How new supports for grandparents will save P.E.I. money on foster care

A new support program for grandparents raising their own grandchildren won't end up costing the P.E.I. government as much as originally announced, and could ultimately save government money by keeping 54 children out of the foster care system.

Green leader urges government to reinvest savings to expand program

The grandparent and care providers program was unveiled by government Nov. 10, and came into effect Dec. 1. (Shutterstock)

The P.E.I. government unveiled a new support program for grandparents raising their own grandchildren last month.

CBC News crunched the numbers, and found the program won't end up costing the provincial government as much as originally announced — in fact, it could ultimately save government money by keeping children out of the foster care system.

The program provides $700 per month per child in financial assistance. In addition, families where a grandparent or someone else close to the family, other than a parent, is the primary caregiver for children also get coverage for medication, children's dental and childcare coverage.

Government has pegged the annual cost of the program at $400,000.

However, the program is currently only being offered to families of 54 children in the province who are the subject of an open child protection case. Government says this is to ensure the safety of the children and prevent them from coming under government custody.

If they ended up in the custody of the province, those 54 children would end up in foster care or in a group home.

Foster parents on P.E.I. who are relatives of a foster child are paid between $961 and $1,380 per month per child, depending on the age of the child. (This is called a "kinship" foster home.)

Foster Parent Monthly Reimbursement Rates
0 to 5$961
6 to 10$1,081
11 to 14$1,259
15 to 17$1,380 

Foster Parent Monthly Level Fees (not including Kinship Foster Homes)
Base RateSecond Bed Fee (more than 1 child)
Level 1$600$100
Level 2$1,000$200
Level 3$1,400$300

Regular foster parents who aren't related to children in their care receive the same rate, plus an additional fee ranging between $600 and $1,400 per month per household.

Foster families also receive health and dental coverage.

Green leader questions motives

"Rather than this being an act of generosity by government, it's actually perhaps a cost-saving measure," Green Leader Peter Bevan-Baker concluded after being provided with the figures.

He said the new funding "falls far short of what it would cost government if those children were to end up in the foster program. So there's certainly an economic argument to be made that this program should be expanded."

Green Party Leader Peter Bevan-Baker says savings in costs under P.E.I.'s foster care program should be applied to expand a new support program for grandparents raising their grandchildren. (Province of P.E.I.)

In the legislature last week, Bevan-Baker criticized government for excluding most grandparent caregivers from the program — that is, any grandparent caring for a child who's not the subject of an open child protection case.

Bevan-Baker says there are many more grandparents providing care for a variety of reasons who aren't involved with child protection.

"Whether that's because [the parents are] working out west, maybe they have addiction issues, maybe they're incarcerated … The financial needs of those with active [protection] cases in front of them are no different, no larger or smaller than the other grandparents who are offering care to their grandchildren."

Not about cost savings, minister says

Family and Human Services Minister Tina Mundy, who's been advocating for grandparent caregivers since she was elected in 2015, disagrees.

"This wasn't about cost savings, this wasn't about dollars and cents for the province, this was about the best interests of the child," Mundy said.

"In every case, keeping the family together is in the best interests of the child."

P.E.I.'s Minister of Family and Human Services Tina Mundy says government restricted funding under a new grandparent support program to existing child protection cases because it would have taken longer to develop a broader program. (Alastair MacCormick/CBC News)

Mundy said under the new program, custody of the children in question remains with their caregivers, instead of reverting to the province as it would if the children went into foster care.

She said some of the grandparent caregivers receiving support weren't prepared to go through the training and certification required to become foster parents of their grandchildren.

Mundy added that because grandparents under the new program retain custody, they qualify to receive the Canada Child Tax Benefit from the federal government, which can bridge the financial difference between provincial rates paid to caregivers versus those paid to kinship foster parents.

As to why the program was restricted to only include children involved in child protection cases, Mundy said including more families would have taken too long.

"It would have taken much longer. And we had 54 children that could use the help now, so we said, 'Why should we wait until a program is fully developed? Why can't we help the 54 we know about now?'"

Government has announced a second phase of the program will begin April 1, 2018, although it's not clear whether or how the program will expand to support more grandparent caregivers.

Bevan-Baker says government should expand the program immediately, using the $400,000 budget for the original program which he feels will more than be made up for in savings in the foster care system.

 "The need out there is huge," he said.


Kerry Campbell

Provincial Affairs Reporter

Kerry Campbell is the provincial affairs reporter for CBC P.E.I., covering politics and the provincial legislature.