Child Welfare System Is Antiquated

Article excerpt

Testimony at the Phoenix Sinclair inquiry can break the hardest heart. Samantha Kematch and Steve Sinclair, her parents, were hobbled -- financially, emotionally and psychologically -- and incapable of caring for her.

The sense of rising panic I felt for Phoenix, listening as the days of her short life were plotted out in sparse detail contained in child welfare files, was surpassed only by the dreaded realization that her home was considered low risk for much of the time it was in the hands of the system.

Other families were much worse off, the lives of other kids more precarious. Today, if we are to believe social workers, the job is harder because the factors feeding the calculus of "risk" -- addictions, poverty, violence, drugs, street gangs -- have amplified.

Repeat studies show kids are taken into care not because of physical or sexual abuse, but because of neglect, which results from poverty (lousy housing, lack of food) and addictions.

In Manitoba, "case plans" try to address the risks, but that means tapping a few, disconnected and overstressed community resources.

The effect is felt in the community and in the homes "at risk."

Lisa Spring is a parent mentor at the West Central Women's Resource Centre. Her program was set up two years ago specifically to help mothers and others -- aunties, grandmas -- who have had their kids taken by CFS. Parents are bewildered. Social workers speak "gibberish" parents can't understand. Visits with children taken into care are delayed because workers are too busy. Parents, in crisis, are told to change their friends, change where they are living, clean up. Do it fast.

In the centre's catchment "every single family is high risk, the way risk assessment goes," Spring says.

Spring notes there is a real incongruity in a system that tasks the same worker to do family support -- determine the parental problems that need addressing and then find community resources to help -- and protect children. Even if the worker has time for "support," their attention is always focused on protection. That engenders distrust, something social workers and supervisors at the inquiry have highlighted as a real barrier to helping families.

There must be a better way. …