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This article was published 12/10/2017 (1440 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Fewer children will be taken into care, and many more who are apprehended will be reunited with their families as quickly as possible under a Manitoba government overhaul of child-welfare legislation.
If it's not "safe and appropriate" to return children in care to their families, there will be legislation and subsidies to promote permanent legal guardianship or adoption, Families Minister Scott Fielding promised on Thursday morning.
"We want to provide lifelong connections," Fielding told a news conference. "For sure, there's too many children in care. There's too much money being spent on intervention.
"We really think there needs to be a transformation in the child-welfare system," he said. "There's a lot of reports out there — now we need to action this. We really need to reunite children with their parents, when it's appropriate and safe to do so."
The minister's supporting documents cited a plan to give children "forever families."
Fielding said the province will emphasize "customary care," a system in which Indigenous communities play a significant role in deciding how to deal with children and families in their own community.
The province will switch from paying agencies per child and per day each child is in care, to a system of block funding in which agencies and communities can focus on intervention and prevention rather than apprehension.
There will soon be a legislative review to look at all elements of child-welfare legislation, including writing new legislation which will clarify how social workers take children into care, Fielding said.
Currently, "the outcomes are horrible," he said.
The process the Progressive Conservatives inherited when they came to power in 2016 is ineffective, taking up to 130 days to work out an emergency care plan for a child, Fielding said. The new system will emphasize doing so quickly, he said.
In what may be a first since the government led by Premier Brian Pallister took office, NDP families critic Nahanni Fontaine told reporters she's cautiously optimistic the New Democrats can work with the Tories to improve the system.
"We can all agree that child welfare in Manitoba is in a state of crisis," Fontaine said. "Predominantly, Indigenous children make up children in care."
Fontaine said it's always a good thing if children can be kept in their own communities. She emphasized poverty must not continue to be a condition under which children can be apprehended: "We have to move beyond that."
Block funding must be flexible, she said, and the money must meet the needs. While Fontaine could not rule out cost-cutting being part of the government's plan, "I would hope not... Manitoba children are relying on us to be cautiously optimistic."
University of Manitoba social work Prof. Sid Frankel agreed reducing poverty and providing adequate block funding are keys to reducing the number of Manitoba children in care. Research shows children living in poverty are four times more likely to be maltreated, Frankel said.
"What is included is great, but will not be effective in the absence of two additional elements," he said. "Poverty is a main driver of child maltreatment. Prevention will be of limited effectiveness without (effective poverty reduction).
"A block grant to agencies is fine, but it must be adequate, or government is simply downloading the responsibility to leave needs unmet."
Fielding told the news conference the costs of the child-welfare system are increasing by $20 million per year. He avoided questions about whether there will be any reduction in the number of public-sector employees, and insisted, "This is not about cost savings."
However, Pallister immediately jumped into the conversation. "Of course there'll be cost savings," but they won't be seen immediately, he said.
There will be "better kids, better opportunities," with children growing up in families rather than a series of foster homes, getting an education and becoming productive adults rather than ending up in jail or prison, the premier said. "We need to be more effective at getting outcomes."
Grand Chief Jerry Daniels of the Southern Chiefs' Organization welcomed the news: "For me, it's getting those children back home and getting them back with their families."
Meanwhile, Richard De La Ronde, executive director of Sandy Bay Child and Family Services (CFS), said his First Nation has been chosen as one of the four pilot projects to test the government's plans over the next 18 months.
Sandy Bay has already reduced the number of children in care by half over the past two years, but it's had to quietly work around the rules now in place, he said.
"We've had to do things quietly, we've had to bend the rules to work with families... Those days are over," De La Ronde said with a smile. "We're bound by standards, and this new legislation is unbinding us. Does that kid really need to be in care?"
De La Ronde cited a case in which the CFS rules required a baby be apprehended, because the child's single mother was living in an apartment that was stiflingly hot in the summer heat.
"I said, 'Why not buy her an air conditioner at Walmart for $89?'" said De La Ronde, who didn't hesitate when told funding rules prevented such a solution.