Three years after damning report, child welfare changes still incomplete: report
Phoenix Sinclair is shown in a family photo released by the Commission of Inquiry looking into her 2005 death. (THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, November 24, 2016 12:09PM EST
Last Updated Thursday, November 24, 2016 5:03PM EST
WINNIPEG -- Most of the recommendations from a public inquiry three years ago into the death of a five-year-old Manitoba girl in government care have not been implemented, the province's children's advocate said Thursday.
"We were very surprised," Darlene MacDonald said on the finding that less than one-third of the recommendations from the inquiry into Phoenix Sinclair's death have been enacted.
"Basically, the only reason I was given was some of them would take time, and with the processes that they were going through, they felt that some would take longer than others."
Phoenix was repeatedly neglected, abused and finally beaten to death in 2005 by her mother and her mother's boyfriend after she fell through the cracks in government care. The inquiry found social workers frequently lost track of her and closed her file without checking on her.
The inquiry report by retired judge Ted Hughes recommended a new central database to better track children in care, lower caseloads and better training for social workers. He also recommended more power for MacDonald's office, an independent body, to investigate and report on problems.
Hughes also said the province would have to address the fact that the vast majority of kids in care are indigenous.
The province has acted on 29 per cent of the recommendations, including better training of and education for child-welfare workers, MacDonald said.
Half the recommendations are still works in progress, including reducing caseloads and setting up the information database. Social workers are still using an old system from the early 1990s.
"My understanding is there was some fine-tweaking done ... but it's still very cumbersome to use," MacDonald said.
Caseloads will only be reduced when the province finds a way to reduce the number of kids in care, MacDonald said. Manitoba has roughly 10,000 children in the system -- one of the highest per-capita rates in Canada. It apprehends an average of one newborn baby a day.
Another 21 per cent of the recommendations have yet to be addressed. They all relate to expanded powers for MacDonald's office. The former NDP government introduced legislation to enact the changes, but failed to get it approved in the legislature before the provincial election in April.
The new Progressive Conservative government has promised to reintroduce the bill in the coming months.
Families Minister Scott Fielding said Thursday that the government is committed to implementing all the recommendations, and will focus on early intervention to reduce the number of children taken from their homes.
The government is also actively looking for a new central database, he added.
"We're going to make some decisions on that," Fielding said.
"It's going to be an expensive system, but we think it's important to get it right, so we want a thoughtful process on this."