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An awful and uncaring Pallister government goes after the most vulnerable children in our province

Like a sleuth in the night, the Pallister government is cunningly using a bill, bill 34, [updated this is now (Oct 2020) Bill 2] called the Budget Implementation and Tax Statutes Amendment Act 2020, to prevent the return of millions of dollars which was taken away from children in the care of the government. 

The monies in question are called the "Children's Special Allowances" or the "federal special allowances for children".  In brief, under Jean Chretien and Paul Martin,  a Canada Child Benefit was established to help support children.  For children in the care of child and family services, where the parents are not directly looking after the children the money is paid to the agencies to help support the children.  There was a time when these monies were being used effectively by child welfare agencies to support children.   Some agencies used these funds in part to provide services to help the children they were looking after and in part into a trust fund that provided money to a child when the child aged out of care at age 18.

Then in 2005, the NDP government of Gary Doer mandated all child welfare agencies to remit the allowances back to the province.  Notionally, it was to be used for the administration of child welfare. But in reality it was put in general revenue.   The NDP went further. They also took all the money that had been put aside in trust for children when they turned 18.  The  NDP government was essentially robbing the vulnerable children of Manitoba of the funds which were meant by the federal government to help them directly.

At the time, and in the years since, Manitoba Liberals have believed that these funds should not have been clawed back by the province.  Manitoba Liberals believe these are monies for the children who are in care and should have been used that way.

Initially, at least, one Conservative MLA, Ian Wishart, strongly opposed the NDP clawback of the Children's Special Allowances (CSAs): his position was made clear on February 26, 2016 in the Manitoba Legislature when he called the NDP clawback  of the Children's Special Allowances "illegal" and "immoral."  Mr. Wishart went on to say that “Due to this government's repeated clawbacks of the CSA, agencies have been forced to work under-resourced and are reaching a breaking point.”  He further asked the NDP government “How does this government steal the future of these most vulnerable children and call that fair?”

Manitoba Liberals have long believed the provincial government's clawback of the Children's Special Allowances was wrong.  We believe that the current Pallister government's continuing the clawback until 2019 was wrong and that their attempt, in Bill 34 (now Bill 2), to disallow any lawsuits challenging this practice is wrong.

Those who would like more information on this can read Niigaan Sinclair's article in the Winnipeg Free Press.  He quotes Cindy Blackstock, with the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada, as saying of the Pallister government's move "It's unprecedented.  No other province is doing anything like it.... Government's must be held accountable in their treatment of children.  Any government who places themselves above the law leaves children and family without protection."

Mr. Sinclair himself says, "failing to protect children is exactly how Manitoba got into this unbearable situation [far too many children in care and poor delivery of services to children in care].  Through a well-hidden clause in a budget bill introduced during a pandemic, it [the Pallister government] may continue this legacy."

Full Transcript of Ian Wishart's questions in Question Period

Below is the full transcript of Ian Wishart's questions.  It is important to remember that these questions were asked when Brian Pallister was leader of the Official Opposition and that Mr. Pallister was in the Chamber and coordinating question period questions.  Mr. Pallister was well aware that the NDP actions were immoral and illegal and that his party was calling the NDP out on this. 

November 23, 2015 Question Period

Child and Family Services

Universal Child Care Benefit Payments

Mr. Ian Wishart (Portage la Prairie): Mr. Speaker, every child in Canada is eligible for the Universal Child Care Benefit paid to the adult or agency responsible for that child's welfare. Since 2012, this   government has had in place an agreement that  converted this payment to Children's Special Allowances, which the Province then keeps.

      Can the minister tell this House whether children in care benefit directly from the Children's Special Allowances, or does it just disappear into general revenue?

Hon. Kerri Irvin-Ross (Minister of Family Services): I'd like to discuss with this House what we've been able to do with the devolution of child welfare across this province.

      We've devolved into four agencies. We're working with the authorities and the agencies every day to provide support to children. What we did is we've increased the funding to all of the agencies and the authorities. We've increased more money into prevention.

      We're going to continue to do that as we work all of our–with all of our partners, not like the members opposite when they slashed funding, cut rates to foster parents and then stopped providing services to children 16 years and older.

Mr. Wishart: Well, Mr. Speaker, prior to 2012, the agreement in place stated that the agency responsible for the care of the child was to receive the Universal Child Care Benefit. Most agencies had a practice of putting half the money in trust for the Child and Family Services child until they reached 18 and gave the rest of the money to the foster family for extra things for the child in care.      

      Why did the NDP government end the practice of directly benefiting the child in care?

Ms. Irvin-Ross: Every day in this province, we have  many, many professionals that are working to support families, whether it's in the health-care sector, whether it's education and also in the child welfare.

      We have agencies every day going and meeting with families and talking about what are the solutions and what supports do you need.

      This government is a government that's invested in prevention. We'll continue to make those invest­ments in prevention. We will not go to those dark days where funding was slashed, there were no prevention programs. We're going to continue to invest in all of Manitoba children.

Mr. Wishart: Mr. Speaker, this government is the one with 11,000 children in care.

      Prior to 2012, CFS agencies often ran deficits due to ever-increasing numbers of children in care. This NDP government decided to take the money held in trust for CFS children when they turned 18 and use the money to pay off the deficit in that agency. No agreements were in place to allow them to do this.

      Mr. Speaker, this NDP government stole this money from the trust fund of the children in care, and in so doing, stole their good start in life.

      What gives this NDP government the right to steal from these most vulnerable children? 

Ms. Irvin-Ross: Mr. Speaker, I will tell you what we're doing to support vulnerable families across this province. We are investing in poverty reduction. We have the ALL Aboard strategy, which is making those supports to Manitoba families.

