Family Services Minister Kerri Irvin-Ross unveiled what seems like a reasonable strategy for responding to families in crisis and eliminating the practice of using downtown hotels in Winnipeg as temporary holding facilities.

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This article was published 29/5/2015 (2334 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Editorial

Family Services Minister Kerri Irvin-Ross unveiled what seems like a reasonable strategy for responding to families in crisis and eliminating the practice of using downtown hotels in Winnipeg as temporary holding facilities.

Among other things, it makes prevention or keeping kids out of care a priority, which was long overdue. Rural and northern Manitoba, with their wide spaces and sparse populations, will have to wait until Dec. 1 for the same programs the city is receiving, including a ban on hotel use.

Family Services Minister Kerri Irvin-Ross announced that the province is on track to end the use of hotels as emergency placements for children in the care of CFS by June 1, during a media call at the Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre Thursday.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Family Services Minister Kerri Irvin-Ross announced that the province is on track to end the use of hotels as emergency placements for children in the care of CFS by June 1, during a media call at the Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre Thursday.

The minister may have gone too far in saying hotel rooms will absolutely never be used again — really, wouldn’t it make sense for a few hours in special circumstances at 3 in the morning? — but the government obviously felt it was politically necessary.

Will any of it make a difference in reducing the high number of kids in care in Manitoba, which leads the nation on this gloomy statistic? It’s probably not enough — there’s never enough for entrenched social problems — but doing nothing was not an option.

The current situation is not only a black mark on the province, it’s an obstacle to social harmony and an open road to crime and a myriad of other problems. It’s also, arguably, a human-rights issue, since nearly 90 per cent of the roughly 10,000 children in care in this province are indigenous.

To reverse the trend, the minister said millions of new dollars will be spent on a range of programs to increase support for families, including boosting existing programs designed to help children with complex needs. To keep kids out of hotel rooms, more foster parents and shelter beds will be added, more child-protection workers hired and a centralized foster-bed registry established.

And there’s more. A new program based on the Families First model, which provides a variety of supports for young families, will be tested in Point Douglas to reach out to families in crisis. Yet another pilot project will provide mediation for child-protection cases that are heading to a courtroom because the parents can’t resolve their differences.

The minister’s promises and announcements Thursday were, mercifully, more than the usual spin about working harder and smarter, redeploying existing assets and holding agencies accountable.

The minister said the government is expanding the system with robust new supports, personnel and infrastructure, but she didn’t have much to say when asked why it had taken so long when the crisis was apparent for so long.

All Ms. Irvin-Ross could say is her government is tripling its spending on the challenge, which has dogged every government since children’s aid societies were established in the 19th century.

The minister said almost nothing about the elephants in the room — poverty, discrimination and the miserly support for aboriginal people moving into urban communities.

The government has improved rental assistance, but only after the Progressive Conservatives promised to improve conditions for low-income families if they are elected in the next election.

But is it realistic to expect Child and Family Services and its sub-agencies to manage thousands of families in severe stress every day?

It really requires a whole-of-government response, involving departments of health, education, justice, corrections, finance, industry and jobs and whatever else is out there.

These departments, to be sure, are involved with troubled families and youth to varying degrees. The trend in Manitoba child welfare shows that such efforts need to be redoubled.

The goal here, after all, is a better society for all of us. That won’t happen when thousands of families, many of them from disadvantaged communities, are struggling for crumbs.