Manitoba

Number of CFS kids staying in Manitoba hotels rises yet again

The number of children in the care of Child and Family Services placed temporarily in hotels has spiked again.

23 kids currently under CFS care in hotels, Manitoba government says

The number of children in the care of Child and Family Services (CFS) placed temporarily in hotels has spiked again. 1:56

The number of children in the care of Child and Family Services (CFS) placed temporarily in hotels has spiked again.

As of last Friday, there were 20 kids staying in Manitoba hotels. That's up from 14 on Monday, March 2.

And as of Tuesday, the province said there are now 23 kids under their care temporarily living in hotels – a number that has almost quadrupled since January.

The Manitoba government said as of Wednesday, 23 kids under CFS care were being sheltered in hotels. (Manitoba Government)

The province said those kids currently living in hotels included four different groups of siblings.

“We always strive to keep sibling groups together, not split them up into different foster homes,” a spokesperson with the province said. “Sometimes it’s a challenge to find a foster home when the sibling group is large.”

That's a far cry from the sweeping changes the government promised last year.

In the fall, Kerri Irvin-Ross, the minister responsible for CFS, called for a review of the system after a CBC News investigation revealed as many as 85 children a day were being housed in hotels. Some had spent more than seven months in what was supposed to be a temporary shelter and had been exposed to drugs and prostitution during their stay. 

The province said it would overhaul its emergency placement program to try and ensure children in care didn't wind up in hotels.  A practice that has been in used in Manitoba since the 1990's but was intended as a last resort placement.

CFS checked Tina Fontaine, 15, into a room at the Best Western Charterhouse hotel but a short time later she was reported missing again. Shortly after that, her body was found in the Red River. (CBC)
In December, Irvin-Ross said a report on the use of hotels validated concerns about the quality of care and supervision being provided.  It found there was confusion as to who should supervise workers watching over the kids in hotels. And called the "lack of clarity" concerning because it could "contribute to unwanted situations and unfortunate outcomes".

At the time Irvin-Ross told reporters "we are constantly working to bring those numbers down. we know that the best place for a child is in a family unit and if not their family unit, foster family is the next option".  

The province promised to create 71 emergency foster home spaces to be used instead of hotels.  It also planned to hire 210 permanent child care workers over the next two years, so as not to rely so heavily on contract service providers at companies like Complete Care.

'Never good' when kids are in hotels

On Tuesday, Progressive Conservative Child and Family Services Critic Ian Wishart said he was disappointed to see the numbers were back up.

"It's never good when there's kids in hotels we all agree on that, but a lot of promises were made last fall after some incidents that led to some unfortunate outcomes. Tina Fontaine being one of them," Wishart said.

Kerri Irvin-Ross, the minister responsible for CFS, called for a review of the system last fall after a CBC News investigation revealed as many as 85 children a day were being housed in hotels. Currently, 20 children are being housed in Manitoba hotels, up from 14 on Monday, March 2. (CBC)
Tina Fontaine spent five weeks in foster care before she was killed. A CBC News investigation revealed the 15 year old had been placed at the Best Western Charterhouse Hotel in downtown Winnipeg the evening of August 8th, 2014. She was reported missing the next morning. Nine days later her body was pulled from the Red River.

"Promises were made that this would be remedied. Special arrangements were made. Commitments were made on funding and people. It would appear very little of that is in place yet if it's ever going to be." said Wishart.

​Wishart recalled same thing happened in 2008. He said, like now, the government had promised to reduce it's reliance on hotels but within a few months CFS kids were being placed in them at an even higher rate.

According to Wishart. an unnamed source working at a CFS agency providing care for at risk youth, told him there are shelter beds available within the system the government has not been utilizing.  

"I think frankly the minister has a bit of a problem with all of her agencies that she's responsible for, in communications." said Wishart.  "They don't know what each other are doing and therefore they're not making the best use of resources inside the department." Wishart said, adding, "the easy solution is to put kids in hotels and try and sort it out later. That is not a good way to do things".

Winnipeg foster mom Tammy Aime agrees with Wishart. She said there are too many CFS agencies and they don't do well communicating who has open beds.

"This is my biggest frustration. I strongly believe as far as foster care is concerned there should be one agency mandating and licensing all of the foster care beds in the province. When that is done not only will we have standardized care across all of our foster homes and standardized training for all of our foster homes we'll also be able to easily access what beds are open," Aime said.

Province responds to spike in numbers

CFS acknowledged Tuesday in a statement to CBC News that it doesn’t want to shelter kids in hotels, but it also noted that the average number of youth under its care in hotels has been declining on the whole in recent years.
Ian Wishart, Progressive Conservative CFS critic, said he was disappointed to see the numbers of children in care in hotels were back up. (CBC)

Since early last summer, the average amount of youth in hotels had gone from 56 to six this past January, the province said, adding that its hotel reduction strategy has been working.

The province said that spike is keeping with usual trends for this time of year.

“In February, we saw an increase, but we expect it to decrease again,” a spokesperson with the province said.

“In past years, the numbers of children placed in hotels also climbed in February and declined by summer. In February 2014 there were 41 children in hotels and in March 2014 it was 65. We expect the number to drop again.”

A spokesperson for CFS said the province has been working on a strategy to reduce the use of hotels when there is an emergency. To date the government has added 57 of the 71 new emergency foster homes spaces and expects the majority of the recommendations will be fully implemented by this summer.

All high-risk youth under CFS care are living in emergency shelters and not in hotels, the province said.

The government said it has shifted its focus and funnels more resources toward prevention efforts that it hopes will eliminate the the need to shelter kids in hotels in emergency situations. 

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