The number of children who have been apprehended by Manitoba Child and Family Services agencies continues to soar and now exceeds 10,000 for the first time.

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The number of children who have been apprehended by Manitoba Child and Family Services agencies continues to soar and now exceeds 10,000 for the first time.

The Family Services Department said in its annual report Thursday there were 10,293 kids in foster homes, group homes and emergency shelters as of March 31.

And, according to information obtained by the provincial Tories, the number has soared since then. As of Aug. 31, there were 10,647 kids in care, the Conservatives have learned through a freedom-of-information request.

"This is a terrible number, absolutely terrible," said Cathy Rocke, a former child protection worker and now an assistant professor with the University of Manitoba faculty of social work.

Rocke said the province needs to improve supports for troubled families to prevent the state from having to apprehend so many kids.

She said the Phoenix Sinclair tragedy and its fallout are likely partly behind the high apprehension rates. Phoenix bounced in and out of foster care, suffering horrific abuse at the hands of her mother and stepdad before dying of her injuries in 2005. Her death was not discovered until the following year.

In 2001, 1.9 per cent of Manitoba children were in care of CFS agencies. That figure now stands at 3.6 per cent. The numbers of kids in care took a sharp increase immediately after Phoenix's tragedy came to light.

Tragedies such as this tend to make child-welfare staff fearful, Rocke said. "We don't want another Phoenix Sinclair... " she said.

Instead of increasing apprehensions, the province needs to intervene sooner and more effectively with troubled families, she said. "We need to be able to respond quicker with some very intensive sorts of support to try to keep kids in their families. I'm not sure that the system has been able to do that because they're quite overwhelmed. We need to come up with really innovative ways to be able to help families stay together."

At a news conference on Wednesday, Family Services Minister Kerri Irvin-Ross announced the province would be expanding supports for vulnerable families and would provide these services as early as possible. She revealed few details of how this would be done.

Progressive Conservative family services critic Ian Wishart said other provinces have been able to provide the necessary family supports to keep apprehension rates down.

"We don't seem to be moving in that direction," he said. "We need a plan. We don't have a plan."

Manitoba has one of the highest -- if not the highest -- child-apprehension rates in the country.

The departmental report said the number of children in care is driven by many factors, including the composition and growth rate of the Manitoba population, economic conditions, employment rates, family supports and "societal changes."

While the numbers of kids in CFS care continued to rise, the number of departmental staff fell slightly. The report lists 2,088 full-time equivalent positions, compared with 2,116 the last year and 2,113 in 2010.

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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