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Reviews launched of way child suspects interviewed

 
National Post

Tuesday, April 25, 2000

Reviews launched of way child suspects interviewed
Complaints from parents: Manitoba, RCMP to look at role of child care workers

Neil Seeman
National Post

malenfant.jpg (2818 bytes)
John Lehmann, National Post

Louise Malenfant says child care workers in Manitoba have "completely unaccountable power."

WINNIPEG - Manitoba's minister of family services and the RCMP have launched independent, internal reviews of the way in which child suspects who are wards of the state are detained and questioned upon arrest.

The reviews, announced late last week, come on the heels of complaints from parents whose children have been apprehended by Manitoba child care workers following allegations of criminal activity, and have then been interrogated by RCMP officers while the child care workers, and not the parents, acted as the children's legal guardians.

That situation, said Manitoba RCMP Superintendent Reg Reinhardt, "could be perceived to be an infringement on a young person's rights."

Tarya Harapiak, a special assistant to Tim Sale, the province's Minister of Family Services and Housing, said the minister had asked for an immediate review of the issue.

News of the reviews was welcomed by prominent members of Manitoba's legal and child welfare communities.

Larry Allen, the supervising lawyer in Winnipeg's Child Protection Office, said the current situation in which child care workers act as guardians for children they had apprehended on suspicion of criminal activity, was "completely a conflict of interest."

"Guardianship," Mr. Allen said, "should not pass with apprehension." Ideally, he said, either the Children's Advocate or the public trustee, should step in to represent the child's interests.

Janet Mirwaldt, the Children's Advocate for Manitoba's Child and Family Services, agreed. "It is the duty of Child and Family Services and the police to let us know if there is a potential conflict of interest. In that case, another adult, or a lawyer, should act on behalf of the child.

"Unfortunately however, there's a real reliance on the police in these sorts of cases," Ms. Mirwaldt said.

Since there is a direct connection between the foster care system and the criminal justice system, she said, the review is especially welcome.

"The vast majority of kids in jail are there because they've fallen through the cracks of the Child and Family Services system," Ms. Mirwaldt said.

Louise Malenfant, a Winnipeg family advocate and the founder of Parents Helping Parents, a support group for parents dealing with the child and family welfare system, said a review was desperately needed to come up with some check on "the completely unaccountable power that child care workers have in this province."

Ms. Malenfant, who specializes in cases of false allegations of child abuse and other forms of criminal activity, said the imperious power of child care workers posed a particular problem when it came to aboriginal children, who account for roughly 70% of foster care kids but only 15% of the provincial child population.

That, combined with the fact that Manitoba has the highest provincial apprehension rate of foster care children in Canada -- 18 per 1,000, according to a 1995 study by sociologist Roy Parker -- puts native foster children here, and foster children in general, in a terrible situation, she said.

"The average individual has no idea as to the power and lack of accountability we've given to the child and family services agency. It's greater than the power to arrest. It's scary," said Ms. Malenfant.

Copyright Southam Inc. All rights reserved.


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Posted 2001 02 13


Parents Helping Parents

Louise Malenfant

malenfant.jpg (2818 bytes)

Family Advocate, Parents Helping Parents

Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Louise Malenfant passed away in 2006.  She is being missed.

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