The Current

Radical fix to Manitoba's foster care system, take away parents

Some say Manitoba is facing a crisis with the rising number of kids in its Foster Care system. One approach to help is seen as a bit radical: Instead of taking children out of the house... Take away the parents.
A handbag, wallet and makeup are seen in a cordoned-off area on Hargrave Street where a teenage girl, who was in the care of Manitoba's Child and Family Services, was seriously attacked last week. Her attack raises the issue of vulnerable Manitoba children being sheltered in hotels. (CBC)
Listen22:00

After a 15-year-old First Nations girl, who was under the care of Manitoba's Child and Family Services, was viciously beaten last week, the province admitted things would have to change. She was assaulted at a downtown Winnipeg hotel where she was being housed.

This week's attack on a teenage girl who was in the care of Manitoba's child-welfare system has again raised questions about the government's longtime use of hotels to house children and youth in care. 2:01

Her attack raises, once again, the issue of vulnerable Manitoba children being sheltered in hotels. By all accounts, it's a common practice... Tina Fontaine, the 15-year-old girl found dead in the Red River last year, had been sheltered in one too.

According to the Manitoba government, hotels are used only as a last resort.... and there's a promise that the practice will be phased out. But to some observers, it's part and parcel of a foster care system in crisis.

More than 10,000 children in Manitoba are wards of Child and Family Services, the vast majority of them aboriginal. And now some communities are looking to a radical new approach.

'"We wanted to try something different to help reduce the number of kids that we have taken into care... If we ask parents to leave the house rather than taking the kids out, we can actually prevent apprehension from having to take place."- Heidi Cook, councillor from the Misipawistik Cree Nation in Manitoba

The different approach it wants to try is to remove parents — not kids — from homes where children are at risk. It's an idea borrowed from another Manitoba First Nation, which has had this policy on the books for more than a decade. And that is the Nisichawaysihk First Nation.

Felix Walker is the Chief Executive Officer of the Family and Community Wellness Centre on the Nisichawaysihk First Nation. He was in our Winnipeg studio.

We reached one of the parents who was removed from her home in that community, in August. She is a single mother of seven. She says even though it was hard on her, she believes it was better for her children to stay together in their own home. But that's not what typically happens in other communities. And Manitoba is not the only province struggling with foster care solutions for First Nation children.

Irwin Elman is the Ontario Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth, and President of the Canadian Council of Child and Youth Advocates. He was me in Toronto.


This segment was produced by The Current's Lara O'Brien and Winnipe Network Producer Suzanne Dufresne.