The General Authority’s 15th annual general meeting highlighted the strength of partnerships as one of the keys to the success of child welfare.
“We want to acknowledge our theme this year is partnerships, many established by people in this room,” Debbie Besant, CEO of the General Authority, told those gathered at the AGM held Sept. 27 in Winnipeg.
Besant honoured the numerous positive relationships between the General Authority and its agencies, executives, universities, partner authorities, the All Nations Coordinated Response Network, cultural communities and Department of Families and Division staff. Representatives from these areas and others attended the meeting held at the Norwood Hotel.
Families Minister Heather Stefanson also noted that these partnerships are instrumental in meeting the needs of children and families.
“In the past 15 years the General Authority and its mandated agencies committed to ensuring the safety of children, strengthening and preserving families and working collaboratively with diverse community partners daily to meet the unique supports and service needs for thousands of children and families.”
“…We know that the General Authority has established many partnerships with the private and non-profit sector and with government departments such as Manitoba Education and Training and the Status of Women.
Stefanson was the first Families Minister to attend a General Authority AGM, and said she was delighted to do so.
“I’m very excited to be the first minister here. On behalf of the Premier, I want to thank you, for everything you do to help our children and their families, and ensure their safety.”
Stefanson said hard work by staff across the system is resulting in better outcomes for children and families. For example, in the past year, the Department has seen an 8.8 per cent increase in reunifications and the number of children in care fell 3.6 per cent from the previous year.
“This is the path we all want for our children and for our families.”
The Minister also spoke about the province’s pledge to transform the child welfare system and its legislative review process, which is aimed at improving outcomes for children by reducing the number of children in care, days spent in care and ensuring lifelong connections for children to their families and communities.
“The province of Manitoba is committed to moving forward together in a new way, one in which we encourage stronger connections with family, community and culture. One in which we invite our partners in building and delivering solutions to provide better outcomes for children and youth.”
Stefanson thanked the General Authority and its agencies for taking part in the legislative review process, which resulted in 63 recommendations to modernize and transform the current system.
“As we consider those recommendations and move toward transforming our child welfare system, our partnerships will continue to be critical for successful implementation and renewal.”
Partners speak out
As part of its focus on partnerships, the AGM heard three speakers from three different partnership areas.
Lisa Ramsay of CFS of Western Manitoba spoke about the profound changes that were made in a core-area Brandon community of mostly single mothers and children called Westaway Bay, when they opened a family centre in that community.
In the spring of 2013, a school principal shared her concern about children in the area, who had low school attendance and low parental engagement.
“As co-ordinator of the Elspeth Reid Family Resource centre, we saw 30,000 visitors a year and we knew we were at capacity. We needed to think outside the box.”
“We thought, what if, instead of bringing people to programs, we brought programs to people?”
The centre and CFS of Western partnered with Manitoba Housing and got a unit to use to create programming for families. Members of the Westaway Bay Project also spent time getting to know the children and families in the area and nurturing a sense of pride in the community.
“In time, and with purposeful efforts, we gained trust in relationships.”
The Westaway Bay Family Centre was opened in 2013 “with very little money but lots of determination about how do we make a positive difference for children alongside their families.”
The centre now hosts a myriad of activities, from parenting groups, afterschool programs and youth groups to garage sales and free swimming lessons on Sundays.
Ramsay pointed out that there were real and measurable outcomes from the implementation of the family centre.
In the first year and a half, calls to police were down 20 per cent, school attendance was much improved and parental engagement was around 95 per cent.
“Manitoba Housing has reported that folks now request housing at Westaway Bay.”
Ramsay said the change has made a positive impact on families and children.
“We believe children are safer when they grow up in neighbourhoods where other parents know their names and they know who is responsible for them.”
Partnerships in supporting vulnerable children was another key theme, and speaker Wendi Park, executive director of Forever Families of Canada, talked about how her organization began as a grassroots group created to bring various organizations such as non-profits and churches together who wanted to help vulnerable children in the community but didn’t know how.
“Forever Families in a nutshell is a non-profit organization that connects the dots. We can’t do your job [child welfare]. You do your job the best.”
“But what we can do is connect the dots between agencies, organizations and communities. We are faith-based, because that’s what got us the most [assistance].”
Part of the group’s mission is to get members of Canada’s 24,000 churches more involved to help children directly.
“We are seeing families reunified because churches are engaging,” said Park. “Because they want to care but they just don’t know how.”
She added that Forever Families has also been connecting with the General Authority on various projects and it goes smoothly if everyone works as a team.
“We can’t do it all, but we can connect people who can.”
A few examples of the work include sourcing furniture to furnish a room for a teenager and helping find a creative housing plan for a mother and young baby who were having difficulty getting shelter.
Forever Families’ latest project is to create an online portal, similar to one used in the United States called Care Portal, which will better help connect agencies, non-profits and churches by way of need.
The final speaker was Rhonda Dagg, program specialist for Rural and Northern Services, who introduced her video on domestic violence called Breaking the Silence, which has been shown to many community partners and organizations to increase education and awareness about services for those affected.
Patrick Harris, recently retired from Winnipeg CFS, received the Kim Thomas Award for his work with the Newcomer Unit.