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Family Services Minister Kerri Irvin-Ross has delayed full implementation of the province’s ban on the use of hotels in the care of wards of CFS.
At an event Thursday designed to trumpet the success of a government initiative to end hotel use by June 1, Irvin-Ross admitted that child welfare agencies outside Winnipeg would be given more time to implement the policy.
Agencies operating in rural areas and the north will be given until Dec. 1 to stop the reliance on hotels when dealing with emergency placements.
What’s more, the minister admitted that the province doesn’t know how much hotels are used to house CFS kids outside Winnipeg.
She could not estimate what proportion of overall hotel placements are done in rural and northern areas.
"We are gathering the data right now, but we do not have any final information," she told reporters after detailing new and expanded initiatives to help families and agencies cope with at-risk and apprehended children.
The minister said that in working with child welfare organizations to meet her June 1 target, it became apparent that agencies in rural and northern Manitoba need more help before they can be weaned off hotel use.
It also emerged that there was no hard data on the use of hotels to guide the Family Services Department. That’s because, unlike in Winnipeg, there is no central organization co-ordinating emergency placements in rural Manitoba and the North. Outside Winnipeg, this is done at the CFS agency level.
Now, to facilitate tracking, no child will be placed in a hotel outside Winnipeg without the chief executive officer of the agency’s supervising authority — or his or her designate — signing off on it, a government spokeswoman said.
The issue of hotel use by CFS agencies has been simmering for months and came to a head in early April when a teenage girl was found badly beaten outside the cityplace parkade. The CFS ward had been staying at a nearby hotel — as had her alleged attacker, who was also in the care of child welfare. Irvin-Ross immediately vowed to end the practice as of June 1.
At the government event at the Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre on Thursday, the minister received a warm reception from dozens of CFS and social agency staffers and officials for the government’s recent funding increases. The province has created 90 more shelter spaces and hired 80 more staff since November to tackle the emergency placement problem.
Irvin-Ross told them even more resources were coming their way in the form of expanded home visits to at-risk families, greater recruitment of indigenous foster parents, the creation of still more emergency shelter beds, and a new voluntary mediation service for families in their dealings with child welfare and the court system.
After Irvin-Ross revealed the government would not fully implement its June 1 target, Opposition politicians at the Manitoba legislature were quick to accuse Irvin-Ross of breaking her promise.
"We know from past experience how much more at risk children in hotels are. We’ve certainly seen that with some very high profile cases in the last year or so inside the city. It’s no different whether it’s in rural areas," said Progressive Conservative family services critic Ian Wishart.
Wishart has been gathering information about hotel use outside of Winnipeg and has found some children are placed for two to three months at a time in such facilities.
"The amount of information that we’ve been getting out of (the Department of) Family Services related to this issue has been very erratic and very selective," he said.
Liberal MLA Jon Gerrard said in creating separate targets for Winnipeg and rural Manitoba, Irvin-Ross is trying to rationalize the fact that she was unable to deliver on her promise.
"The children outside of Winnipeg are just as much children as the children inside Winnipeg, and they’re just as in need of care and support – and not to be in hotels," he said.
Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.
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