Child welfare officials in Manitoba are warning that they may have to cut support for families because the provincial government has cut their funding.
The province says it's scaling back four per cent of the Child and Family Services annual budget, in an effort to get departments to better manage their books.
Billie Schibler, chief executive officer of the Métis Child and Family Services Authority, says she learned about the funding reduction just days after the province received a final report from the Phoenix Sinclair inquiry.
The cut will translate into about $500,000 less for her agency in its fourth quarter, at the end of the fiscal year, Schibler said, adding that it will jeopardize programs that keep children out of the foster care system.
"Frankly, I find that offensive because it almost implies that we, as a child welfare system, are not conducting [ourselves] with fiscal responsibility," she said Thursday.
Five-year-old Phoenix was killed in 2005 by her mother and her mother's boyfriend, who are both serving life sentences for first-degree murder.
For almost two years, the public inquiry examined the life of the little girl, who had bounced in and out of foster care.
Opposition politicians like Progressive Conservative MLA Ian Wishart says the timing of the funding cut is suspect.
"Is this money that they're going to announce a different purpose for tomorrow? We really don't know that as yet. We'll certainly know more after the Phoenix Sinclair report comes out," he said Thursday.
Services won't be affected, says minister
Child and Family Services agencies receive $420,000 in provincial funding annually to look after the almost 10,000 Manitoba children in care.
Finance Minister Jennifer Howard says the latest reduction should affect salaries and benefits, not services. Savings can be found in current unfilled job positions, she added.
"I think it's reasonable to expect from the government that when money is provided for staffing, that if that money isn't being used for staffing, then that money comes back and is used for other front-line services," she said.
The minister added that funding for CFS has doubled since 2006.
"At some point, more money isn't the answer. At some point, better management also has to be part of the answer," she said.
Front-line workers concerned: union
Schibler said her agency is already stretching and shifting its dollars and she fears services, not staff, may have to be cut.
The Métis Child and Family Services Authority's 80 social workers deal with about 2,000 children.
Janet Kehler, a staff representative with the Manitoba General and Government Employees' Union, says front-line workers are already worried about the funding reduction.
"They feel already that they're taxed in terms of the work that they're able to manage, and a further four per cent reduction is going to create further strain on the system," she said.
Howard said people shouldn't be worried, as the four per cent it takes back will be re-assigned to other front-line service needs.