POLITICS

Manitoba Liberals want inquiry into missing kids in child welfare system

06/17/2015 03:11 EDT | Updated 06/17/2016 05:59 EDT
WINNIPEG - The Manitoba Liberal Party called Wednesday for a public inquiry into the number of children in the child welfare system who run away or go missing.

Liberal Leader Rana Bokhari pointed to police statistics that say there are thousands of reports of missing children each year in Winnipeg alone, and many are in group homes or other facilities under control of Family Services. The police force counts every incident, so frequent runaways are counted multiple times.

"Children in ... care are wards of the government, and the government is supposed to be acting in the place of a parent for these children," Bokhari said.

The call follows some high-profile tragedies that have raised questions about the supervision of kids in care, such as the case of Tina Fontaine last year. The 15-year-old was killed and dumped in the Red River after running away from a downtown hotel where she had been placed.

In April, another 15-year-old girl was severely beaten outside the hotel where she was being housed, allegedly by a boy who was also being kept there.

Manitoba's child welfare system was already the subject of a sweeping inquiry that ended in 2013. It examined the repeated failings of the system to keep track of Phoenix Sinclair, who was beaten to death at the age of five. The inquiry exposed lapses in monitoring, high workloads for social workers and other factors.

Bokhari said the inquiry did not examine the apparent lack of supervision for older kids who run away and disappear into the streets. A new inquiry on that issue could save lives and keep more kids away from gangs and criminal activity, she added.

The province's family services minister did not rule out an inquiry, but said the NDP government was already addressing the issue by funding more foster homes and more medical treatment for troubled youth.

"We're making those investments ... as far as foster placements, but also around assessment and diagnosis and treatment," Kerri Irvin-Ross said.

The government has also set up initiatives in recent years such as StreetReach, Irvin-Ross added, which sees workers look for children at risk of being dragged into the sex trade and intervene.

The government has also promised to stop placing children in hotels by funding more shelters and foster homes, although it missed a promised June 1 deadline this year.