REGINA – It was revealed Friday that the province’s Child and Family Services department has been using hotels to house children in its care – as many as 13 at a time at one point.
The explanation from officials is they have simply run out of options – foster homes are full, as are the 40 emergency spaces provided by non-profit agencies.
“It’s always a concern when we’re having to place children in arrangements that are not typical for us,” said Natalie Huber, Executive Director of Child and Family Programs. “Right now we don’t have very many foster family options or spaces available to us.”
A spike in the number of children taken into the system last month has pushed the system beyond capacity. 55 children were apprehended in May – more than double the number apprehended in May of 2014.
Bob Pringle, Saskatchewan’s Advocate for Children and Youth, was “taken aback” by the news, saying he was unaware of the issue even as he was crafting his recently-released annual report.
“When I released this report two weeks ago, I did not know that children were being taken to hotel rooms, and I’m very concerned about that,” Pringle said.
“We’ve had assurances along the way that things are getting better, but it doesn’t seem that way,” Pringle said.
Though not a regular practice, children in the province’s care have been housed in hotels on six occasions since April 2014. The children have represented a wide range of ages – from babies and toddlers to 10- and 11-year-olds.
“It’s always a bit more of a concern for us too just in terms of staffing and making sure we have the right staff in place,” Huber said. Typically two or three staff are assigned to children being housed in non-traditional environments.
The Opposition NDP renewed its call for the province to expand its child welfare capacity – including more recruiting of foster families, hiring more front-line workers and expanding support programming.
“There has been a decade of record prosperity in Saskatchewan, but our foster system is a mess,” NDP critic for Social Services David Forbes said in a news release. “The Sask Party keeps making excuses for the state of the child protection system. Enough is enough. The overhaul needs to start now.”
“We’re working very closely with the foster family association to recruit, and to ensure we’re retaining the foster homes that we have,” Huber said. “Foster care recruitment is a challenge across all the provinces and territories and even into the United States as well.”
Manitoba’s Family Services Ministry recently promised to stop using hotel rooms to house children in their care after Tina Fontaine, 15, ran away from a downtown hotel where she was housed and ended up being murdered and dumped in the Red River.