It’s been more than two weeks since a Child and Family Services agency has resorted to placing a child in a hotel, and Manitoba’s family services minister is vowing to keep it that way.

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It’s been more than two weeks since a Child and Family Services agency has resorted to placing a child in a hotel, and Manitoba’s family services minister is vowing to keep it that way.

Kerri Irvin-Ross promised less than two months ago to end the controversial practice by June 1. The last time a CFS ward was housed in a hotel was May 11.

Kerri Irvin-Ross at the Family Services estimates committee meeting Monday.

BORIS MINKEVICH/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Kerri Irvin-Ross at the Family Services estimates committee meeting Monday.

Irvin-Ross will explain today how the government and child-welfare authorities accomplished this goal — and how they will try to ensure the problem won’t resurface.

In an interview Wednesday, Irvin-Ross said the government has created 90 more shelter spaces and hired 80 more staff since November, with much of it happening in the past 60 days. It has also added 750 foster homes in the past year.

There has been a renewed effort on the part of family services agencies, supervising authorities and the province to co-ordinate their efforts to bring hotel use to an end, she said. That has meant greater sharing of shelter spots between agencies throughout the province.

"Everyone knows this is the direction that we have to go. Nobody has ever agreed that a hotel is a good placement," Irvin-Ross said.

The province has tackled the problem of emergency hotel placements in fits and starts for decades. But it wasn’t until a teenage girl from northern Manitoba was severely beaten and sexually assaulted in early April and left outside a downtown parkade that the minister set a deadline to halt the use of hotels as emergency placements by CFS agencies.

CFS workers put the girl in a nearby hotel. Her alleged attacker was also placed in the same hotel by child-welfare authorities.

The attack raised more questions about the safety and supervision of CFS wards. Last year, it was revealed that apprehended children placed in hotels are generally supervised by poorly trained, low-paid employees of private, for-profit companies. Many of the children are free to roam at will.

In March 2014, 65 CFS kids were kept in hotels per day, on average. As recently as February, there were still 25 per day sheltered in this way.

Irvin-Ross is expected today to announce new ways the government will assist families to prevent children from being in the care of Child and Family Services in the first place.

Manitoba’s children’s advocate said she’s "cautiously optimistic" the province finally has a plan in place to end agencies’ reliance on hotels.

Darlene MacDonald has long called for an end to the practice — as had her predecessors.

She said it’s important her office and others keep putting pressure on government to ensure it follows through with its commitment.

MacDonald said she was "a bit surprised" when the minister set the June 1 deadline.

She said she and her staff have fielded a number of calls from agencies concerned about their ability to meet that goal and whether they will have the necessary resources at their disposal.

"The resources have to be put in place so that we don’t revert back to having children in hotels," MacDonald said.

"I think it’s really important to constantly look at the best interests of the child and to ensure that there is an appropriate plan in place."

Irvin-Ross acknowledged agencies are feeling the heat. "The pressure is being felt. But I also know that they realize that it (the deadline) had to be set," she said, adding she hopes the agencies realize resources will be in place to help them.

The province has warned agencies there will be consequences if they ignore the hotel ban.

"If it becomes a chronic issue, the (CFS agency’s supervisory) authority has the ability to take the agency under administration," she said.

A team of senior CFS officials that was struck to tackle the problem will continue to operate in a troubleshooting role to help agencies adjust, the minister said.

Conservative critic Ian Wishart said he doubts Irvin-Ross will know whether the ban is followed. CFS annual reports do not break down spending in a way that would identify hotel use, and agencies may be reluctant to admit to using hotels if it means facing the music from child-welfare authorities and the government, Wishart said.

He said he knows of a few instances when agencies used hotels to house kids for two and three months at a time.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Larry Kusch

Larry Kusch
Legislature reporter

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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