Child-Welfare System Better: Flette

Article excerpt

Agency head tells inquiry of more funding, new policies in place

The child-welfare system in which Phoenix Sinclair disappeared has been beefed up and is improving, says the head of the Southern Authority.

Elsie Flette told the inquiry into the 2005 death of the five-year-old, who was in and out of care from birth, that more money has been injected into agencies responsible for children and ways to ensure they're safe.

Phoenix's situation would be handled differently today, Flette said Tuesday.

"Red flags would've been picked up by the process."

Winnipeg Child and Family Services closed the file on Phoenix in March 2005 before devolution was complete and the files of aboriginal kids in care in Winnipeg could be transferred to aboriginal authorities such as Flette's.

The Southern Authority oversees agencies serving kids on and off-reserve from 36 First Nations, including Fisher River where Phoenix was killed in the summer of 2005 by her mother, Samantha Kematch, and stepfather, Karl Wesley McKay. As head of one of the provincial authorities, Flette saw the flurry of reports and 295 recommendations made following the discovery of Phoenix's death in 2006.

The Southern Authority is responsible for nearly half the kids in care in Manitoba. As of March 31, the Southern Authority had 4,322 children in care. The four Manitoba authorities combined on that date had 9,730 kids in the system.

Winnipeg CFS closed the file on Phoenix in March 2005 without a worker seeing her and at times didn't know where she was living or with whom. The inquiry also heard social workers didn't check out her mother's new boyfriend when McKay moved in or how the situation changed for Phoenix after the couple had a baby.

With new policies and decisions-making tools in place at Southern Authority agencies, workers wouldn't see that clean apartment and a happy younger sibling and assume Phoenix was alive and well, said Flette.

"The social worker has to go and see a child face to face.. …