Hundreds of children in the care of Manitoba Child and Family Services agencies are moved more than a half dozen times a year. Some are moved dozens of times. And, in 2014, two children were transferred an astounding 105 times.

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Hundreds of children in the care of Manitoba Child and Family Services agencies are moved more than a half dozen times a year. Some are moved dozens of times. And, in 2014, two children were transferred an astounding 105 times.

The information, obtained from the Family Services Department, is contained in a new report by the Manitoba Children’s Advocate.

Children's Advocate Darlene MacDonald</p>

Children's Advocate Darlene MacDonald

The report, called Don’t call me resilient: What loss and grief look like for children and youth in care, says frequent moves can have a profound impact on children who are already traumatized.

Using government-supplied figures, the advocate office found that 296 children experienced seven or more moves in a single year. Of that total, more than 100 experienced a dozen or more placements in a 12-month span. 

While some of these moves may have been planned to give respite to caregivers, they would still have an impact on the children because they are so often on the move, living out of a backpack, the advocate’s office said.

The 22-page report says children are often moved with so little notice that their belongings are tossed into garbage bags by social workers. "It is understandable that youth feel disrespected by this ongoing practice and continue to tell us that it makes them feel ‘like garbage,’" the report says.

Feelings of loss and grief by children and families when kids are apprehended are "largely unaddressed" by the child welfare system, the document says.

"A child who appears depressed, delinquent, oppositional, or ill, in truth, may be expressing deep sorrow," the report says. If this loss and grief is not acknowledged or identified, its impact is intensified, it says. Grief is also made more difficult with multiple placement changes, it adds.

"While the assumption may be that children are inherently resilient and can adapt to new surroundings and new placements with relative ease, research does not support this view, especially for children and youth involved with the child welfare system," the report says.

Children’s Advocate Darlene MacDonald said in preparing the report, her office spoke with a dozen youths age 14 and older who are currently or were formerly in care of family services agencies. The youths spoke openly about their experiences of loss and grief and what they feel they lost when they came into care.

"These kids were saying, ‘We need help in dealing with grief and loss and the system needs to be able to help us with that,’" MacDonald said.

She has recommended senior child welfare officials hear from affected youth directly. Her office also recommends issues of loss and grief be part of the mandatory training for child welfare workers.

Cora Morgan, First Nations family advocate for the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, said it’s common for young people who have "aged out" of the child welfare system to shut out huge chunks of their childhood because of the trauma they’ve experienced. Some who appear before the courts, she said, can’t even remember where they have lived.

Frequent moves while in the child welfare system are a problem, Morgan said.

"There’s a lot of issues with attachment in those types of cases. At some point, why would you even want to attach to anyone if you don’t feel like there is any permanency in your life?"

She said the province’s funding model for child welfare is broken, and she hopes the new Progressive Conservative government will fix it.

Morgan said the Family Services Department (now called the Department of Families) spends $451 million a year on child apprehension and only $21 million on prevention. "It’s reactive. There’s only funding attached to the apprehension of children."

A spokeswoman for Families Minister Scott Fielding said he is currently reviewing the report, and it "would be premature at this time to make any further comments."

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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