The body tasked with supervising 10 aboriginal Child and Family Service agencies is itself in need of a rescue.
Family Services Minister Jennifer Howard will announce today the appointment of an administrator to replace the board of directors of the Southern First Nations Network of Care (Southern Authority).
Howard's deputy minister, Jeff Parr, will serve as administrator on a temporary basis until a more permanent administrator is named. Parr will take a leave from his government duties while he oversees the CFS authority.
Howard said late Thursday she had to step in immediately after receiving a letter from Southern Authority CEO Elsie Flette Wednesday stating the lack of a functioning board of directors jeopardized the care of children under its watch.
"My priority has to be the safety of kids," Howard said in an interview.
"The (authority's) governance structure has broken down. The organization delivers services that are essential to the health of Manitobans. The government has to step in to make sure that those services are still delivered."
The Southern Authority has been embroiled in a dispute with the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs over the makeup of its board for two years. Under Manitoba law, the AMC is responsible for naming directors to the authority's board.
But when it attempted two years ago to name several chiefs to the board, the authority went to court to block the appointments, saying they violate the organization's bylaws.
The dispute remains before the courts.
Meanwhile, the size of the Southern Authority's board kept dropping as members' terms expired. For some time it functioned with the minimum of three people. But earlier this fall, the number dropped to two and as of today there will only be one director left.
The AMC relented and recently named three people who meet the Southern Authority's guidelines. They are still being vetted. It was uncertain when the necessary police, child abuse and other checks would be completed. That's when CEO Flette asked for a lifeline from the province.
The leadership problems at the Southern Authority came to a head as Howard directed the supervisory body this week to investigate complaints about Sagkeeng Child and Family Services.
The agency lost five social workers in the past two months and current and former staff suggested cases involving high-risk children were being neglected, according to media reports.
Howard called the reports "alarming."
Howard said an administrator will remain in place until the entire issue of board appointments can be sorted out between aboriginal leaders and the Southern Authority.
Those discussions will also have ramifications for other aboriginal CFS supervisory bodies, the minister said.
Any new procedures may require amendments to provincial law.
Howard said there "had been a functioning board in place until very recently" at the Southern Authority. She said she had been monitoring the board appointment process and hoped the new appointees could assume their positions soon so the appointment of an administrator would not be necessary.