Manitoba child-welfare system in crisis and a ‘national disgrace:’ critic

Manitoba's child-welfare system is being called a "national disgrace" as the province continues to come under fire for having more than 10,000 children in care.

WINNIPEG — Manitoba’s child-welfare system is being called a “national disgrace” as the province continues to come under fire for having more than 10,000 children in care.

Conservative Opposition critic Ian Wishart said the system is in crisis while the NDP government ignores the problem and makes excuses.

“The child-welfare system in this province has become a bit of a national disgrace,” he said Thursday at a joint press conference with Manitoba’s First Nations children’s advocate.

“This is not what we want the rest of the country to think of when they think of Manitoba.”

Child and Family Services seizes an average of one newborn baby a day. The province has said almost half of them have a developmental or addiction issue.

About 90 per cent of the children under provincial care are aboriginal.

Manitoba’s child-welfare system has come under sharp criticism for years, sometimes for being too quick to apprehend children or for repeatedly returning children to abusive parents.

First Nations children’s advocate Cora Morgan said the situation is “out of control”, with kids being taken from their families without proper assessments. The result on families is devastating, she said.

“In our office, we’ve learned of mothers committing suicide because they are so desperate to get their children back,” she said. “We’ve learned of a young girl who committed suicide while in care.

“There are countless atrocities going on right now.”

Despite dozens of families seeking help from her office daily, Morgan said at least one child-welfare agency has barred her from advocating on behalf of a family. The province seems more interested in countering her claims in the media than co-operating with her office to resolve the issue, she said.

“We’re seeing things that are really, really wrong,” Morgan said. “If the need is there to operate the way that they do, why are you afraid of us?”

Family Services Minister Kerri Irvin-Ross said she appreciates Morgan’s role and her advocacy. But she said it’s up to individual child-welfare agencies to decide who can or cannot attend case meetings.

Irvin-Ross said separating children from their families is always a last resort and work begins immediately to reunite them as soon as possible.

“We acknowledge that having 10,000 children in care is disappointing and that there are issues within communities and families,” she said. “But we will never, ever, ever apologize for putting children first.”