City & Politics, Politics

Slow-clap for Irvin-Ross

At the eleventh hour with the self-imposed June 1 deadline looming, Deputy Premier and Family Services Minister Kerri Irvin-Ross announced today Manitoba’s Child and Family Services Agency would no longer rely upon hotels to house children in state care.

“We will not tolerate any agency placing a child in a hotel,” Ross told Metro News. “We are working day and night with the authorities and agencies to ensure that we have the resources that are available.”

This would not be the first time Irvin-Ross tearfully promised to end the practice of using hotels to house some of the provinces nearly 10,000 children and teens in care. Last November, the Minister promised to end the practice following the death of Tina Fontaine, a child who had been in housed in a downtown hotel shortly before death. Her latest edict follows the brutal beating of another teenaged girl housed in a CFS-sanctioned hotel earlier this spring.

Since the Minster’s pledge last fall, the number of children in care has actually increased, and her promised foster-bed registry remains well behind scheduleManitoba’s Children’s Advocate first raised concerns about placing children-in-care in hotels fifteen years ago.

While Irvin-Ross is expected to outline some of the measures her department has taken to improve the beleaguered child welfare system, at least one sociology professor and former CFS worker, Cathy Rocke, worries the Minister’s ban may leave some children vulnerable.

In an interview with CBC News, Rocke asked: “I wonder, are they going to stop bringing kids into care? Are we going to have some kids coming in and staying in jail cells? Are we going to have … kids staying in, you know, agency offices?”

A spokesperson for the Family Services Minister told CBC News 80 new staff had been hired by her department, they had created 90 more shelter beds, and also added 750 new foster homes to the system.

It remains to be seen if these measures, as well as whatever additional ones Irvin-Ross announces later today, will immediately bring an end to the egregious practice of housing children in hotels, places which are clearly ill-equippedunsafe and entirely inappropriate. Furthermore, and more importantly, it is also unclear if today’s announcement will actually lead to tangible, long-term improvements to Manitoba’s child welfare system.