When the system fails us

Whether it's a cable company's policy that mischarges a customer, or the truly sad case of a murder victim's burial fees, it seems as though the only way that a person can finally get heard and get help is ​by​ appealing to the public through the media, writes Joanne Seiff.
Janett Poorman, whose daughter Angela was the victim of a homicide, wants the Manitoba government to apologize for the way its Victim Services branch treated her case. (CBC)

Recently, a murdered woman's family had to go to the media just to get the province to step in to help with the funeral costs. Despite Manitoba Justice's Victim Services general policy of helping cover the cost of a victim's burial, it was denied due to the murder victim's minor criminal convictions.

This case is representative of a much bigger problem in Manitoba government and citizen advocacy.

Whether it's a cable company's policy that mischarges a customer, or the truly sad case of a murder victim's burial fees, it seems as though the only way that a person can finally get heard and get help is ​by​ appealing to the public through the media.

Essentially, when a Manitoban has a problem and tries to go through regular channels, there doesn't seem to be an appeals process. There is no set of checks and balances where a case can be reviewed and common-sense prevails. 

In the case of the murder victim, her mother, Janett Poorman, indicated that she'd been trying to get in touch with provincial officials for months after the application was rejected.

Not surprisingly, after telling the CBC her story, two government workers called to "let her know papers were being filed to reconsider her application."

Meanwhile, we hear that Kerri Irvin-Ross, Manitoba's child and family services minister, says that more can be done to keep children in care safe, in referencing the risks inherent in housing kids in hotels.

At the same time, she negated one of the findings by Ted Hughes, the retired judge in charge of the Ph​oe​nix Sinclair inquiry. Hughes had called for social workers to be registered through a regulatory body — much the way doctors and nurses are, as another step towards protecting children in care.

Yet, despite the creation of a brand new Manitoba College of Social Workers, Irvin-Ross rejected a wholesale effort to license those who work with children in care.

The newly created regulatory body would create a system of checks and balances, a resource for these workers, and a more regulated infrastructure … but apparently, Irvin-Ross and the province don't intend to carry out this important recommendation to improve the child-welfare system.

Over and over again, a model of common-sense, flexible, customer service-oriented support seems to be rejected by this bureaucracy.

Rather than help fund the burial of a murder victim the first time it's requested, the system rejects it and then suddenly files the paperwork a second time only after the CBC publishes information about it.

Rather than follow Ted Hughes' recommendations as per the Ph​oe​nix Sinclair inquiry to regulate child safety through a new College for Social Workers as intended, the minister rejects the licensing of all childcare workers in favo​u​r of a review of every employee's job description.

Backtracking on the second go-around

Instead of acting in a practical, cost-effective way to advocate for our citizens' well-being, particularly when it comes to protecting children and victims of crime, we as a province spend a lot of money to backtrack and fix problems on the second go-round.

Alas, fixing things in retrospect doesn't work when it comes to the lives of children in care.

Sadly, once this approach becomes entrenched, it's hard to repair. Dealing with requests for service or assistance through the process of "deny, ignore, repeat" becomes endemic as a way to fix intractable problems — by forcing people to either give up in frustration or to make a desperate appeal through the media.

When I wrote about my personal experiences in trying to find child care in Manitoba, the same pattern emerged. After it was published, an executive director of an organization mentioned in the article contacted me. If I wanted help finding child care, why hadn't I called her directly? If we worked together now, perhaps my wait time on the list would disappear!

Rather than call the director, I had put my name on the child-care registry, spoken with the daycare itself, and followed the province's registry guidelines.

I'd followed the rules, as have many others in our province — those who file for burial support for crime victims, those who ask the cable company to adjust an incorrect bill, or most importantly, those who work every day as child support workers for CFS, without the licensing, support and resources they need.

Yet, to fix these problems, ordinary people have to resort to embarrassing government agencies and other institutions by contacting the media. Then, all of a sudden, the head of an agency, a provincial government official — someone in power —​ turns up and actually solves the problem.

We are connected

Our province is large geographically, but our population is small. With only 1.27 million people, Manitobans must recognize that everyone is connected.

In small towns, people work together to find solutions and step up to help when a problem arises. It's time for us to start behaving as though our government officials, the organization directors, the government workers and those child-care workers on the front lines are all part of the same team — the same Manitoba extended family.

Why have we forgotten about common sense, compassion, and obvious measures (licensing, cost-cutting, etc.) that improve our effectiveness in helping one another? Why must we rely on the media to remind those in charge that we are all directly accountable to one another?

Joanne Seiff is the author of two books and the mom of twin preschoolers. She works as a freelance writer, editor and designer in Winnipeg.


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