Manitoba foster-care rate highest in Canada
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This article was published 19/07/2022 (313 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA — Manitoba has retained the dubious distinction of having the highest rate of children in foster care.
“It stems from the separation of families and the attempted assimilation of children through the residential school system,” said Tara Petti, a child welfare consultant, about Manitoba’s rate being five times higher than the national average.
The data was contained in newly released Statistics Canada data.
The province has long had some of the highest rates of children in care, about 90 per cent of whom are Indigenous.
Ottawa hasn’t followed through on plans to standardize how provinces record the number of children in foster care or group homes, which leaves the census as one of the few tools to compare how often children are removed from their family home.
In the recent census release, Statistics Canada published data on households that reported having children in foster care.
In Manitoba, there were 4,905 children, from infants to age 14, who were in foster care at the time of the May 2021 census. That amounts to two per cent of all children in that age range, compared with 0.4 per cent nationally. Among the provinces, Saskatchewan placed second with 0.9 per cent of kids under 15 in foster care.
The data show little change in the past decade. The 2016 census reported that 2.1 per cent of Manitoba children were in foster care, and 1.9 per cent in 2011.
In that decade, the national percentage of children in foster care dropped by a tenth, from 0.5 per cent in 2011.
Petti, who ran the authority that governs foster care for all First Nations in southern Manitoba until 2019, said Indigenous families disproportionately end up in the system because of trauma and poverty stemming from colonial policies.
“What we’re dealing with today is generations of children who have been in homes where there has been major disruption and displacement, and a loss of traditional tools and practices,” she said.
The data shed light on the age distribution of children in care in Manitoba.
In its last annual report, Manitoba Families reported that as of March 2021, 6,882 children aged 0-17 were in foster homes, while another 2,968 children were in other forms of state care, such as a group home, independent living or a month-long stay with relatives.
Comparing both datasets suggests roughly three-quarters of foster children in Manitoba are under the age of 15. That ratio might start to trend downwards, as Manitoba gradually apprehends fewer newborns.
In 2017, both Ottawa and the province unpegged funding for child-welfare agencies from the number of children removed from homes, so that agencies would have cash to run prevention programs and parental training, instead of needing to remove children from homes to access funding.
As a consultant, Petti is assisting First Nation communities across Canada who are taking over child welfare from government bodies, through federal reforms that have barely started to take root in Manitoba.
Recent reforms are meant to help ensure Indigenous children retain links with their community, and are kept inside their family home whenever possible.
However, Petti said the reforms won’t be properly measured unless the Trudeau government follows through on its 2018 pledge to consistently track child welfare across Canada, along with a tribunal’s orders to track the outcomes of First Nations children who enter foster care.
Those changes could help bridge a gap in how Manitoba reports its data. Currently, the province reports how many children are indefinitely placed with foster parents licensed by an agency, and how many are in homes that are regularly inspected.
The approach misses children who are placed into the home of a relative or family friend in their own community, and how many end up with a foster family elsewhere.
“It’s a shocking factor to say this many children ages 0 to 14 are in care — but how many of those are placed with families and their communities?” Petti said.
Her team at the southern authority did manual data analyses and found roughly 60 to 80 per cent of children in southern First Nations were living with family members — whom she said often don’t have the same economic resources to support a child.
“They need to be supported just as much as the stranger-based foster placements,” Petti said.