Thursday, 18 July 2013

Hunger Strike Protester: Kim Edwards Fighting for the Rights of Children in Child Welfare

This is an interview with Kim Edwards who is fighting for the Human Rights of children involved with child welfare system in Manitoba. Kim is the Godmother of Phoenix Sinclair, the little girl killed by her mother Samantha Kematch, and her mother's boyfriend, Karl McKay under terrible conditions of physical and mental abuse.

Kim has not been eating anything for the past 56 days only taking water, and some coffee and soda. She has asked that a Royal Commission be called to investigate the services that are offered or not offered to families involved with the CFS system. There is currently a provincial inquiry into Phoenix's case, which started last fall in 2012. Testimony has been given by many witnesses showing the failings of the system. It has been heard that social workers frequently lost track of the girl and failed to keep tabs on her and her family and nothing to stop the abuse. http://www.phoenixsinclairinquiry.ca/

Kim feels the commission is biased and will not produce real transformation that will protect all children in Manitoba. She has a sense that the commission will sweep under the rug any real chance for change. This is why Kim started her hunger strike so the terrible manner the system functions can be better understood and hopefully altered.  Kim has been sleeping in the open at the Manitoba legislature asking that the name of Phoenix be removed from the commission of inquiry so a wider investigation may take place.

The use of the hunger strike is an interesting method to gain attention and moral persuasion to fight without physical violence for a cause you believe in. Kim has a strong belief that there is an inherent structural violence in the Child and Family services system that even normal and well intentioned peoples cannot overcome. The nation-state makes a very poor parent; there is little love, nor emotional security that the state can provide to a child which is needed in their growth as human beings. I have had the opportunity to attend a couple of days at the hearings and my sense was there was a general lack of responsibility and accountability. There were no witnesses willing to say it was my fault, my role had these consequences; that I will stand and be counted. It is a shame that we have been unable to use the inquiry to find real solutions to the CFS not only for Phoenix but all children. There seems to be an entire industry built around CFS and the watching of abuse. It is perhaps the age we live in but the lack of accountability is telling. I had the opportunity to talk to a number of social workers and semi-independent agencies who are attempting to meet the needs of their people outside of the legislation. Many feel the current legislation is not intended to protect children and families, but the government from liable and fault.

While many see the CFS as an Aboriginal issue, it has very wide repercussions; from lower GDP, broken families, high costs, higher taxes, slower learning in schools, great social ills; it seems that we have come to a point of immobility; the inability to move forward or even to the side.  In the idea of the Wars of Influence, there exists a long term war occurring between the state and Aboriginal peoples. How many causalities are we willing to see before we commence real discussion about a system that responds to the needs of communities and families holistically. In any war of attrition, real solutions or the end only come about when one or both side decides enough is enough and too much blood has been spilled. While some may say it unfair to see CFS, the state and Aboriginal peoples in a war of influence on this issue, there are certainly larger issues at stake. Kim is a simple pawn within that larger fight, Phoenix is a pawn. It is about control and sovereignty. Is the state ready to hand over complete autonomy to Aboriginal CFS agencies and let them devise their own rules? If you viewed CFS and the state as an occupying power related to other wars such as the 2nd Iraq War between the US, Sunni and Shiite Muslims is the concept of a War of Influence existing with a low level of violence possible? Many First Nations people view the CFS as so heavy handed that good will between communities has been destroyed. I know of no family in Manitoba that if they were told CFS was coming to their home that panic would not set in. There is generalized fear of CFS no matter what your socio-economic status. It is perhaps time for CFS to take lessons from policing and create community based programs that build relationships.

