Child Welfare Looking like a Black Hole

Article excerpt

At the time child welfare workers were all but ignoring Phoenix Sinclair and her family's descent into dangerous chaos, Manitoba was spending $140 million on child protection. In 2000, according to testimony at the inquiry looking into her death, child welfare workers carried 25 to 35 cases each.

Today, we are told that caseloads remain as high, but workload -- the amount of attention the cases require due to their complexity -- has become more severe.

The drugs, violence, gangs and addictions have all become bigger problems in Winnipeg's central and North End neighbourhoods and workers are hard-pressed to keep up.

The troubles go some way, perhaps, to explain the dramatic rise in the number of kids in care. In 2004, there were 5,782 children in care, apprehended by the system.

Today, that number is closer to 9,800. Those numbers don't include the many more children receiving services from CFS.

Not a lot of progress has been made toward keeping families together.

Today, Manitoba's child-protection budget is $403 million, some 350 per cent higher than in 2000.

This inquiry will see child welfare in Manitoba, repeatedly found wanting, weak and ineffective in so many aspects, get another injection of cash.

Is child welfare the new health care, the insatiable black hole of the provincial budget?

Health care eats more than 40 per cent of provincial revenues. But, its budget between 2000 and 2012 ($2.1 billion to $5 billion) rose at a slower rate than child welfare spending.

Injecting cash is how governments respond to crises.

Indeed, after inquiry commissioner Ted Hughes released his report on a similar review he conducted in British Columbia in 2005, the government there spent $50 million just to respond to his recommendations. Social workers were hired, and an office similar to our Children's Advocate was opened to oversee the CFS system and investigate child deaths.

Hughes blamed upheaval and budget cuts in B.C. for the crippled system that placed kids at risk, resulting in repeated deaths.

The central theme of Manitoba's child welfare system has been upheaval. …