Wednesday, January 30
It was a short week at the Phoenix Sinclair inquiry: just two days. But it packed a lot of punch.
Two former CEOs of Winnipeg Child and Family Services (CFS) took the stand and spoke candidly about the major challenges they faced heading up the organization.
Lance Barber was at the helm of the child welfare agency between 1997 and 2001. When he left, Linda Trigg took the reins until 2004.
Both former CEOs have testified about major workload issues and a dire and growing need for services.
Barber, in particular, outlined some unsettling demographic research from the early 1990s.
Barber stated that a very high percentage of the agency's clients were aboriginal single-parent families, headed by women living in poverty.
Most lived in 55 small inner-city neighbourhoods. Within those neighbourhoods 40 to 50 per cent of open CFS cases were concentrated in public housing.
"There was," Barber said, "a large level of the population in crisis ... needing our service."
And that need, Barber noted, was growing.
The agency's budget. however, was not.
Commission counsel Sherri Walsh asked Barber if funding was an issue.
Barber smiled broadly and laughed a little before answering, "It always was an issue."
That lead to this exchange:
Walsh: Did you feel you were impeded in the work you did by funding issues?
Barber: No. I didn't let the funding issue hamper us. That doesn't mean I had a blank cheque, but we had a mandate to provide service. We were like an emergency department: if people came in at that end, we had a level of service we needed to provide. We also had a large number of children for which the state had become the the guardian and we had a responsibility for those children, and we made investments in those children and we tried to be good financial stewards of the money that the people of Manitoba provided to us through the province, but we needed also to get business done.
Walsh: So you said you had a mandate to fulfill? Did you run a deficit?
Barber: Correct. I came in and the agency had a deficit, and we ran a deficit each of the years that I was there. I believe the year I left, expenditures from the previous fiscal year topped $90 million.
Walsh: But that didn't stop you from doing what you felt needed to be done?
Barber: We needed to provide our service -- a lot of those expenditures came from the mandated component of our service. We couldn't stop providing that.
Barber is the second former CEO of CFS to testify the agency chronically ran itself into the red.
Linda Trigg, who was in charge of the agency through most of Phoenix Sinclair's life, also ran a deficit every year.
If Barber is correct, and expenditures were at $90 million when he left in 2001, imagine what they were in 2003 when the province issued Trigg just $77 million to run the agency.
The issue of money, and whether the agency had enough of it to keep children safe, will come up again in Phase 2 of the inquiry. That's when we expect to hear from the Department of Child and Family Services.
With CBC's Katie Nicholson where an inquiry is trying to figure out how a little girl fell through the cracks.