To Learn more (podcast & interview)
https://archive.org/details/KimEdwardsMixdown

https://ia600909.us.archive.org/17/items/KimEdwardsMixdown/kim%20edwards%20mixdown.mp3

Citations


APA

Ouellette, Robert-Falcon. (Director) (2013. July 18). At the Edge of Canada: Indigenous Research. Hunger Strike Protest: Kim Edwards Fighting for the Rights of Children in Child Welfare [Audio podcast]. Retrieved from http://www.attheedgeofcanada.com  
MLA
Ouellette, Robert-Falcon, dir. "Hunger Strike Protest: Kim Edwards Fighting for the Rights of Children in Child Welfare." At the Edge of Canada: Indigenous Research.. N.p., 18 July 2013. web. July 18, 2013. < http://www.attheedgeofcanada.com ›

8 comments:

  1. I agree with this way of adoption, however if I understand it correctly, I do not agree with it at the same time. I do believe that the parents should find a family for their child – someone that the parents may know, or that the parents have at least gotten to know so they can see if the child would thrive with the new parents. I think that if the parents would have more of a say, the children would not rebel as much. The parents are the ones who know their children the best, not social workers.

    One part of this kind of adoption that I don’t agree on, or maybe don’t understand, is giving the parents all of the say. I know this sounds contradictory to what was said before, but it all depends on the state of the parents and the people that the parents know. I believe that there are some cases in which it shouldn’t just be the parents that have a say in what goes on. If the parents do not know of someone who will provide their child with a good, loving home, then there should be a third party involved to help find the children a home. Also, the parents may need some encouragement to treat their children better and give them a more loving home.

    On this note, I do believe that the Child and Family Services have an important part in what goes on. From the Government of Manitoba Child and Family Services website (http://www.gov.mb.ca/fs/childfam/), the job of CFS is to make sure families and communities provide for the safety and well-being of their children. In the case of Phoenix Sinclair, Child and Family Services did not do a very good job of keeping up with what was going on in that situation. If Phoenix was moved around from parent to parent as much as she was, CFS should have been paying more attention to whom she was with. There must have been some kind of a problem if she was moved around that much, and maybe if CFS would have checked up on her a little more than they did, she may still be alive today.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Obviously there are problems with CFS. What happened to Phoenix Sinclair is a tragedy and nobody should have to deal with the death of a young child. (you can read more here: http://www.cbc.ca/manitoba/features/phoenixsinclair/) I don't have first hand experience with CFS however my in-laws have fostered a couple kids from the same mother/different fathers. One boy they had off and on for ten years. When I was chatting with my mother in law she was saying there is a lot of corruption and abuse of the system. She didn't however go on with details but they no longer foster the children.
    The boy they fostered is now in a group home setting where, after going to juvenile detention centre he has been since May. I am not sure what the supports put in place are for him to be able to attend school and live a 'normal' life. However, I do believe he has stopped drinking and doing drugs. My mother in law was just last week wanting to take him out for supper as she would be in the city where he is, so she tried to get a hold of the group home. However, after leaving a few messages she was unable to connect with him. A few days later the director of that group home returned her call and stated that they were having some issues with some of the youth in the home. We have since found out he has just transferred him to a different group home but my mother in law was happy to hear that the director can see that he was raised in a loving home and has good manners.
    Without giving any specifics, I think it is crazy the amount of 'stuff' that is put on these kids shoulders. They have to deal with so much and they have no real home that they stay for very long as they are shuffled through the system. When will they realize that something isn't working? Will the system ever change or is it destined to be protecting the government from liability instead of protecting the kids?
    I do doubt that everyone involved with CFS is as bad as the media makes is out to be. There has got to be some social workers and people that try hard for those children but when are those cases going to take over the bad ones? When will cases like Phoenix Sinclair be part of the past and not the present? I don't know if there are any answers to these questions and there is no five step program to make things right. We need to be moving forward and learning from the past instead of repeating it, where children are priority instead of just case numbers.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Every time I hear of the Phoenix Sinclair story I feel ill. It is sickening to me that the system that was put in place to protect children, failed this child so miserably. I think that what Kim Edwards did for this little girl was very brave and exactly what needed to be done. I appreciated the reference to the website devoted to finding answers to the Phoenix Sinclair death (http://www.phoenixsinclairinquiry.ca). I definitely believe that more needs to be done to ensure that the children placed within the systems don’t get lost or forgotten in the system and that the workers are held accountable. I believe that our justice system in general lacks an inherent accountability of those charged with and entrusted with protected the youth of our country. If the people (now this is not to say that this includes every single person working within this system) are truly responsible for their actions then how is it that these types of cases keep manifesting themselves in one way or another time and again? Someone somewhere once said something to the effect of, the greatest suffers and the biggest victims of the system end up being the innocent children.
    I completely agree that the CFS system is flawed in many ways; however an organization is only as good as its weakest links. In other words without proper training and enforcement of accountability on the part of the organization to their employees there is bound to be problems and flaws that arise. I believe that the responsibility ultimately falls on the individuals dealing directly with the families. The fact that there was admittedly a lack of monitoring and checking in on Phoenix Sinclair and her family by those charged with her care is completely unacceptable. After all she is not the only child has been negatively influenced by the lack of accountability on the part of CFS and its workers. If someone in charge of caring for your child neglected their responsibilities they would be severely punished. Why then is it not the same for those who neglect their CFS obligations?
    Now, I don’t necessarily agree with the idea of a Hunger Strike I think that the issues that Kim Edwards was putting forth through this have been neglected for far too long. That being said, I appreciate that she was willing to put herself out there to support a cause that she believed in. I have friends that have gone through the CFS system and all of them have different situations and experiences of the CFS system. Granted every individual case is different if the end goal of the CFS system is the same, shouldn’t the experiences of each family be similar as well? It’s something to think about anyway. This blog left me with a lot of unanswered questions and thoughts.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I agree that there are evident negative issues regarding the child welfare systems in Manitoba. Some of these issues prevalent in current media include the lack of funding, combined with heavy case loads for many social workers. Phoenix Sinclair was an unfortunate and innocent victim from these struggles and has since become the face of the problems in the child and family welfare system. I have heard other interviews with who was referred to as Phoenix’s grandmother, Kim Edwards. She cared deeply for this little girl, and although from my knowledge, was not the biological grandmother often took care of Phoenix. What is most unsettling about this tragedy is that Phoenix was removed from Edward’s care by child and family services to be placed with her biological parent. This is not the only upsetting story I have heard about the detrimental effects of removing a child from a competent care giver to be put with a biological parent, which is considered to be the best for the child. In this particular case, it was while in her father’s care that Phoenix Sinclair passed away under tragic circumstances. Although horrific and tragic, one aspect that has come to light through Phoenix’s passing is that the child welfare system needs to change. Children should not be able to just fall through the cracks resulting in mistreatment, abuse or death. Social workers need to make sure that all home visits are met and that children are living in stable suitable environments. I also strongly feel that we cannot blame one individual in this situation, but rather look deeper into the circumstance and the entire institution of the child welfare system including policies and practices. As stated, there is a huge stigma attached to a social worker or other child welfare worker visiting a home for an inspection. Just in the word inspection alone we imply they are coming to judge, which would put anyone under pressure of scrutiny. There is also the notion that because someone is literally coming into your home to judge and observe potential caregivers can appear fully competent when they in reality are not. More training for social workers, combined with more funding and smaller case loads would be extremely beneficial to the child welfare system so more surprise and organized visits could be made.

