80% of missing persons in Manitoba are CFS kids, police say

Manitoba's family services minister says she's concerned that four out of five missing persons reports that Winnipeg police receive involve kids in government care.

Police get an average of 550 missing persons reports a month; 71% are girls

A report going to the police board says Winnipeg police get an average of 550 missing persons reports a month. Just over 80 per cent are about kids in government care and 71 per cent are girls. (CBC)

Police in Winnipeg say four out of five missing persons reports they receive every month involve kids in the care of Manitoba Child and Family Services.

A report prepared for the city's police board says officers deal with an average of about 550 missing persons reports a month. Of those, 83 per cent involve kids in government care and 71 per cent are female.

Another police report prepared for the same board meeting shows the top 19 addresses associated with missing persons reports are Child and Family Services facilities.

"The vast majority of missing persons reported are short-term chronic runaways," the report says. "Most are vulnerable indigenous youth who are in the care of Child and Family Services."

The police figures also show that "habitual/chronic" missing persons accounted for almost 70 per cent of all 709 missing persons reported between April and June and that 22 people accounted for 20 per cent of the reports during those three months.

Winnipeg police are refusing to comment on the numbers until they are formally presented to the city Friday.

Federal government statistics show Manitoba had the highest number of missing persons reports involving children and youth per capita in Canada last year. There were just over 6,400 missing persons reports involving young people — nearly twice that of Saskatchewan and Alberta.

One of them was 15-year-old Tina Fontaine, who ran away from a hotel where she was in the care of Child and Family Services. Her body was found wrapped in a bag in the Red River.

Manitoba has been grappling with its troubled child-welfare system for years. The province has over 10,000 kids in care and the vast majority of them are aboriginal. The province recently came under fire from Manitoba's First Nations children's advocate for seizing an average of one newborn a day.

Family Services Minister Kerri Irvin-Ross said the high number of missing persons reports from government facilities says more about the complex needs of the children in care than it does about the care they receive.

Sometimes a handful of "frequent flyers" can make up a large percentage of missing persons reports, she said.

"I guess because I'm a parent and also I'm a social worker, I understand in some ways what the families and what the young people are going through," she said. "I have that expectation with everyone that works within this field that we don't give up on the families. We don't give up on the children and the youth we are working with."

But Irvin-Ross said the numbers are a worry, especially in light of ongoing concerns around the number of missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada.

"Am I concerned about those numbers? Yes, I am, and everybody within child welfare is too," she said in an interview Tuesday. "We need to develop relationships with these young people so if they're in crisis, they have someone to talk to. They don't have to run away."

Irvin-Ross said the province has very strict standards that mean young people who want to leave can't be physically restrained.

"Only individuals that are able to do that are frontline staff within StreetReach with the supervision of police," she said.

Critics say high numbers should be wake-up call

Ian Wishart, critic for the Opposition Conservatives, said a shortage of foster placements has led the province to house children in hotels for years, making it easy for them to "walk in one door and out another."

Kids, especially girls, are running away because they aren't being properly supported, he said.

"Those are often ones that are at risk of being sexually exploited. We simply cannot allow that to continue to happen as easily. We become a feeding ground for sexual predators."

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with files from CBC