THE Pallister government is projecting another drop in the amount it will spend on foster care and child protection.
It plans to reduce the cost to below $500 million for the first time in four years.
The 2021-22 budget, which was tabled Wednesday, pegged the combined spending for child protection and block funding to CFS agencies at $497 million. That’s one per cent lower than the previous fiscal year, and well below the $519 million spent two years ago.
The government chalks up the savings to efficiencies, specifically related to the emergency placement resources unit, which used to put apprehended children into hotel rooms and shelters.
Manitoba has followed the national trend of funding agencies by using metrics other than the number of kids in care, which required agencies to take kids out of family homes to access adequate funding.
The government says it wants funding available for preventative, culturally appropriate programming, though advocates have questioned whether there will be enough services.
Officials also say the province’s decision to end its contract with B & L Resources, a private foster-care firm that faced sexual abuse allegations, also saved money in Wednesday’s budget.
Meanwhile, internal reports on child and family services, which were obtained by the Free Press, show the official number of Manitoba children in care has gradually dropped.
In an Oct. 30, 2020, report obtained through freedom-of-information laws, the province reported 8,526 active CFS files. That’s a 4.46 per cent drop from a year earlier, including a 13 per cent drop in cases of children who were deemed to be at risk.
The number doesn’t include children who aged out of care but still received supports because of the pandemic.
The PC government has faced criticism over how it counts the number of children in care. In 2017, it stopped counting children who live with a designated guardian or family member, even though they are legal wards of CFS.
That meant a four to eight per cent reduction in the reported number compared with statistics provided by CFS agencies.
The province argues it is saving costs and creating better outcomes for children, but opposition parties and Indigenous groups say the reforms serve to delay children from entering foster care and make them harder to track.
The Social Planning Council of Winnipeg said the limited data about child welfare makes it difficult to tell how the budget will live up to the government’s goal of preventing kids from ending up in foster care.
"We know there is a direct line from CFS into the justice system, into homelessness and poverty," said executive director Kate Kehler.
"What we need to hear is the actual, systemic change that is going to happen."