Manitoba CFS is so broken, it can be a struggle to report child welfare concerns

I'd been told Manitoba's CFS is dysfunctional by several people. News reports reinforced this. However, I was completely unprepared for how bad basic functions continue to be.

No one seems willing to look into the matter and take responsibIlity for it, Joanne Seiff writes

Joanne Seiff found the process of reporting a child welfare concern difficult, and she worries that her concerns weren't heeded. (Martin Schrampf/imageBROKER/Shutterstock)

Recently I contacted Manitoba Child and Family Services out of concern for the well-being of some children I care about.

I'd been told Manitoba's CFS is dysfunctional by several people. News reports reinforced this. However, I was completely unprepared for how bad basic functions continue to be.

I took time to write up my concerns, using specific names, providing all of my contact information and spelling out all the details I knew.

I put this in writing because I felt this would be the easiest way for anyone to communicate the details, but also because of constraints in my own household; I couldn't speak on the phone and also maintain privacy for the children and family who needed it.

When I visited the Child and Family Services website, there were long lists of agencies, addresses, phone numbers and information. I even found information about "who to call in an emergency" at the top of the page — but what if you cannot call?

Unlike other customer service websites, or even 311, there wasn't a "contact us" drop-down box or anything similar.

No luck

Farther down, I found a single email address for the "child protection branch" and I sent my information there. I included the email contact information for the one CFS staff person I knew was relevant to the situation … and received an auto-response saying this person (let's call her Joy) was out of the office for the next week and to call someone else.

No worries, I thought, I provided my contact information. When the right person reads my email, if they have any questions, they will contact me.

No such luck.

Over the next few days, I received a series of emails letting me know that I should call the right agency. In different emails, I was told about different people to call.

The emails were cc'd to different people in government, but I have no idea what those people's responsibilities are and not a single one of them followed up.

I was told more than once that this was a confidential matter, and could I please call an intake specialist to discuss it further. I didn't want to discuss it at all. I had already listed all the parents' names, children's names and ages. I expressed my concerns clearly — and they could contact me if there was anything missing.

No one took the initiative to follow up. Not one person said, "Thank you for contacting us as a concerned Manitoban. We will take responsibility for looking into this issue and trying to address it, if necessary." 

At one point I was told I could fax or mail the written and emailed information instead. I then got someone to fax the exact same email document on my behalf.

Nothing's changed

In frustration, I decided to contact Families Minister Heather Stefanson and her deputy minister, again via email. I sent them the same information and asked again — could someone respond saying they would look into this matter?

To my surprise, I did receive an auto response confirmation email. However, I heard nothing further.

Initially, I tried to shrug it off, thinking that perhaps they were both on vacation at the same time. 

This theory was dashed when I saw that instead, our minister of families was campaigning to seek re-election in Tuxedo that weekend, promising "more affordable child care spots" by working with private businesses.

I started email communications on Aug. 14. I have yet to receive a single assurance that anyone is willing to look into the matter and take responsibility for it. 

Five years after the death of Tina Fontaine, the 15-year-old who was in the care of Child and Family Services before her body was found in the Red River, Manitoba still has the largest number of children in care in Canada. Apparently, there are so many kids in care that we cannot even count them effectively and agree on the numbers.

If we supported families from the first, listened when people communicated their concerns and pro-actively protected children, there's some chance things might change — but nothing's changed yet.

Eventually, "Joy" returned from her time away from the office to let me know these were complex and confidential matters and they couldn't release more information about this family to me. 

She misspelled one parent's name. Further, she didn't need to release a thing to me! I gave her everyone's name and specifics, including my own, and asked someone to look into the matter.

To my knowledge, and upon consulting with the family, nothing has been done. 

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.

Read more opinion pieces published by CBC Manitoba.

About the Author

Joanne Seiff is the author of three books. She works in Winnipeg as a freelance writer.