The province will act immediately to ensure foster homes and other emergency care homes are safe, Family Services Minister Gord Mackintosh promised after a disturbing review into the death of two-year-old Gage Guimond was released Thursday.
"It's important to assure all children and Manitobans that the whole system is going to be looked at," Mackintosh said. "In the meantime, we'll be working with the authorities to put in stronger mechanisms in the agencies to deal with the necessary checks for foster and place-of-safety approvals."
The review looked at Guimond's death last year while in the care of his great-aunt, with whom he had been placed by the Sagkeeng First Nation's child welfare agency after his teenage mother abandoned him. His death prompted outrage provincewide at dysfunction in the child welfare system.
The review found that Guimond should never have been sent to live with the aunt, who had serious shortcomings as a caregiver, and that the Pine Falls-based child welfare agency failed to do proper screenings and risk assessments before sending the boy there.
"We definitely failed this child. There's no question when we look at the review, the omissions, things that were not done that should have been done," acknowledged Elsie Flette, CEO of the Southern First Nations Child and Family Services Authority, which oversees the Sagkeeng child welfare agency. "But I would be careful about saying that that's the case of that agency and how it handles every case. I don't believe that's the way it was."
The report contains 88 recommendations for fixing the Sagkeeng agency, and they will be forwarded to the province's 17 other First Nations child welfare agencies, several of which are being reviewed following other children's deaths. According to the report, the agency needs more conflict-of-interest rules to prevent nepotism and favouritism from diminishing its work quality, and new hires should undergo a training and orientation course.
Tory family services critic Stuart Briese called for a judicial inquest to be held into the Guimond case to bring out all the facts.
"They've had at least three major reviews, with somewhere around 220 major recommendations, and we still have children dying," Briese said.