'There will be more Phoenixes': reaction to inquiry report mixed

Phoenix Sinclair's former caregiver Kim Edwards said she is pleased with the report's 62 recommendations, but she's not convinced anything will change.

Kim Edwards hopeful inquiry report will prevent similar tragedies

Kim Edwards, who cared for Phoenix Sinclair at one point, said the Hughes report provides some closure, but she is not convinced it will prevent similar tragedies in the future. (Catherine Dulude/CBC )

Phoenix Sinclair's former caregiver Kim Edwards said she is pleased with a massive report released Friday into how the 5-year-old slipped through a multitude of cracks in the child welfare system. 

Because of those cracks, the child's death was not discovered until nine months after she was murdered.

Edwards applauded the report's 62 recommendations, but she's not convinced anything will change.

Reporters and photographers crammed the room at the room at the Manitoba Legislature where the report was released Friday. (CBC )

"I'm hoping that the commissioner's report, the scathing report, will prompt [Family Services] into actually, really making a change," she said. "Whether [the government] and the authorities are going to focus on the recommendations and help the child, I really can't comment because I'm of the belief that I need to see the changes," she said.

Edwards said the Hughes report does provide some closure, but she is doubtful it will be enough to prevent the deaths of other children who come into contact with the child welfare system.

"There's going to be more Phoenixes," she said. "There may be more Phoenixes. I know that there have been more Phoenixes since 2005."

Province to create new, more powerful agency for children

The province said in response to the Hughes report it is dissolving the Office of the Children's Advocate to create another agency, one with more legislative powers.

Corey LaBerge, Manitoba's deputy Children's Advocate, said he welcomes the change.

"Children are caught in a web of services with government and often don't really have a voice in terms of making sure that their needs are met," he said. "So there's a lot of work to do."

The province said the new agency will be called 'Manitoba Representative for Children and Youth.'

It will have the status of an Officer of the Legislature, with the same independence as the Ombudsman and Auditor General.

LaBerge said that will give the agency more abilities to protect vulnerable children.

"It would allow the office to serve more children," he said. "It would serve to clear up any ambiguity with respect to the office's mandate. I think that it would be nice if it was clear that we do have a role for advocating on behalf of children."

The recommendations also mandate that all social workers register with a professional college which will police the profession

"I think most Manitobans are shocked to even know that we don't have mandatory regulation for social work here," said Miriam Browne, registrar of the Manitoba Institute of Registered Social Workers.

Of the thousands who call themselves social workers in this province only 1000 are actually registered.

"All Manitobans deserve to have skilled knowledgeable competent social workers who are working with them," Browne said.

Many recommendations already in place

Jay Rodgers of the General Child and Family Services Authority, which oversees some of the social service agencies that were involved in Phoenix's family's file, is pleased with the report.

He said he is encouraged about the future of the system and its ability to care for children.

"Many of the recommendations the commissioner made were recommendations that we hoped and suggested he would make," he said. "Most of the recommendations ... that pertained directly to the Child and Family Services system were already implemented."

Aboriginal leaders critical 

The head of the Manitoba Assembly of Chiefs is disappointed with the province's response to the report.

Grand Chief Derek Nepinak said it is not doing enough to address underlying social issues in the aboriginal community that he says put the child in such a vulnerable position.

"The need for more social workers, the need for more legislation, the need for bigger bureaucracy, we think that's a huge miscalculation in terms of how to rectify the situation."

Terry Nelson, the newly chosen Grand Chief of the Southern Chiefs' Organization, said in a news release the report will "provide explicit evidence of genocidal practices in Canada.”

He said SCO chiefs heard during the recent election for Grand Chief, as women urged the chiefs to "be strong in the defence of vulnerable children."

Nelson said 8,000 aboriginal children are "held captive" by Manitoba child welfare authorities.