Background to Changes for Children
In March 2006, Manitobans were shocked by the tragic circumstances of five year old Phoenix Sinclair's death. Two external reviews were called by the Minister of Family Services and Housing. The four child and family services authorities also initiated a quality assurance process to ensure the safety of children in their care.
One external review, Strengthen the Commitment - An External Review of the Child Welfare System, focused on the standards, processes and protocols of case openings, closings and transfers within the system, was conducted by the External Child Welfare Review Committee, co-chaired by the Ombudsman, the Children’s Advocate and Michael Hardy (Executive Director of an Ontario First Nations child and family services agency).
The second review, "Honouring Their Spirits" The Child Death Review, was specific to deaths of children involved with the child and family services system, examined 99 cases from 2003 to 2006. It was conducted by the Child Death Review Team and was co-chaired by the Children’s Advocate and Dr. Jim Newton (Manitoba Adolescent Treatment Centre).
Reports from these two reviews were released October 11, 2006, and contained over 200 individual recommendations for improving the child and family services system in Manitoba.
Many of the key themes and recommendations in the external reviews were consistent with the plans to improve the child and family services system already initiated under the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry – Child Welfare Initiative (AJI-CWI). Together, the external review recommendations combined with the ongoing work of the AJI-CWI provided a blueprint to achieve substantial and long-lasting improvements in the child and family services system while recognizing that families, communities and service systems all share responsibility to protect children from harm.
In response to the external review reports, in 2006 Manitoba Family Services and Housing announced Changes for Children, a series of new strategic initiatives to be implemented over the next two years. The government committed an initial allocation of over $42 million to begin addressing the recommendations in the review reports and an additional $6.1 million to strengthen Manitoba’s foster care system, with an emphasis on recruitment, training and increased funding.
Since 2006 under Changes for Children, the province has more than doubled child welfare funding, to about $442 million a year toward areas such as improved care and prevention efforts for children as well as workload relief and training for staff.
To implement the Changes for Children initiatives, an Implementation Team was established under the leadership of two external co-chairs: Dr. Catherine Cook and Mr. Reg Toews. The team was comprised of the chief executive officers of the four child and family services authorities and two representatives from Manitoba Family Services and Housing. The primary purpose of the team was to coordinate the planning and implementation of the Changes for Children initiatives.
Since the external reviews were completed, two other reports were released. The Office of the Auditor General released an audit of the Child and Family Services Division covering the years 2002/03 and 2003/04 called "Audit of the Child and Family Services Division, Pre-Devolution Child in Care Processes and Practices". The Office of the Children’s Advocate released a report titled “Strengthening Our Youth” which included 45 recommendations to improve services for youth who are transitioning out of the care of the child and family services system. Both reports were provided to the Changes for Children Implementation Team to consider those recommendations that were consistent with the themes and findings of the external reviews.
Consistent with a major theme in these reports, the team established that all implementation plans must:
- always respect the spirit, intent and longer term objectives of the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry – Child Welfare Initiative; and
- clearly and demonstrably strengthen the capacity of the child and family services system.
The Implementation Team adopted a vision statement for their work that embraced the principles of inclusiveness and transparency in the planning and reporting process. Through this website, the public can learn about the child and family services system, view the external review reports and learn about the efforts to implement the Changes for Children agenda.