CFS: If we won’t learn from history, we’ll just repeat it

(Jaylene Sanderson-Redhead)
(Jaylene Sanderson-Redhead)

“The reality has been that regardless of the political party in power, there has never been a concerted effort to look at the full requirements to make a child-welfare system that can at least reduce the problems. This should not be a partisan issue, but any (even partial) solutions take more time than the next election date, and hence are not sexy enough to warrant full commitment.” Dr. Keith Black, op-ed in WFP 05/01/2013

When someone as insightful and experienced as Winnipeg’s Keith Black*** speaks on Manitoba’s beleaguered child-welfare (CFS) system, why is it nobody with the power to change it appears to be listening?

Black’s article today speaks for itself, and I encourage all to read it closely.

Its pessimistic tone is perhaps justified coming from someone of his background: a veteran social worker and community leader who believes there’s a better way to do things — or at least, he says, if there’s a will, there’s a way.

The problem, Black pretty plainly states, is the will only exists to ‘fix’ CFS to the point that it won’t cost political points in a future election. He’s careful to note that this isn’t an NDP issue, but instead one that afflicts the political system as a whole.

Black references how in the ’60s he took flak from all sides for helping pen an article describing Manitoba’s child-welfare was in chaos (the exact words from the Manitoba Association of Social Workers at the time were ‘in a chaotic state,’ as far as my trip through the FP archives at the downtown library show me, and it may have been the early 70s — but I couldn’t find the specific article of which he speaks, only references to it):

Screen Shot 2013-01-05 at 3.21.06 PMLook closely at what the article says, right up top:

“I would agree to the extent that there are unmet needs, inadequate procedures and systems to meet those needs, insufficient co-ordination between the various sectors in the child welfare field,” Mitchell C. Neiman said on Dec. 1, 1971. (41923151)

The MASW, according to FP reporter Wally Dennison, had echoed virtually the same issues in its brief to a minister of the minority NDP government, headed by Ed Schreyer at the time. It was also calling for standards of child welfare to be set, as it appears there were virtually none in place.

It’s curious because a lack of inter-agency co-operation and failure and inability to adhere to standards are very much live issues in the investigations into the Phoenix Sinclair case (2000-2006) and in the Jaylene Redhead case (2007-2009), decades after the MASW’s warning.

Less than a year later, in 1972, another Dennison article speaks to the government’s plans for CFS: namely, taking over the responsibility for child welfare and doing away with the Children’s Aid Society for good. The reaction to this from workers appeared extremely negative, for a number of reasons.

Notably, the article states:

Screen Shot 2013-01-05 at 3.33.07 PM“These skeptics note that the department proceeded with its reorganization while ignoring the experiences gained by People’s Opportunity Services at 600 Main Street — A $250,000 federally-financed demonstration project initiated in 1967 and which used 21 former welfare workers as case aides to offer a series of innovative services in Winnipeg’s core area. When the Project ended March 31, it was nothing more than a regional office of government and the case aides were now in “safe” jobs throughout the departmental bureaucracy, the critics contend. A successful experiment in social service delivery had been ignored because the Manitoba government already has made up its mind about how services are to be delivered.” (44827139 PDF)

Which brings me to my first point: It may be impossible to ‘fix’ anything about CFS if politics is allowed to trump solid and intelligent policy to fuel its actions.

Sadly, we see evidence of this happening often in Manitoba.

Political/ideological interference in essential services, be they policing, corrections, education or child-welfare/family services prevents solid, evidence-based policy from being the starting point from which services flow.

While I’m not an advocate of privatization of the CFS system, I do believe there has to be a way to ‘divorce’ such services from the whims of government and insulate them from short-term tinkering [if not complete overhauls].

Critics of devolution – which at root is a well-meaning scheme to create greater fairness and client buy-in in the CFS system — will be first in line to hammer the government based on the above. The real criticism I have of it is how it appears it was rammed into place come hell or high water regardless of the internal chaos and confusion the new policy and its practicalities created.

Anyhow. I want to come back to where we started off: When Keith Black speaks, why don’t we seem to listen?

About 18 months after Phoenix Sinclair was born and not long after the NDP again took power, Black again penned an op-ed for the Winnipeg Free Press.

He had just retired.

Screen Shot 2013-01-05 at 4.11.45 PMOn Dec. 4, 2001 he wrote (I can’t link to it directly, sorry, there’s no way to do it):

“IN the 1960s, the Manitoba Association of Social Workers wrote an article that suggested that the child welfare system in Winnipeg was in “chaos.” All hell broke loose, and there were angry denials and counter-arguments.

After 40 years of working in and around children’s services in Winnipeg, until my recent retirement, I have seen nothing to suggest that MASW was wrong then or would be wrong now. And the chaos is much wider than the specific Child and Family Services system.

