Just shy of a year after the issuance of the final report and recommendations from the Phoenix Sinclair Inquiry in Manitoba, the province has issued its first status update on the implementation of those recommendations.
The report, Options for Action: An Implementation Report for The Legacy of Phoenix Sinclair: Achieving the Best for All Our Children and Executive Summary were delivered at a press conference yesterday. Following a process of consultation with stakeholders, the implementation team led by consulting firm AMR Planning and Consulting sets out a series of options for action to implement the 31 recommendations that were not already works in progress at the time of delivery of the recommendations and final report from the Inquiry.
In releasing the Options for Action report, the government noted it will shift emphasis in child welfare from a focus on protection to a focus on prevention. This was a key recommendation from the Inquiry report, as noted previously here. As outlined in the accompanying news release, other actions to be taken by the government in response to the recommendations include:
- revise the funding model for CFS agencies including a 60 per cent increase for family supports that would allow for greater flexibility in dealing with family size, complexity of needs, geography and other individual factors;
- hire an indigenous associate children’s advocate to work on behalf of indigenous families and children, ensuring they are treated fairly in all dealings with the CFS system;
- introduce legislation that would give the Office of the Children’s Advocate greater independence and make it more transparent by allowing greater public reporting of critical incidents and greater sharing of information with families; and
- create a pilot project called Circle of Care based at Sagkeeng First Nation that will assist families in working their way through difficult issues while respecting cultural needs and by focusing on the family first, rather than the system;
- begin working on a made-in-Manitoba solution to meet the Hughes inquiry recommendations to strengthen the role of the Office of the Children’s Advocate;
- build the capacity of non-government community agencies to offer more services for families earlier to help prevent families falling into crisis;
- amend existing legislation to include the principles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child;
- require CFS agencies to work more collaboratively with community partners to better serve families and children who need supports and to prevent their entry into the child welfare system;
- expand work through the Healthy Child Committee of Cabinet on initiatives such as the Children and Youth Mental Health Action Framework to identify and develop services for children and youth; and
- work with authorities and other stakeholders to develop a retention and recruitment strategy for CFS workers.
While these are positive steps toward effecting the changes necessary to address the over-representation of aboriginal children in the care of child welfare in Manitoba, it remains unclear when these changes will in fact take place. As noted by Manitoba’s Children’s Advocate, in response to the release of the update:
…instead of clear timelines, the government is now calling for more consultations and more committees on a long-studied and well analyzed gap in the system. Are we going to be sitting in the same place in another year from today?
I certainly hope not. Nearly 10 years have already passed since Phoenix Sinclair was murdered, more than enough time to study, consult and analyze the gaps in Manitoba’s child welfare system. It’s time to get serious about effecting real change.