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Manitoba Foster Deaths

June 18, 2010 permalink

Last week Manitoba's acting children's advocate, Bonnie Kocsis, issued a confidential report to the legislature on the provincial child welfare system. The ensuing controversy has led to the publication by the CBC of a chart giving the death rate of Manitoba foster children over thirteen years. The chart shows 154 deaths in 80060 child-years, a death rate of 192 per 100 thousand child years, 6.9 times deadlier than in parental care.



Man. child-welfare deaths drop despite record intake

Deaths in Manitoba foster care, 1997 to 2009
This chart notes the year, number of children who died in state care and the manner in which they died.
(Province of Manitoba)

Despite a record number of children being involved in Manitoba's child-welfare system, the number of children who die in state care is dropping, the provincial minister in charge of family services said Thursday.

"We often hear from the Opposition allegations that as a result of recent changes in child welfare, there are more child deaths," Gord Mackintosh said.

But Mackintosh said despite having more than 8,600 children in the system last year, just 12 died. It's a sharp contrast from 1999, when 23 children died out of 5,358 in care, he said.

He also pointed out that that was the year before the NDP ousted Gary Filmon's Progressive Conservatives.

"In the final years of the Opposition's time in government there'd been almost twice that or 23 foster children who died most unfortunately," Mackintosh said.

Fifteen of the 23 children died of natural causes, the province said. Of the 12 who died last year, six died of natural causes.

MLA Bonnie Mitchelson was the family services minister in 1999 and is now the department's Opposition critic. She said each of the deaths must be looked at individually.

"I don't think you can take a statistic at one point in time in a system and say things are getting better or they're not," Mitchelson said. "I think we have to look at the tragedies that have happened."

The Progressive Conservative Opposition has been slamming the NDP government for days over the state of the child-welfare system in Manitoba.

Furor erupted in the Legislature after the provincial children's advocate tabled a report last week stating that the child-welfare system is "in chaos."

Deaths need explaining: Opposition

The province started handing over management of cases involving aboriginal children to regional authorities run by aboriginal peoples in 2003, a change that has since been criticized.

Internal and external reviews were launched after some high-profile deaths of children who had been placed in harm's way.

The most notorious case was that of Phoenix Sinclair, 5, who spent most of her life in foster care but was murdered in June 2005 after being handed back to her mother, Samantha Kematch.

The girl suffered months of horrific abuse before being beaten to death in the basement of her home on the Fisher River reserve north of Winnipeg. The child welfare system wasn't aware of her death for almost a year. Her body wasn't found until March 2006.

Kematch and her boyfriend, Karl McKay, are currently serving life sentences for first-degree murder.

In another case, two-year-old Gage Guimond was given to his great-aunt Shirley Guimond in 2007, despite the fact she had a criminal record. The boy was beaten and died after falling down stairs. Guimond was sentenced to 18 months house arrest earlier this month for failing to provide the necessities of life.

Legislation changed

The case prompted the government to change its legislation in order to ensure that a child's safety is the prime concern for foster care, not cultural or family ties.

A social-work expert at the University of Manitoba said it's likely deaths are dropping because the government is taking a more active role in intervening in the lives of troubled families.

Don Fuchs also believes that's why the number of kids being placed in care is steadily rising and will continue to do so.

Families facing serious economic disadvantages will continue to experience stress and therefore breakdown, Fuchs suggested.

Source: CBC