… For decades the structural debates have hidden the real problem; namely that child welfare is a political rather than a therapeutic or service issue. The increase in training, understanding, even technology has been implemented, and the poor line workers struggle against immense odds just to understand their role and get through the day without anyone getting hurt. The people with whom other agencies and forces are not co-operating have doomed any of the structures to failure.

…Winnipeg is blessed with competent, hard working and dedicated people serving children and families. The shame is that their efforts have been diminished because of the distrust, suspicion, dislike or fear that lies behind the superficial smiles and handshakes at receptions, workshops and annual meetings. And as long as political agendas determine how services are to be organized, and we steadfastly refuse to learn how to work together – political left and political right and all colours – we will simply repeat the pattern of chaos that is the real world of service to Winnipeg’s most vulnerable and needy citizens.”

It’s curious to me how much of what he had to say 12 years ago mirrors nearly exactly what he told us again today.

I wish, as I’m sure he does, that we had listened or would at least begin to.

Because it appears nearly half a century has passed and a very real problem we have to tackle hasn’t gone away, maybe even isn’t seen as worth dealing with, when really, it’s fundamental.

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*** In addition to his experience as a social worker and social-work official with the MASW and MIRSW, Black is a noted community leader, in 2004, the University conferred on him an honorary degree, saying:

  • Keith Black, BA, BSW, MSW (Class of 1960), will receive an Honorary Doctor of Laws. Over a career spanning more than 40 years, Black was a social worker at the Children’s Aid Society, Executive Director of Knowles School for Boys, and Director of the Child Guidance Clinic of Winnipeg. He was a valued member of The University of Winnipeg Board of Regents for 13 years and served as chair from 1996-98.

For the Record: Fort Rouge arson-prevention meeting

(Staff Sgt. Kelly Dennison is a supervisor in District 6, and a former Public Information Officer for the Winnipeg Police Service)

About 100 Fort Rouge residents gathered Wednesday night to her presentations from fire officials and police about the rash of arsons in the area.

Bill Clark from the WFPS gave a great and concise presentation, as did one officer from the Fire Commissioner’s Office who’s name I didn’t catch.

But, as I suspected would happen, it was the police district representative, Staff Sgt. Kelly Dennison, who was on his feet the most to respond to people’s concerns during the Q and A portion.

And, I might add, there was much buzz in the Twitterverse about how cadets are used in the city based on reported comments by Dennison in the Free Press at a separate meeting the night before. Specifically, the implication was there in the story that the province and police service wouldn’t allow the blue-shirts to work anywhere but downtown. Some were upset there was no follow up to clarify this statement because cadets have appeared in many places in the city.

I didn’t make that meeting, but I did the next night. What’s presented below are Dennison’s comments to two questions, reprinted verbatim. Any questions about accuracy and I’ll post the audio on Archive.org.

I won’t make any comments regarding what Dennison says below.

But I wonder if the service knew how popular the Cadet program was to be when it dreamed it up a few years back.

People in the area clearly appear to be pondering lately the level of police service they’re able to access.

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Question: “This question is for District 6 (Dennison)  — are you using bicycle patrols and or cadets in the wee hours to patrol? [Inaudible] fires have been set between 2 and 4 a.m. Are you using that [inaudible]?”

Dennison: “The Winnipeg Police Service does have a very small bicycle unit. The District 6 police, themselves, they do not. Our Community Support officers are not deployed on bicycles in your area — in this area at this time. So I guess the easy answer to that is, ‘no, we don’t have police officers on bicycles — full time — here in District 6.

We do have the opportunity and ability to import officers that do ride bicycles. We have a small unit of those officers that, upon request from myself or a division commander, we can ask for those officers to come in to our division and help us with some patrols.

As far as the cadets go — I don’t know if you guys are all aware — cadets were very active in this last investigation, very active in assisting us in this community. They were here, they spent countless hours walking in our community and up and down the streets.

They’re basically, as you know, the eyes and ears for the police officers that are out there, so they have been here. I can tell you that the Cadet program is something that — as you all know already — is relatively new to the Winnipeg Police Service. It’s not a program that’s been around for a long time. It does have some growing pains, and it is expanding. This program is expanding.

Those officers, currently, are being deployed by the police service, basically, for efficiency and operational needs. And you have to understand that it’s one unit, and the police service, our service, has to take a look at the entire city.

In saying that, however, there are bright things in the future for that program, I can tell you that. And we are hoping that more cadets are coming online and we do anticipate seeing cadets in your community in the future.

Please don’t ask me a date or time for that, sorry, I can’t do that for you. That’s basically where we stand with that.

