The cost of looking after Manitoba's most vulnerable people is exploding.

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The cost of looking after Manitoba's most vulnerable people is exploding.

According to government projections obtained by the Free Press, the Department of Family Services and Labour will spend $40 million more than anticipated this fiscal year on child protection.

Family Services and Labour Minister Jennifer Howard

Family Services and Labour Minister Jennifer Howard

It will also spend $22 million more than budgeted to provide services to adults with physical and intellectual disabilities -- for the most part in group homes.

Aside from the stratospheric costs of last year's flood, Family Services has seen the highest total in government over-budget spending ($59 million) for the fiscal year ending March 31. The newly amalgamated department is now projected to spend $1.02 billion this year.

Family Services and Labour Minister Jennifer Howard said some of her department's costs are difficult to control.

"You can't say no to a kid who is in need of protection. We have a legislative requirement to protect those kids," she said, in an interview.

Howard said an ever-growing number of kids are coming into the government's care each year, including this past one. And they are coming with more serious behavioural issues due to the trauma they've suffered.

She cited the case of one youth who was placed in a three-bed shelter with 24-hour care. The youth's needs were so high the facility couldn't fill the other two beds.

"It's very expensive to care for those kids. It's hard to place them in foster care. So that means they're often in situations where they're staffed around the clock," Howard said. She said it will be a priority of her department in the coming year to find new ways of serving such troubled youths more effectively and efficiently.

Alana Brownlee, chief executive officer of Winnipeg Child and Family Services, said kids are coming into care with increasingly complex needs at a younger age. "Some behaviours and issues that you used to see maybe in 14- and 15-year-olds you're now seeing in 10- and 11-year-olds," she said.

Many have mental-health issues or what the mental-health system terms 'trauma-based' issues," Brownlee said. "They may not fit an actual mental-health diagnosis but they're exhibiting a lot of emotional and behavioural challenges that are related to the trauma that they've experienced in their lives."

Meanwhile, costs are also rising sharply to care for adults with intellectual and physical disabilities. The number in group homes have risen some 40 to 45 per cent over the past decade. And those increases are expected to continue as more aging parents are no longer able to look after their adult children with disabilities.

Howard said her department is exploring different models that may be more cost-effective and provide better care for these clients. "Maybe the group home isn't the only model; maybe there are other models," she said.

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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