500 families; 4,860 kids: Sask. promotes referral money to recruit new foster families

The Saskatchewan government has recently helped draw attention to an old policy, with the hopes of recruiting more foster families.

Steady decline in number of foster families

Cash incentives are being offered to current foster families who successfully refer other family candidates. (Rafal Olechowski/Shutterstock)

The Saskatchewan government is hoping a monetary incentive might encourage foster families to recruit other people willing to take children into their home.

Under a referral program, foster families receive $200 for each successful family they suggest. 

The cash incentives for referring have been around since 2009.

A steady decline

The number of foster families in Saskatchewan keeps dropping. As of June 2016, there were 500 foster families but 4,860 kids in the system, according to data from the Ministry of Social Services.

Two years earlier, there were were 567 families.

"There has been a steady decline," said Ministry of Social Services spokeswoman Tobie Eberhardt, adding that's consistent across North America. 

"Noticing that decline, that's when we said we really need to put our focus on both recruitment and retention." 

She said the increasing need for new families is why the ministry has drawn attention back to the referral program, and the campaign is just a piece of other ongoing work.

Any money helps, more support needed

For Saskatoon resident Will Brooks, who has been a foster parent with his partner for three years, cash for referrals don't mean much. 

There are not enough foster parents; there are not enough supports.- Will Brooks

"Having that kind of cash incentive isn't going to be a make or break for us on whether or not we encourage people to be foster families, because we're going to do that anyway," he said.

However, he said the cash incentive could inspire some people to spread the word. If it does, he'll be happy.

Social Services Minister Tina Beaudry-Mellor was featured in an online promotional video for the 'Tell Two Friends' campaign, put on by the Saskatchewan Foster Families Association. (Facebook)

"There are not enough foster parents; there are not enough supports," Brooks said, noting money must be put towards helping make the "system function better" for the kids, and the families trying to help them.

Foster families receive financial help for what they do, but the families need more than they are getting, Brooks said.

'They're desperate'

Chris Gardiner doesn't think the referral program is a good idea.

He and his partner Shannon have been foster parents to the same boy for nearly two decades. They were considered an emergency family at first, and were only supposed to have him for a weekend. 

Gardiner said his experiences have led him to be vocal about changes — or lack thereof — within the foster system.

Chris and Shannon Gardiner have been foster parents for nearly two decades. (CBC)

"They're desperate," he said. "The problem that they're having is they're not doing good work." 

He said he'd be hardpressed to recommend fostering to anyone. 

"Until the system is actually more open and transparent, and it's in a better position to support people, and actually put kids first, 200 bucks isn't going to do it."

Their foster son has unique needs, and they had to fight to keep him after he 'aged out' of the system.

Need to focus on prevention 

Saskatchewan children's advocate Corey O'Soup said recruitment of foster families is necessary, but there's a bigger issue at hand. 

"The number one issue we need to focus on is more prevention and ensuring our children aren't going into foster care," he said. 

He added he also supports more investment in the system as a whole.

However, he isn't opposed to providing monetary incentives if it helps get more good foster parents.