Saskatchewan

13 foster kids housed in Regina hotel sign of 'looming crisis:' Advocate

Saskatchewan's Ministry of Social Services has been placing children apprehended from their families in Regina hotel rooms because it has run out of other options.

Social services blames spike in the number of child apprehensions

Children's advocate Bob Pringle says he's "not happy" to learn that the Ministry of Social Services is housing more than a dozen children in a Regina hotel. (Trevor Bothorel/CBC)

Saskatchewan's Ministry of Social Services has been placing children apprehended from their families in Regina hotel rooms because it has run out of other options. 

Last night, 13 children stayed at a downtown hotel. 

"It's just we've have such an increase over a very short period of time in the number of children coming into care," said Natalie Huber, executive director of service delivery with the ministry. 

In May the ministry apprehended 55 children; far more than the 21 children it took into care during the same month last year. 

There are no foster homes able to take in more children. And the ministry said the 40 emergency spaces it has at three Regina-based organizations are also full. 

Since May 23 the ministry has been placing some children, including babies, in hotels.

The ministry said this is unusual. It says it has relied on hotels just a handful of times in the past year. 

"We're ensuring that the children's basic needs are being met as well as any special needs they may have," Huber said. "We are there 24 hours a day. No child is left unattended." 

Saskatchewan children's advocate, Bob Pringle, said, "We're not happy about this."

Over the past year, Pringle has issued three separate reports highlighting the deaths of children in foster care in Saskatchewan. He said this news is causing him great concern.

"It also speaks to the fact that there's a looming crisis,"  Pringle said. "You can't find a family to place children in?"

Pringle pointed out that Saskatchewan's foster care system has been in a state of crisis for a long time. He said over the past 5 years it has lost 250 foster families from the system.

Pringle said more than a year ago the government commissioned MLA Greg Lawrence to study how to better recruit and retain foster parents. 

"We have been trying to get ahold of a report around that," Pringle said. "Haven't been able to do that. Haven't been able to get any information about what were the results of that."

So he's calling on the government to launch a review of the foster care system. 

Pringle said he's been consulting with foster parents. They've told him foster parents are quitting because they don't feel they've been treated with respect. 

"We're being told that it has a lot to do with the fact that 'we don't get information when children are placed with us. We don't get ongoing support. We don't feel part of the team,'" Pringle said. 

Huber said Lawrence didn't actually complete a report. Instead he offered some "action-oriented" recommendations to the minister and ministry staff. 

Huber said the ministry has already taken action, improving the speed with which foster parents are paid, providing them better training and making them feel more part of the team. 

She said the ministry is working hard to ensure it doesn't need to rely on hotels in order to care for children.

"For us it's very time consuming. It's resource extensive and intensive for us. It's not something that obviously we want to maintain long term."

Saskatchewan's NDP opposition is calling on the government to hire more frontline case workers and recruit more foster parents.

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