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Manitoba review calls for commitment to child welfare system.

A Manitoba Ministry of Family Services and Housing review team is calling upon the government to demonstrate its commitment to the child welfare system in the province by providing new resources.

Minister Gord Mackintosh's first response is to introduce a new legislation to expand the roles of the Children's Advocate and Ombudsman, in reviewing the deaths of children in care. The review, Strengthen the Commitment--an External Review of the Child Welfare System, was Conducted by Michael Hardy, Executive Director of Tikinagan Child and Family Services; Billie Schibler, Children's Advocate; and Irene Hamilton, Ombudsman.

The legislation would require:

* the Children's Advocate to examine the circumstances of each child death in Manitoba and make recommendations to prevent similar deaths;

* the Ombudsman to report publicly on the government's compliance with the recommendations of the Children's Advocate; and

* the Ombudsman to submit a separate annual report to the Legislature on the results of investigations of the system's compliance with recommendations, made by the Office of the Children's Advocate concerning child deaths.

The changes shift certain responsibilities of the Medical Examiner to the advocate's office when the death of a child in care is of concern. Staff of the Examiner's office will be shifted and they will operate as a separate division in the OCA. The advocate will have access to all records that relate to collateral services provided by the government.

The review also recommends that the Ombudsman Act be amended to require the Ombudsman to report on government responses to the Advocate's reports.

The review, set up in March 2006, responded to reports of the deaths of children in the care of the child protection system. The changes were designed to transfer the responsibility for Aboriginal child welfare to Aboriginal authorities. (Most of Manitoba's child welfare cases are in Aboriginal families.) The report points out that "numerous concerns in the child welfare system predated this transfer."

The review calls for an improvement in standards, processes and protocols related to the opening, transfer and closing of cases in child and family services, as well as the caseloads managed by front line workers.

It found that "the child welfare system is currently based on child protection, being its first and often only response." Too little is done in the prevention areas. The report recommends that "significant resources" be made available for this purpose, to allow social workers more time to work with families.

The review also found serious problems with the Child and Family Services Information System, a province wide electronic tracking system. CFSIS is lacking significant amounts of information because many agencies do not have the technological capacity to use it, lack the necessary equipment to run the system, or have developed its own system.

In more than 100 recommendations, the reviewers call for:

* a structure to be designed to meet the needs of the authorities, "that allows for diversity within a consensus model";

* additional funding for prevention and support services consistent with the principles set out in legislation;

* the intake processes to require fine tuning to ensure that transfers from intake to service delivery agencies are timely and appropriate; and

* a Child Welfare Secretariat to provide a focal point for standardizing provincial child welfare services where necessary.

The review report points out that the designated intake agency, serving all sixteen agencies operating in the City of Winnipeg, is not currently ready to become a separate agency as is planned for November of this year.
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Title Annotation:FAMILY & CHILD
Publication:Community Action
Date:Nov 20, 2006
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