Manitoba seeks to close gaps in how children in care are tracked

A decades-old computer system that tracks thousands of children in Manitoba's protection services is set to get an overhaul.

Immediate replacement of 1993 sytem one of recommendations in Phoenix Sinclair inquiry

The province has put out a call for recommendations on product and solution options for the child welfare and case management system. (CBC)

A decades-old computer system that tracks thousands of children in Manitoba's protection services is set to get an overhaul.

Last week, the province put out a request for information — asking for businesses to submit ideas — on a new child welfare computer information system, answering a call from the Phoenix Sinclair commission that recommended the overhaul happen "without delay."

The current computer system, the Child and Family Services Information System (CFSIS), was first created in 1993 and went online in 2006, according to a transition binder given to Families Minister Scott Fielding.

But even though child welfare agencies are required to use the current computer system, full compliance has never been achieved, the binder said.

Some agencies under the First Nations of Northern Manitoba Child and Family Services Authority have between 40 and 85 per cent of the information missing on their caseloads, the transition documents said.

That missing information "has placed children at risk," according to the documents.

Poor internet service in rural, northern and remote communities, which see up to 15 per cent of the child protection caseload, is a key problem, but some First Nations agencies also oppose the use of the system.

There are more than 10,000 children in care in Manitoba and the vast majority of them are Indigenous.

The current computer system is overwhelmed with about 30,000 service cases for children and families. It also maintains over 11,000 administrative cases for service providers and staff, the tender said.

"The system has many challenges such as integration with other systems, no financials and mobile capability, poor or intermittent access to the system from remote areas," the request said.

There have been multiple reviews of the internally developed computer system and they all recommend the department make "substantive and significant improvements" or replace it all together, according to the request, which closes at the end of August.

In 2008 and 2015 the province contracted professional firms to find a system and a price tag, but both needed more information from CFS Authority and participating agencies so the old system continued to be used. 

Accessible beyond CFS

CFSIS was referenced continually during the inquiry into the little girl, Phoenix Sinclair, who was killed by her mother and stepfather in 2005 after slipping through the cracks of the child welfare system.

The report into Sinclair's death, released in January 2015 by commissioner Ted Hughes, recommended that the computer system be replaced "without delay."

"Protection of children requires a reliable and up-to-date information management system," Hughes said.

Phoenix Sinclair was just five years old when she was killed in June of 2005 by her mother and her boyfriend. (Phoenix Sinclair Inquiry)
The report recommended that the new information system should be able to keep track of kids receiving protection services, as well as all children in care.

Although CFSIS can be accessed by social workers, other important aspects of children's care — including, Health Sciences Centre, Children's Emergency Department and the Office of the Children's Advocate — have a much more limited reach to the critical information inside.

The Phoenix recommendation said the new computer system must be modern enough to work with other government systems like employment insurance and health.

The new system should also have alert features to flag people known in the system who pose a risk to kids.

In June, the province proposed legislation that, if approved, would allow organizations that provide services to at-risk children — such as Child and Family Services (CFS) agencies, police and schools — to disclose and share personal information with each other when it's in the best interests of a child.