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This article was published 11/2/2019 (275 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The provincial government announced plans for a major overhaul of the way it funds Child and Family Services authorities Monday, but community leaders say it conducted little consultation with the affected groups beforehand.
Starting April 1, the province will implement a block funding model where its four child-welfare authorities — First Nations of Northern Manitoba CFS Authority, the General Authority, Metis CFS Authority, and Southern First Nations Network of Care — will receive funding in pre-allotted portions, rather than on a per-child basis.
The four authorities will then disseminate funding to the 24 child-welfare agencies in Manitoba, based on three-year agreements.
Families Minister Heather Stefanson said the new model should improve financial predictability and autonomy for agencies.
"It is difficult for child-welfare agencies to invest in front-end, preventative and reunification services when the funding to support children is based on children being in care," Stefanson said.
"This makes it hard to access funding to support the unique needs of children and preserve families. This needs to change."
The province will also adjust how the federal Children's Special Allowance is distributed, giving that money directly to child-welfare agencies, rather than keeping it within the CFS department.
A spokesperson for the families department couldn’t comment on whether the new policy move will affect a lawsuit regarding the same subject, which is currently before the courts.
Last April, six agencies, including Sandy Bay CFS and the Manitoba Metis Federation, filed a $266-million application seeking to remove the clawback of federal funds for children under the province’s care, often dubbed the "baby bonus."
It amounted to $39 million of the $523 million allocated for CFS in last year’s budget.
Richard De La Ronde, executive director of Sandy Bay CFS, said he wasn’t sure what would come of the lawsuit now, having just heard of the province’s policy shift Monday.
MMF president David Chartrand said he only heard of the move to province-wide block funding Monday. He said Stefanson held an informal conference call with First Nations leaders, minutes before the public announcement.
"She used the phrase, ‘It’s a dialogue we’re having here,' and there was no dialogue. She actually read a prepared text speech and they cut off any discussion," Chartrand said. "So I jumped in right away and said, 'This is absolutely wrong. This is disrespectful.'"
Chartrand said he sees benefits to block funding, but still has many outstanding questions, including whether individual CFS authorities will receive more money than in years past. He noted the Metis CFS Authority has been chronically underfunded.
In 2017, the province conducted a block funding pilot project with eight CFS agencies, which showed "positive" preliminary results, Stefanson said.
Sandy Bay was one of the eight agencies, and the funding shake-up spurred financial headaches, De La Ronde said.
He said the province started Sandy Bay off with $200,000 less funding than it had the previous fiscal year, which naturally led to "a huge deficit."
"It’s not that costs went up, it’s just that they started us short. So agencies have got to be very leery and keep an eye on what that block figure, how it’s going to be calculated. That’s very, very important," De La Ronde said.
Though Stefanson couldn’t say Monday how much block funding each authority would get, she noted the authorities will get at least $435 million combined for the 2019-20 fiscal year.
She expected the block funding model "should result in more funds being available for authorities within the CFS system."
More exact numbers will materialize in the next provincial budget, to be released March 7.
Updated on Monday, February 11, 2019 at 1:39 PM CST: minor edits