'Victim of its own success': Program that reduces kids in CFS care faces cuts

A program that has seen a huge reduction in removal of children from their homes has had its funding decreased and faces even more cuts. This comes despite a resolution by interim Liberal leader Judy Klassen getting support from all sides of the Legislature calling to expand the program.

Number kids in care in Nelson House drops by 46%; Liberals say program is model for other communities

NCN CEO Felix Walker says his staff are 'front line workers' that work with families to keep kids home. (NCN Family and Community Wellness Centre )

A program that has prompted a huge reduction in the number of children removed from their homes has had its funding decreased and faces even more cuts.

This comes despite a resolution Tuesday from interim Liberal leader Judy Klassen, calling on the government to expand the program. The resolution was supported by all sides of the Legislature .

The Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation (NCN) Family and Community Wellness Centre was built in 2000 and began exploring ways of cutting the number of apprehensions by Child and Family Service staff. The program began integrating services such as public health, child care and FASD prevention under one roof.

Manitoba has among the highest rates of children being taken from their families in the country.

Staff began focusing on removing parents from troubled homes on First Nations communities, instead of the children. Family members or emergency duty workers were put in place and the parents often voluntarily enrolled themselves in counselling.

NCN CEO Felix Walker says the program is the only one in the province that has seen apprehension numbers drop.

According to NCN's annual report, the number of children in care has decreased from 427 in 2013 to 274 in 2015.

It says in Nelson House there was 46 per cent reduction from 167 kids to 90 credited in part to the "removal of parent program."

"We made a determination that many families just need a little help, then we refer them to a program that finds that assistance. It's a more proactive approach," Walker said. "You have to have a number of programs and resources working together to assist families."

Walker says there are several benefits to the programs NCN is operating. One example is reductions in court appearances.

"We used to have an average of 36 cases a day in court. Now we are down to approximately six," Walker said.

But Walker describes the program as a "victim of its own success."

The program gets less funding as the number of children being apprehended decreases. Walker says NCN lost $564,000 in funding last year and was informed recently it would see a further $160,000 cut this year.

He describes staff that work removing children from homes when necessary as well as those who prevent apprehensions and deliver programs to families as "front-line workers."

Walker says a meeting with Families Minister Scott Fielding at the end of September was "great." But then the agency got a letter warning of the further cut.

He says just keeping existing funding levels may still have an impact.

"We did ask the previous government to freeze our funding levels for the next three years and see where we end up. If we continue doing our job I think those numbers will continue to go down," Walker said.

Fielding, through his staff, responded to an inquiry from CBC News about support for the NCN program.

"We have a shared responsibility to ensure our most vulnerable children in Manitoba are protected and cared for. I had a great meeting with Felix Walker in Nelson House last month. We have seen that high fidelity wraparound and customary care modelling are having a positive impact on the child welfare system.

"Manitoba's new government is currently exploring all options, including the approach used in Nelson House, in order to improve outcomes and reduce the number of kids in care," the statement said. 

Klassen's resolution in the house Tuesday received enthusiastic verbal support from both government and opposition members. It urges the government to spread the model developed at NCN to other agencies. It goes to a recorded vote this Thursday.

"The spin-offs are great. It has drastically reduced addictions. It has drastically reduced justice, in regards to kids entering into that system, because there are family supports, so they build upon the family," Klassen said.

Klassen is calling on the government to come up with a different funding formula so innovative approaches such as that taken by NCN can continue and be expanded.