The Manitoba government is looking to reduce the number of children in care and the length of time they spend in care in the province.
It starts with an overhaul of the current system including a change to its funding model, a focus on community-based prevention and eventually a full review of the Child and Family Services Act.
There are currently close to 11,000 children in care in Manitoba and 60 per cent of these kids are permanent wards of the province.
“The numbers have been going in the wrong direction for a long time,” Premier Brian Pallister said. “We want to change the direction. Changing that direction is key. So next year, if we have fewer kids in care and there are better outcomes then we’ll be somewhat happy.”
The province wants to see fewer children in care spending fewer days in care.
The child welfare budget for 2016-17 was $514 million — an increase of $20 million in the last four years.
Families Minister Scott Fielding said part of the current problem is it’s taking far too long and there’s too much red tape when it comes to creating a care plan for kids.
After a child is apprehended they are placed in an emergency care shelter. Fielding said many are staying in these high cost shelters for upwards of 130 days.
“It’s taking up to 130 days before any meaningful care plan happens,” he said. “We need to change that. We need to get a plan off the bat. We think we can do that within days.”
Fielding said the former NDP government created this shelter system which can cost more than $640 a day per child.
“We think our plan will be able to allocate more existing dollars for early intervention and prevention,” Families Minister Scott Fielding said. “Our reform plan will allow flexibility and accountability for agencies to deliver care to the care givers and spend the money in a more effective way.”
Fielding said the government is overhauling the system to include faster assessments, customary care and expanded permanent guardian subsidies.
One big change is moving towards a block funding model which is currently being tested in two different areas as a pilot project.
Richard De La Ronde, executive director of Sandy Bay Child and Family Services, said his agency has used its block funding for the customary care model, which has helped them reduce the number of kids in care by 50 per cent over the past two years — from more than 600 to around 300.
In the model, Sandy Bay CFS consults with the community about what to do with children who might be in unsafe living conditions. In one case he said the solution was as simple as spending less than $100 to buy an air conditioning unit for a mother. The community handled it quietly, saving the child from entering care for what they deemed to be a fixable situation.
“This block funding gives us flexibility,” he said. “Let me do things with the money that I have currently that you never allowed me to do before.”
However, under the current legislation that wouldn’t be allowed.
“Workers wanted to apprehend that baby because it was hot in her apartment,” De La Ronde said. “Historically we would say okay we have to bring that child into care and then help that family. Sandy Bay would just buy that air conditioner and bend the rules.”
But now it won’t have to.
The pilot project started in Sandy Bay in July and has already expanded to Nelson House. Two other agencies will sign on in November and another 14 will be switched over next year.