    ReplyDelete
  5. My personal thoughts on this matter are torn. My belief is Child and Family Services do have an important role, their mission statement at least makes one believe that; “The job of Child and Family Services is to make sure families and communities provide for the safety and well-being of their children” (http://www.gov.mb.ca/fs/childfam/). I know without a doubt that the organization of CFS was not set up to “screw people over” or “fail”. It is ludicrous to think that such an organization is making these mistakes with some deep dark agenda; however some seem to hold such a bias. Additionally to this matter, there is no help from local media as they portray all employees within CFS as failures. There are social workers working hard, doing their job well and making positive impacts in many children’s lives, however it is not those stories we will ever hear in the media. Rather, we hear of the mistakes. In agreement with my fellow blogger and classmate, an organization is only as good as its weakest link. Without proper training and enforcement of accountability on the part of the organization to their employees there is bound to be problems and flaws that arise. I believe that the responsibility ultimately falls on the individuals dealing directly with the families. The fact that there was admittedly a lack of monitoring and checking in on Phoenix Sinclair and her family by those charged with her care is completely unacceptable (http://www.attheedgeofcanada.com/2013/07/hunger-strike-protest-kim-edwards.html#comment-form).
    As stated earlier, my views are torn. The Phoenix Sinclair case demonstrates an aspect of Child and Family Services no doing a very good job of keeping up with what was happening. I would suggest there are individuals working for Child and Family Services that are a cancer to the system. Furthermore, I would go as far to suggest that more training for social workers is needed, combined with more funding, and smaller case loads. While this blog posting causes me to re evaluate where I stand on the matter I would strongly agree with the last sentiment written; “It is perhaps time for CFS to take a lesson from policing and create community based programs that build relationships” (http://www.attheedgeofcanada.com/2013/07/hunger-strike-protest-kim-edwards.html#comment-form).

