Manitoba

Manitoba child welfare system hiding behind privacy law: Nepinak

The head of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs says the provincial child welfare system is using privacy laws to avoid dealing with families who want to reunite.
Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Derek Nepinak accused the provincial government of having too much control over CFS agencies that are supposed to be under First Nations' authority.

The head of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs says the provincial child welfare system is using privacy laws to avoid dealing with families who want to reunite.

Earlier this week, Manitoba's family advocate for First Nations, Cora Morgan, was asked to leave a meeting between a Child and Family Services (CFS) agency and a woman trying to get her children back.

Morgan was told it was because of privacy issues.

On Friday, AMC Grand Chief Derek Nepinak said confidentiality issues are giving rise to a blanket authority to deny anyone from knowing anything about how files are being treated.

"We're seeing an agency that's perhaps relying a little bit too heavily on legal opinions and bureaucracy to prevent families [from reaching] out to the family advocate, which is really too bad. The role of the advocate is as much for the family as it is to help the agencies with reunification of families," he said.

"[They] use this confidentiality clause to say, 'You know what, I don't have to talk to you anyway,' and they walk away from the table, which is very frustrating because it's not the way to return children back to their families.

"It's a convenient way of avoiding asking difficult questions and addressing difficult questions such as why, if a family has met all the criteria to have their child returned home, why isn't that child being returned home?"

There are currently more than 10,000 children in care in Manitoba, the vast majority — 90 per cent — are aboriginal.

The AMC created the Office of the First Nations Family Advocate and hired Morgan in June. Her role is to work with First Nations families dealing with Child and Family Services agencies.

Morgan has been working with a Winnipeg mother fighting to regain custody of her children. This week she publicly voiced her support for the woman, whose children have been in the care of CFS for two years.

Then on Thursday, Morgan said a CFS agency prevented her from taking part in a meeting between child welfare officials and the mother.

Province 'pulling all the strings' of CFS

On Friday, Nepinak accused the province of having too much control over the CFS agencies, which are supposed to be under First Nations' authority.

Starting in 2003, Manitoba's child-welfare agencies have undergone a "devolution" process that split family services into four new authorities — one each for aboriginal children in northern and southern areas of the province, one for Métis children, and a general authority for all others.

The change was aimed at creating a system in which First Nations people control the delivery of their own family services and was intended to help more kids remain with their families.

That's not happening, Nepinak said.

"The province is pulling all the strings. The [family services] minister is very much involved with ministerial directives that trickle right down to the front line workers in the entire system," he said, adding, "the province has been running our agencies and running our authorities, I believe, behind closed doors."

"The province has maintained this image of devolution … when in fact they are completely controlling the system. We're completely shut out of the decision-making processes."

Nepinak said the government has never been transparent in how the devolution process was supposed to happen.

"They brought their own implementation committee together without even telling any of the First Nations organizations what they were doing."

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