Winnipeg foster father charged after baby suffers fatal head injury

By The Canadian Press
September 29, 2017 - 11:30am

WINNIPEG — A Winnipeg man has been charged with criminal negligence causing the death of his 10-month-old foster child — the latest tragedy connected to Manitoba's troubled child welfare system.

The infant was brought to hospital Tuesday in critical condition with a head injury and died later that day, said Winnipeg Police Service spokesman Const. Rob Carver.

"As a result of the child abuse unit investigation, a 22-year-old male has been charged," Carver said Thursday.

"The male is the foster parent of the child and his name is not being released at this time."

Aside from the criminal investigation, the death will also be probed by the agency responsible for the child and the Office of the Children's Advocate, an independent provincial agency that reports to the legislature on child welfare matters.

The provincial Department of Families would not release details about the case, such as how the foster father was screened and how closely social workers had monitored the family.

"Due to the confidentiality requirements of the Child and Family Services Act, no details can be provided about any child or their family," the department said in a written statement.

Manitoba has the highest rate of children in care among the provinces — more than 10,000 children are in the system, according to the latest official figures, and about 90 per cent are Indigenous.

The system came under heavy criticism in a public inquiry into the death of Phoenix Sinclair, who was beaten to death at the age of five by her mother and mother's boyfriend after social workers closed her file.

The inquiry report found social workers repeatedly missed warning signs that the girl was in trouble, and never caught on that her mother's boyfriend had a violent criminal record. The girl's 2005 death went undetected for nine months before a relative contacted police.

The Manitoba government responded by hiring more front-line employees and boosting training for social workers.

Social workers are also making greater use of the central information system that helps keep track of children and anyone in a position of authority with a criminal background, said Daphne Penrose, the provincial children's advocate.

Still, there have been violent deaths in recent years.

In 2009, 21-month-old Jaylene Redhead was smothered by her mother, Nicole, at a Winnipeg treatment centre while under child welfare supervision.

In 2014, 21-month-old Kierra Williams was beaten to death by her mother. She had been seized at birth but social workers returned her to her mother in 2013 and eventually closed her file after deciding she was in safe hands.

Kierra's mother, Vanessa Bushie, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder earlier this year and was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 14 years.

Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press

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