    ReplyDelete
  6. Before reading this blog about Kim Edwards’ hunger strike, I was unfamiliar with the cause that she was protesting for. I found it extremely sad to learn about the case of Phoenix Sinclair who died while suffering abuse from her own family. Kim Edwards was fighting to gain greater human rights for those children who are involved in the child welfare system. After reading this blog I researched more about Phoenix Sinclair and was devastated to learn the details of her story; “The inquiry heard that authorities had been contacted with allegations that Phoenix was being abused shortly before her death. A social worker visited Kematch, but left without going into the apartment to see whether Phoenix was OK and closed the child's file” (The Canadian Press). It is hard to believe that a child who is in the care of the government and being supervised by social workers could be ignored so greatly.

    In order to bring attention to this growing issue of an inefficient Child and Family service program, Kim Edwards began a hunger strike. I cannot even imagine how difficult it would be for a person to commit to such an extreme protest. Kim’s dedication to this cause shows how strongly she felt about the case of Phoenix Sinclair. One of the comments in this blog which impacted me the most was Kim’s belief that this issue will not be resolved because no one is willing to accept responsibility; “There were no witnesses willing to say it was my fault, my role had these consequences; that I will stand and be counted. It is a shame that we have been unable to use the inquiry to find real solutions to the CFS not only for Phoenix but all children. There seems to be an entire industry built around CFS and the watching of abuse”. I agree with Kim and believe that this issue will never see a true resolution until someone is willing to take accountability for their mistakes.

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/phoenix-sinclair-inquiry-report-will-be-public-in-january-1.2450812

    ReplyDelete
  7. First off I want to say that I agree that CFS is flawed. The system needs to be evaluated and restructured because it seems to obvious that it is not working and the ones suffering are the children. These children are most likely then going to repeat this awful cycle. Change needs to happen. One of the problems that I have noticed with CFS is this constant changing of homes and the returning to the biological parents while those parents have not really gotten the help they need.

    My Aunt and Uncle are foster parents and I have had numerous ‘cousins’ through them. The most heart wrenching moments are when you have a family member that has been with you for years and then they reach those rough teenage years and all they want to do is go back to their mother. It is really understandable to want to be with your parent but at the same time these kids just know that on their family visits they are able to have fun and do what they want. They do not understand that it may not be the best thing for them. My Aunt and Uncle had a foster son for years and then he wanted to go back home and so CFS agreed. Several years later he ran into my Aunt and Uncle and thanked them because it was the best home he had and he regretted leaving.

    What happened to Phoenix Sinclair is a tragedy that could have been avoided, “He noted how child-welfare agencies were contacted 13 times with concerns about Phoenix during her short
    life — the last one coming three months before her death” (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/manitoba-sorry-for-failing-to-protect-phoenix-sinclair-1.2518147). If CFS were to focus more on the children and teaching parents how to do better than perhaps these issues could be rectified. While First Nations children are a large part of CFS because of socio-economic status and problems that Robert has spoken about in other posts it is about all Canadian children. Parents need to know how to parent and CFS should be working hard to teach them how. Broken and split families are not something that anyone wants but is what seems to be the norm. We need to start putting families back together; biological or not, and to do this we need to educate each other on how to be a family. Parents, children, foster families, CFS, and the government should be working together.


    References

    News, C. (2014, January 31). Manitoba sorry for failing to protect Phoenix Sinclair. CBCnews. Retrieved February 20, 2014, from http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/manitoba-sorry-for-failing-to-protect-phoenix-sinclair-1.2518147

    ReplyDelete