Tories prom­ise fewer kids in care

Re­sources to be moved from in­ter­ven­tion to keep­ing fam­i­lies to­gether

Winnipeg Free Press - - TOP NEWS - NICK MARTIN nick.martin@freep­ress.mb.ca

EWER chil­dren will be taken into care, and many more who are ap­pre­hended will be reunited with their fam­i­lies as quickly as pos­si­ble un­der the Man­i­toba govern­ment’s over­haul of child-wel­fare leg­is­la­tion.

If it’s not “safe and ap­pro­pri­ate” to re­turn chil­dren in care to their fam­i­lies, there will be leg­is­la­tion and sub­si­dies to pro­mote per­ma­nent le­gal guardian­ship or adop­tion, Fam­i­lies Min­is­ter Scott Field­ing promised Thurs­day.

“We want to pro­vide life­long con­nec­tions,” Field­ing told a news con­fer­ence. “For sure, there’s too many chil­dren in care. There’s too much money be­ing spent on in­ter­ven­tion.

“We re­ally think there needs to be a trans­for­ma­tion in the child-wel­fare sys­tem,” he said. “There’s a lot of re­ports out there — now we need to ac­tion this. We re­ally need to re­unite chil­dren with their par­ents, when it’s ap­pro­pri­ate and safe to do so.”

The min­is­ter’s sup­port­ing doc­u­ments cited a plan to give chil­dren “for­ever fam­i­lies.”

Field­ing said the prov­ince will em­pha­size “cus­tom­ary care,” a sys­tem in

Fwhich In­dige­nous com­mu­ni­ties play a sig­nif­i­cant role in de­cid­ing how to deal with chil­dren and fam­i­lies in their own com­mu­nity. The prov­ince will switch from pay­ing agen­cies per child and per day each child is in care, to a sys­tem of block fund­ing in which agen­cies and com­mu­ni­ties can fo­cus on in­ter­ven­tion and preven­tion rather than ap­pre­hen­sion.

There will soon be a leg­isla­tive re­view to look at all el­e­ments of child­wel­fare leg­is­la­tion, in­clud­ing writ­ing new leg­is­la­tion which will clar­ify how so­cial work­ers take chil­dren into care, Field­ing said.

Cur­rently, “the out­comes are hor­ri­ble,” he said.

The process the Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tives in­her­ited when they came to power in 2016 is in­ef­fec­tive, tak­ing up to 130 days to work out an emer­gency care plan for a child, Field­ing said. The new sys­tem will em­pha­size do­ing so quickly, he said.

In what may be a first since the govern­ment led by Premier Brian Pal­lis­ter took of­fice, NDP fam­i­lies critic Na­hanni Fon­taine told re­porters she’s cau­tiously op­ti­mistic the New Democrats can work with the Tories to im­prove the sys­tem.

“We can all agree that child wel­fare in Man­i­toba is in a state of cri­sis,” Fon­taine said. “Pre­dom­i­nantly, In­dige­nous chil­dren make up chil­dren in care.”

Fon­taine said it’s al­ways a good thing if chil­dren can be kept in their own com­mu­ni­ties.

She em­pha­sized poverty must not con­tinue to be a con­di­tion un­der which chil­dren can be ap­pre­hended: “We have to move beyond that.”

Block fund­ing must be flex­i­ble, she said, and the money must meet the needs. While Fon­taine could not rule out cost-cut­ting be­ing part of the govern­ment’s plan, “I would hope not... Man­i­toba chil­dren are re­ly­ing on us to be cau­tiously op­ti­mistic.”

Univer­sity of Man­i­toba so­cial work Prof. Sid Frankel agreed re­duc­ing poverty and pro­vid­ing ad­e­quate block fund­ing are keys to re­duc­ing the num­ber of Man­i­toba chil­dren in care. Re­search shows chil­dren liv­ing in poverty are four times more likely to be mal­treated, Frankel said.

“What is in­cluded is great, but will not be ef­fec­tive in the ab­sence of two ad­di­tional el­e­ments,” he said. “Poverty is a main driver of child mal­treat­ment. Preven­tion will be of lim­ited ef­fec­tive­ness with­out (ef­fec­tive poverty re­duc­tion).

“A block grant to agen­cies is fine, but it must be ad­e­quate, or govern­ment is sim­ply down­load­ing the re­spon­si­bil­ity to leave needs un­met.”

Field­ing said the costs of the child­wel­fare sys­tem are in­creas­ing by $20 mil­lion per year. He avoided ques­tions about whether there will be any re­duc­tion in the num­ber of pub­lic-sec­tor em­ploy­ees, and in­sisted, “This is not about cost sav­ings.”

How­ever, Pal­lis­ter im­me­di­ately jumped into the con­ver­sa­tion: “Of course there’ll be cost sav­ings,” but they won’t be seen im­me­di­ately, he said.

There will be “bet­ter kids, bet­ter op­por­tu­ni­ties,” with chil­dren grow­ing up in fam­i­lies rather than a se­ries of foster homes, get­ting an ed­u­ca­tion and be­com­ing pro­duc­tive adults rather than end­ing up in jail or prison, the premier said. “We need to be more ef­fec­tive at get­ting out­comes.”

Grand Chief Jerry Daniels of the South­ern Chiefs’ Or­ga­ni­za­tion wel­comed the news: “For me, it’s get­ting those chil­dren back home and get­ting them back with their fam­i­lies.”

Mean­while, Richard De La Ronde, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Sandy Bay Child and Fam­ily Ser­vices, said his First Na­tion has been cho­sen as one of the four pi­lot projects to test the govern­ment’s plans over the next 18 months.

Sandy Bay has re­duced the num­ber of chil­dren in care by half dur­ing the past two years, but it’s had to qui­etly work around the rules, he said.

“We’ve had to do things qui­etly, we’ve had to bend the rules to work with fam­i­lies... Those days are over,” De La Ronde said with a smile.

“We’re bound by stan­dards, and this new leg­is­la­tion is un­bind­ing us. Does that kid re­ally need to be in care?”

De La Ronde cited a case in which the CFS rules re­quired a baby be ap­pre­hended be­cause the child’s sin­gle mother was liv­ing in an apart­ment that was sti­flingly hot in the sum­mer heat.

“I said, ‘Why not buy her an air con­di­tioner at Walmart for $89?’” said De La Ronde, who didn’t hes­i­tate de­spite be­ing told fund­ing rules pre­vented such a so­lu­tion.

PHO­TOS BY WAYNE GLOWACKI / WIN­NIPEG FREE PRESS

Above: Premier Brian Pal­lis­ter speaks with Dilly Knol of the An­drews Street Fam­ily Cen­tre.

Left: Richard De La Ronde (cen­tre) of Sandy Bay CFS, says his First Na­tion will take part in a pi­lot project, an­nounced by Fam­i­lies Min­is­ter Scott Field­ing (far left) on Thurs­day.

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