I read with interest the Brandon Sun editorial concerning the Phoenix Sinclair inquiry. While I don’t disagree with the views expressed, I believe that the editorial left out the single most important factor that led up to the shockingly incompetent way in which Phoenix’s case was handled. That factor is the racialization of Manitoba’s child welfare system. Let me explain.
By the 1980s, it was clear that there were alarming numbers of aboriginal children in the care of child welfare agencies. The government allowed itself to be persuaded — with no evidence — that the answer to this serious problem was to racialize the system. Despite warnings, the government proceeded to gut the existing child care system.
Central control and supervision of the child welfare system was abandoned, and responsibility for children’s lives was turned over to a number of new, untested agencies that were hastily cobbled together. Experienced supervisors and workers who were not aboriginal found that they had no place in the new system. They were too often replaced by inexperienced and unqualified people, who were hired along racial lines.
Children were removed from good homes because the foster parents were not aboriginal, and often placed in less than adequate homes. Decisions that profoundly affected the lives of children were made for racial reasons, and not for what was in their best interests. In short, the child welfare system was degraded, and the very children it was supposed to protect became its victims.
In fact, the irresponsible decision to turn a working system on its head did not reduce the number of aboriginal children in care. There are more aboriginal children in the system now than there ever were. Many of these children are very needy, and suffer from the deadly effects of alcohol in the womb. These children need competent, qualified and dedicated workers, and not the commuting student who was put in charge of Phoenix’s case.
Mr. Hughes’ report will be critical of the system that failed Phoenix. The government will respond, as it has done after similar inquiries, by saying it has already made changes, and by promising to spend more money.
But nothing will change unless and until race is removed from this system. Sadly, Phoenix Sinclair is only one in a continuing line of victims.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 4, 2013