[clapping]

Question: Paul Hesse, Liberal candidate in upcoming provincial election: Some of the things we heard last night [at a meeting at a Stafford Street church] was that community support officers in this area have been redeployed out of the area. So one question I have is: Can we ever expect community support officers to remain deployed here, or is there just a shortage of officers throughout the city and more resources needed? Also, there has been a safety plan developed downtown, I understand there hasn’t been a formal safety plan developed in the Osborne Village or Fort Rouge areas [inaudible] create one? My third question is there has been [inaudible] for more foot patrols, especially in the Osborne Village area, and also we’re hearing that request in this area, [inaudible] expansion of the cadet program — what would be needed to make that happen

[clapping]

Dennison: Ok, I’ll try and go through that as best I can. Yes it is true that the community support unit that is in your area has been redeployed downtown. That redeployment came as a result of very, very serious incidents that we’re all probably aware of here in the City of Winnipeg.

Those officers and their skill set and expertise was required in a different part of the city to deal with some very, very serious crimes that we have going on right now. I hope you can all please understand that — and I’m sure you do — that when we have serious crime in the City of Winnipeg, as a police service, it’s incumbent on us to deal with that crime as a whole no matter where it happens in the City of Winnipeg.

I’m lucky — I’m one of the lucky guys — who gets to work out in this beautiful part of town, but we’re not all that lucky. So our officers do have to be redeployed. And as a service we do our best to redeploy our officers where the need arises and where it’s most efficient and [inaudible] operational.

And that is something that the police service takes very seriously, because it’s never easy, pulling an officer out of one area and into another. I can tell you as a commander out here in District 6, I look forward to having my officers back, and I’m sure you all want them back as well.

I can’t tell you that they’ll be back tomorrow, I can tell you two of them came back today [laughter from crowd].

So the community support unit is something that all of you rely on whether you know it or not. In this room, you do rely on your community support unit very much and we as police officers rely on them quite extensively as well

We do have [inaudible] of officers. They’re the ones that come out into the community and talk with you, they’re the ones that deal with community complaints, and of course we don’t have enough. You know, of course not.

Will we ever have enough, probably not. That’s the nature of policing, and that’s the nature of the growth of our city — that’s the nature of the demographics of the city we live in.

As far as deployment goes, however, I do have to stress that the police service does take that very seriously having to redeploy officers from other areas of the city to deal with emergent criminal activity.

As far as the downtown safety plan and has one been developed for Osborne Village? Yes, one has been developed in Osborne Village. We developed it at the start of the summer. It was developed by two extremely talented officers out here in District 6, It obviously [inaudible] — has started to be put in place, when serious crime happened here in Winnipeg.

We had some gang issues, as you all know, our officers had to be redeployed and deal with some of that. A safety plan has been put in place, an action plan — we call it an action plan — that’s what we term it as — I guess it’s kind of, where you’re going — We call it an action plan here in District 6 because it helps us plan our day to be out in the community with you, have our officers out there and involved.

That action plan hasn’t fully come to fruition. Basically because of the circumstances and situations we here in Winnipeg find ourselves in everyday. I don’t know if that helps or not?

As far as the Cadets … is there an expansion of the Cadet program?

Again [inaudible], I’m not the expert. And everyone seems to think I’m the expert on the cadet program. I’m not. I run District 6. The Cadet program is the program that is just [inaudible] — it’s a growing program. It’s still growing within the City of Winnipeg.

More Cadets are being hired. And those Cadets are the eyes and ears of the Winnipeg Police Service. And they go out into the community — those are the young men and women that you see walking up and down the street. And I know for myself, I love seeing them out there, and I know you must love seeing them out there too, it gives you a sense of security that somebody’s out there watching on your behalf.

They have a very strict mandate. And they follow that mandate basically to the letter. Because they’re not peace officers.

A lot of young cadets are very energetic and are great young people. And a lot of the reason they join the Cadet program is they want to further their career in law-enforcement someday. So we hire cadets, we train the cadets, they get the experience and the next thing you know, we hire them as police officers and we have to hire more cadets.

So, the cadet program is expanding, and I can tell you I know there have been beats identified in the Osborne Village for the cadet program, but I can’t stand here today and give you a definitive answer as to when you can all look out your window and see a cadet walk by.  [Laughter from crowd]

I’d love to be able to tell you they’ll be there tonight when you get home. But that’s just simply not the case and I just hope you can understand that it’s resource-driven, that it’s efficiency driven and it’s operationally driven by the Winnipeg Police Service.

[Clapping]

Other questions included:

Why don’t police release mug shots of suspects upon their arrest (one man wanted to know if an encounter he had in his garage was with Brandon Sutyla, the suspected serial arsonist police have charged with 18 of the Fort Rouge fires)

Another woman asked why we have a helicopter but police keep talking about having not enough bodies to service neighbourhoods (Gerbasi handled this, assuring her she tells WPS Chief Keith McCaskill her concerns every time she sees him).

At this point, I was on my way out the door when a young man got up and asked the panel (but really, the police representatives) a question along the lines of: ‘You tell us you don’t have enough. What can we do to see that you get what you need?

The mic was passed to MLA Jennifer Howard, who spoke of “investments” made in policing by the province — but I had to write to deadline so I had to leave.

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