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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Phoenix Sinclair Inquiry

The inquiry into the death of Phoenix Sinclair is starting to open up some distressingly familiar themes in the world of social work.

What we are beginning to hear about include high caseloads, demanding work schedules, frequent turnover of staff, a child not seen, a case that appears to have relied heavily on self report by the family and social workers who didn't build enough of a relationship with the family to really know what was occurring. For many of the social workers who have testified at the inquiry, this case was not so severe when compared to others they were trying to manage.

For Justice Ted Hughes, an experienced commissioner in child protection inquiries, the task in front of him will be to look beyond the obvious concerns - social workers who didn't get the job done - to the very broad issue of the systemic issues that made it impossible to do the work needed to protect this vulnerable child ---- and many others like her.

Justice Hughes will need to think about the poverty; the intergenerational problems in Canada's Aboriginal Communities (strongly linked to the story of Residential Schools in Canada) and the failure to properly fund child protection. The Phoenix Sinclair case can too easily be framed as a failure of individual social workers. That is easy. They become the convenient scapegoat. Hughes should look at how we fund child protection; how we fund prevention services; how we address real healing and - most of all - whether we in Canada want an effective child protection system or do we want the feel good of having one but not spending too much on it. It is a deep moral question.

I fear that Canada, like many Western countries, are not prepared to pay what real child protection and prevention would cost.

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