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The slaying of teenage runaway Tina Fontaine last August didn't prompt the NDP government to end the practice of putting up foster kids in hotels.
But Wednesday's attack on another girl who had been in foster care in the same downtown hotel as Tina has forced the government to ban the long-standing and controversial practice.
As of June 1, hotels will no longer be the homes of last resort for wards of Child and Family Services.
"We have a responsibility to protect children in our care and provide them with places of safety," Family Services Minister Kerri Irvin-Ross, who was distraught, told a hastily called news conference Wednesday afternoon.
The teen was severely injured, and was last reported in critical condition. Police hadn't arrested a suspect as of Wednesday evening.
The attack raised more questions about the safety and supervision of CFS wards who are sheltered in hotels due to a shortage of more appropriate placements.
Irvin-Ross confirmed the girl had been placed in a downtown hotel not far from where she was attacked near the Cityplace parkade. A block of Hargrave Street between Graham and St. Mary avenues was closed most of the day as police collected forensic evidence.
'I'm deeply troubled that this would have happened to a child in the care of Child and Family Services'‐ Family Services Minister Kerri Irvin-Ross
Irvin-Ross said her department will stop using hotels to house kids in care as of June 1.
"I'm saddened and outraged by this attack on a vulnerable child," she said, reading from a prepared statement.
"It is infuriating that there are people out there who would prey upon an innocent child. My heart goes out to the young girl, and my prayers are with her and her family.
"I'm deeply troubled that this would have happened to a child in the care of Child and Family Services."
Irvin-Ross said the incident served as a catalyst for the government to move faster on its plan to phase out the use of hotels as shelters for at-risk children.
Late last year, Irvin-Ross said the province would phase out the use of hotels, but gave no deadline.
The plan includes the creation of 71 emergency foster-home spaces and the hiring of 210 child-care workers over two years to reduce reliance on hotels as emergency shelters and use of private contractors to staff hotels and emergency shelters.
As part of the plan, Marymound in West Kildonan is building a residential unit for girls aged 12 to 17 in a house at the riverbank complex.
"While we're phasing out the use of hotels, we will ensure that the children that are in a hotel as a last resort will receive appropriate support, supervision and counselling," she said.
Irvin-Ross said as of Wednesday, nine children were placed in hotels.
The numbers fluctuate depending on the number of kids coming into care.
The number of CFS-apprehended children residing in hotels spiked last year to its highest level since 2007. Figures provided by the province show average daily placements in hotels rose to 65, but fell to the single digits later in the year.
Irvin-Ross said she could offer no details of how or why the girl left the hotel, citing the police investigation.
She said the department will conduct its own internal review of what happened as will the agency tasked with caring for the teenager. The Office of the Children's Advocate will conduct its own review.
"Right now, we need to hope, and I hope that all Manitobans will join me in praying that she recovers," Irvin-Ross said.
Tory family services critic Ian Wishart welcomed the province's deadline, but questioned whether the department can marshal the proper resources to help children.
"A lot of these children are apprehended in rural areas," Wishart said. "Are you bringing them from where there is a medium risk to the city where there is a higher risk? Is it a matter of offering the right supervision in the first place? A lot of those calls don't seem to be getting made."
Irvin-Ross said for the most part, there is one-on-one supervision when a child or teen is placed in a hotel.
"Sometimes when it's a child and they choose to leave, there are recommendations that workers are not allowed to physically restrain them," she said. "That's part of the challenge that we have right now."
She added some of the children in CFS care display high-risk behaviour, and at times there are "limitations" to the quality of care the system can provide.
"There are strict rules about a 'hands-off' policy with our children," she said, adding if a child does bolt, police are to be called.
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The use of hotel rooms has recently jumped as the number of kids in care in Manitoba continues to soar to all-time highs.
In January, 10,673 children were in care -- a jump of more than 400 compared with the previous year. It's the highest proportion of children apprehended in the country, with the vast majority of them being aboriginal.
Irvin-Ross also said a breakdown in an emergency group or foster-home placement could see a child booked into a hotel. The province also wants to keep apprehended siblings together, which could also mean a hotel placement.
The death of 15-year-old Tina last August first influenced the province to react, although Irvin-Ross said the province was beginning to address the issue of hotel placements prior to her death.
Tina was in foster care for less than two months when she ran away from her temporary placement in a Winnipeg hotel in August. She was being supervised by contract workers who had little or no training. Her body was found in the Red River nine days later.
A practice without end
A 17-year history of Manitoba’s practice of placing foster children in hotels:
1998: During the waning years of Gary Filmon’s Progressive Conservative government, concerns about the CFS placement of children in hotels leads the children’s advocate to review the practice. At the time, an average of 37 kids per night stay in hotels.
1999: Gary Doer’s New Democrats take power. Initially, the province experiences some success in reducing the number of kids in hotels. Four kids are in hotels by 2001.
2002: The children’s advocate once again sounds the alarm as the number of foster kids in hotels increases to 10.
2006: The number of CFS kids in hotels jumps to 121 per night. In November, then-family services minister Gord Mackintosh promises to end the practice entirely by July 1, 2007, except under exceptional circumstances. “A hotel room is no substitute for a family room,” Mackintosh said.
2008: The province concedes it had as many as 79 foster kids in hotels in July, citing the exceptions envisioned in 2006.
2014: In March, 65 CFS kids are staying in hotels. The August slaying of Tina Fontaine, 15, who escaped CFS custody while in a hotel, returns the spotlight to the practice. Investigations reveal CFS kids in hotels are increasingly under the oversight of private companies, whose employees have little training and earn little more than minimum wage. In October, Family Services Minister Kerri Irvin-Ross orders a review into hotel care.
2015: The number of CFS kids in hotels is 25 in February. In March, Irvin-Ross promises changes to reduce the numbers. On Wednesday, the severe assault of another foster child being cared for at a hotel leads the minister to pledge an end to the practice by June 1.