their agencies.

RECOMMENDATION FOUR (Direct Service Level): Each child and family services authority must ensure their agencies complete case reviews for every child in care under age five, for whom reunification is planned.

RECOMMENDATION FIVE (Direct Service Level): The Department of Families, through the Joint Training Team, must develop and administer mandatory training for front line workers and supervisors on the risk and protective factors of child maltreatment and best practices for reunification.