The lives and deaths of 19 children are the subject of a new report from Manitoba’s child advocate, which outlines the on-going issue of maltreatment 15 years after the death of Phoenix Sinclair.
Between 2008 and 2020 the children, ranging in age from under a year old to five-years-old, died after being maltreated.
“This special report emerges from our concerns that deaths of children due to maltreatment continue to be a serious concern in our province…seven years after the end of the public inquiry into [Phoenix Sinclair’s] life and maltreatment death,” said Ainsley Krone, acting advocate for children and youth.
The 64-page document examines what has been done since the death of five-year-old Sinclair whose body was found in 2005 after being abused and killed by her mother and step-father.
The girl’s death sent shock waves through the province and led to a $14-million public inquiry. Its final report, which included 62 recommendations, was provided to the government in 2013.
Just over half the recommendations were completed as of last month, the advocate’s report said. At that rate, Krone said, it will be 2028 before all are addressed.
“Children are still dying of maltreatment similar to what Phoenix experienced,” Krone said.
“While we’re waiting for those changes to be enacted there are little ones who are growing up and who are not always safe in their environments, and so the sooner that those changes can be made the safer children are going to be in our communities,” she added.
There are almost 10,000 children in care in Manitoba and 90 per cent are Indigenous. Forty-two per cent of the children featured in the report were First Nations and two were Métis.
Krone said a large portion of the work completed has been done at the larger, systemic level but progress is still needed to reach families and children at a grassroots level.
The report contains five recommendations, including a call for the government to finish implementing the Phoenix inquiry actions.
Krone also recommended improved access to parenting resources, culturally safe reunification policies and mandatory training that recognizes child maltreatment.
In five out of the 19 cases children were returned and the families received no additional assistance.
“Sometimes reunification is seen as the end of a process as opposed to the beginning of a new dynamic in the family,” said Krone.
The report detailed the deaths of 21-month-old Kierra Williams, who died in 2014, and two-year-old Jaylene Sanderson-Redhead, who died in 2009. The mothers of both girls were convicted in the deaths.
It also included other accounts of children whose names were withheld.
One of them, called Sky in the report, was apprehended as a newborn. The baby was returned to the mother but there weren’t supports in place, the report said. A few weeks later, the child-welfare agency was notified that the mother was struggling, but there was little contact with the family.
Sky died after being home for less than a year. The child was dehydrated, underweight and showed signs of bone fractures at the time of death.
The report said another child, called Terry, was not supported after being returned to family, even though the agency was aware the mother was struggling. Six months after returning home, Terry suffered multiple injuries and died.
Krone often hears from families about a lack of adequate supports when children return home. She said it’s a lost opportunity for child-welfare agencies to engage with families and means signs of abuse or maltreatment are being missed.
Kendra Inglis echoes the advocate’s concerns.
Inglis is the director of Makoon Transition Inc., an organization that offers living arrangements for families and children transitioning out of the child welfare system.
She has witnessed the importance of having wrap around services for families. Her team offers around the clock support.
“Being able to have that staff available to then 24 hours a day is definitely lowering the risk of abuse, neglect and a parent feeling completely defeated,” said Inglis.
“Because they aren’t doing this alone…they need to be healthy and stable enough to execute it. Parenting is not easy and it takes a village to raise a child.”
Families Minister Rochelle Squires said she is committed to fulfilling all of Krone’s recommendations and will have a progress report in six months. She said she has also instructed her department to implement “the intent and the spirit” of all the Phoenix Sinclair inquiry recommendations.
“The death of any child is tragic,” said Squires.
With files from The Canadian Press