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‘Larger systemic failure’: Advocates call for change to the child welfare system following comments from police chief

Experts and advocates are calling for change, following stark comments from Winnipeg Police Chief Danny Smyth about a spike in violent crimes committed by youths.

On Thursday, Smyth said both group and foster homes don’t have what they need to help and monitor at-risk youths. He said it’s leading to random attacks throughout the city.

Last Sunday, a 19-year-old woman was robbed and attacked with a machete at a bus stop in St. Vital. Police said she sustained life-altering injuries.

Smyth put a spotlight on the incident and a rash of other attacks just like it.

“Alarming to all of us is the fact that these attacks appear to be random,” Smyth said on Thursday. “The attackers have been described as youths, and the attacks have been violent.

The chief said the suspects involved in this string of violent offence and others have something in common, they’re in the child welfare system, living in foster care or group homes, where resources are insufficient.

It’s led to organizations such as the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and Manitoba Children’s Advocate to call for change.

In a statement, the Manitoba Children’s Advocate said funding is needed to support foster and group homes to help vulnerable children.

“Like all citizens, the youth involved must bear the responsibilities for their actions. However, we see these crimes as a result of a larger systemic failure,” the statement read.

While on the provincial election campaign trail this fall, Premier Wab Kinew ran on a pledge to get tough on crime, but also the root causes.

Community outreach worker Mitch Bourbonniere said group home staff are underpaid and doing their best. He believes Smyth’s intentions were good, trying to call for more supports, but he worries the comments could stigmatize kids in care.

“There’s 10,000 youth in care. This is a very, very small number of youth committing this violent behaviour,” said Bourbonniere.

Kent Dueck, the founder of Inner-City Youth Alive, said honest conversations need to happen about healing for traumatized youth.

“You have to ask these group homes to get results and you have to measure those results,” he said.

Smyth also said Thursday he hopes an upcoming safety summit announced by the premier will address youth crime.

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