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New tool to get foster kids out of hotels

Website for potential parents

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A new website that connects foster parents with children stuck in hotels has gone online.

Manitoba launched the new website along with a public feature to provide the first comprehensive look inside the system, without having to file freedom-of-information requests or parse annual reports.

Information on the website ranges from basic details on the number of kids in care in hotels, agency by agency, to big-picture statistics.

The new website was announced along with a provincial promise to add 24 new emergency beds in the next month.

"We're trying to demystify what is a complicated system," said Family Services Minister Jennifer Howard, who added the website is designed to be updated every three months.

Darlene MacDonald, Manitoba's children's advocate, responded with a statement of guarded approval.

"We support the province developing more emergency-placement resources and our office has previously cautioned the province, child-welfare authorities and agencies on the use of hotels for vulnerable children and youth," MacDonald said.

Howard said the new website gives the public a better understanding of how the system and its many different parts fit together.

"I'm not going to say we'll never have another kid in a hotel. This is going to take some time," Howard said.

"Some of those kids are in hotels because we don't have another good place to put them. We've done a lot to get more foster families but we have to do a better job of matching foster homes with kids," the minister said.

The part of the website for agency eyes only will allow social workers instant access to available beds across the province's child-welfare agencies, to avoid using hotels as much as possible.

"Some of that work is still going to be old-fashioned on the phone," said Howard, but the website provides a better big picture of what's available to work with.

Manitoba's Foster Family Network welcomed the measures. "You can find out more about the U.K. system than ours online. I'm proud our province can step up and provide that information so it is online," said network president Candace Seymour.

alexandra.paul@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 19, 2012 A5

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