BRODBECK

Winnipeg Sun - - NEWS - TOM

When you read through the leg­is­la­tion that spells out when child wel­fare agen­cies are al­lowed to ap­pre­hend chil­dren to pro­tect them from harm, there’s one term that is con­spic­u­ously ab­sent.

Nowhere in Man­i­toba’s Child and Fam­ily Ser­vices Act, the leg­is­la­tion that gov­erns how chil­dren should be cared for dur­ing fam­ily break­downs, will you see the term “as a last re­sort,” or some­thing of sim­i­lar mean­ing, when it comes to ap­pre­hen­sions.

You would think govern­ment agents wouldn’t take peo­ple’s kids away un­til it be­came a last re­sort, af­ter ex­haust­ing all other rea­son­able op­tions.

But that’s not what the act says.

And it may be why Man­i­toba, at least in part, has the high­est per capita chil­dren in care in Canada.

Min­is­ter of Fam­i­lies Scott Field­ing, who an­nounced sweep­ing changes to the child wel­fare sys­tem Thurs­day, is hop­ing to change that. Among the changes, a com­mit­tee has been struck to re­view the cri­te­ria un­der which child wel­fare agen­cies can take kids, in­clud­ing in­fants, from their par­ents. Un­like other prov­inces that have up­dated and mod­ern­ized their laws when it comes to ap­pre­hen­sions, Man­i­toba’s child wel­fare sys­tem hasn’t been mod­i­fied since the 1980s. Since then, the num­ber of chil­dren in care has sky­rock­eted, par­tic­u­larly in the past 10 years.

One of the main problems is that the cri­te­ria for ap­pre­hen­sion is so broad and open to in­ter­pre­ta­tion, chil­dren could tech­ni­cally be taken from their par­ents for al­most any­thing.

Sec. 17(2) of the Child and Fam­ily Ser­vices Act lays out the ground rules for ap­pre­hen­sions. It pro­vides “il­lus­tra­tions” of when a child is in need of care and can there­fore be ap­pre­hended. It’s a long list with eight sep­a­rate sub­sec­tions. Some of them are no-brain­ers, in­clud­ing the need to ap­pre­hend chil­dren if they are be­ing abused phys­i­cally or sex­u­ally or if their life, health or well-be­ing is in dan­ger.

No­body would ar­gue with Sec. 17(2)(c), for ex­am­ple, which states that a child is in need of pro­tec­tion if he or she is “abused or is in dan­ger of be­ing abused, in­clud­ing where the child is likely to suf­fer harm or in­jury due to child pornog­ra­phy.”

But other sub­sec­tions are far less spe­cific and are very open to in­ter­pre­ta­tion.

For ex­am­ple, sub­sec­tion (a) says a child is in need of pro­tec­tion when he or she “is with­out ad­e­quate care, su­per­vi­sion or con­trol.” That could mean any­thing. In fact, it could de­scribe many av­er­age house­holds with kids on any given busy day. Is it a rea­son to ap­pre­hend a kid?

Prob­a­bly not un­less the lack of care, su­per­vi­sion or con­trol is so ex­treme that a child is in real dan­ger. But the leg­is­la­tion doesn’t de­fine that.

What may be in­ad­e­quate care in one house­hold, for all kinds of so­cial and eco­nomic rea­sons, may not con­sti­tute in­ad­e­quate care in an­other. And it may not be grounds for ap­pre­hen­sion.

Sub­sec­tion (d) says chil­dren are in need of care when they are “beyond the

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