      We are not going to do what the member opposite suggests: slash poverty reduction, return back to the drawing board. That is reckless. That is concerning.

      What we're going to do is we're going to keep  investing to support families. What we've done is we've increased the funding to support the child‑welfare agencies every year. We're going to continue to do that.

      We've hired more staff, not like them where they laid off staff. We're going to continue to support foster parents, and, most importantly, we're going to invest in prevention: $29 million a year goes to prevention to support Manitoba families.

December1, 2015  Question Period

 

Child and Family Services

Children's Special Allowance Payment

Mr. Ian Wishart (Portage la Prairie): Mr. Speaker, every child in Canada is eligible for the Universal Child Care Benefit. When a child comes into the care of an agency, such as CFS, the UCCB payment ceases to go to the parent or caregiver and is paid to the agency responsible for the care of the child. This funding is then called the Children's Special Allowances.

      Since 2011, the Province has made a policy change demanding that the agencies that care for children remit the Children's Special Allowances to the Province. Since the policy change, this allowance just disappears into the general revenue of the Province of Manitoba, commonly known to Manitobans as the black hole.

      Why is this federal transfer, intended for the care and maintenance of nearly 11,000 children, not going to the benefit of those children? 

 

Hon. Kerri Irvin-Ross (Minister of Family Services): Every day in the front lines of child welfare, we have workers that are going into homes, that are assessing situations, that are celebrating the successes but also providing families a road map of how to support themselves better, how to better support their children, and we are gratefully–we value that work every day that they do it.

      We are going to continue to make those investments in the child-welfare system. We've hired more workers; we're going to continue to do that. We're going to ensure that we have no more children in hotels; we're going to continue to do that.

      We're going to work in promoting prevention programs. Right now $29 million is being spent on prevention. That means 17,000 children are left in their homes with their families, getting the support that they deserve.

      We're going to continue on that path. We will not revert to the methods of the members opposite: cut, cut, cut and then privatize.

Mr. Wishart: Well, Mr. Speaker, this is a minister who is responsible for nearly 11,000 children in care and has risen that to a new high across Canada. I'd be ashamed if I was her.

      As I asked previously, prior to the 2011 change, the agreement was in place that the agency responsible for the care of the child was to receive the UCC benefits known as the Children's Special Allowances. Many agencies had a practice of putting half of the money in trust for the CFS child when they reached 18 and giving the rest to the foster family for extra money for the child in care.

      Why did the NDP government end the practice of directly benefiting the child in care with this federal transfer money? 

Ms. Irvin-Ross: Mr. Speaker, the investments that we make to support families every day are seen in this province, whether it's more affordable housing, whether it's child-care centres, whether it's the creation of jobs.

      And when families are involved within the child‑welfare system, we continue to support them. We continue to provide them with a variety of services. If a child is in need of protection, we're there to support them but always with the goal of reunification when that child can be safely reunified with their family.

      We continue to invest in prevention. We're going to continue to do that. Mr. Speaker, $29 million is spent; 17,000 children are at home with their families, and they're going to continue to be there with our continued support.

      What the members opposite did when they were in government, $4.5 million was taken away from children in care, as well as cutting foster parent rates.  

Mr. Wishart: Mr. Speaker, this federal transfer the minister is taking comes to $25 million a year. Benefits under the UCC have been raised this year and expanded in age qualification, which translates to an increase in the Children's Special Allowances. That means the CF agencies will be receiving extra funds from the federal government.

      Can the minister tell this House whether the nearly 11,000 children in care will receive any of this additional benefit from the funding increase? 

Ms. Irvin-Ross: Mr. Speaker, what I can tell all Manitobans is this side of the House is here for all families. We're here to support families, whether it's through affordable housing, whether–if it's a family that's reaching out for support, they're reaching out  for support in a community organization like Ma  Mawi Wi Chi Itata, we're there providing that support of Families First workers going into their home, $29 million. We're making those investments for that continuum of support, starting with pre­vention but, when necessary, an intervention.

      What the members opposite did when they were in government, they slashed child-welfare rates. They had fired workers. They also continued to have an argument with the Children's Advocate.

      What we're doing is working in partnership with the authorities and the agencies to better support families.

 

February 25, 2016 Question Period

CFS First Nations Agencies

Use of Children's Special Allowance

Mr. Ian Wishart (Portage la Prairie): Mr. Speaker, this House may recall in the fall session that we asked about this government's clawback of the Children's Special Allowance, paid by the federal government to the First Nations agencies.

      Despite having no agreements in place with the First Nations agencies, this government continues to claw back these federal dollars, whose purpose, and I quote, whose exclusive purpose is the care, maintenance and advancement of children in care. This money goes into general revenue when it's clawed back.

Mr. Speaker, have these illegal, immoral clawbacks impacted these agencies and left them vulnerable?

 

     

Hon. Kerri Irvin-Ross (Minister of Family Services): I'm proud to speak today around what we have done to support indigenous organizations and agencies across this province that support families off reserve and on reserve.

      What we have been able to do is we have tripled their funding. We have continued to support them through devolution. We have continued to work with them on developing prevention models to reduce what is a national crisis, the number of children that in care. We have a responsibility to reduce that number. We are starting to see that trend change here in Manitoba, but we're not stopping. We have a lot more work to do, and we're committed to do that with all of our indigenous partners. With the introduction of customary care, that is a game changer across this province. People are watching to  see what the communities, the indigenous com­munities, are going to do and how we're going to continue to work together.

Mr. Wishart: Mr. Speaker, this minister's prevention budget is less than 8 per cent of her total budget.

      Due to this government's repeated clawbacks of the CSA, agencies have been forced to work underresourced and are reaching a breaking point. Because of this government's clawbacks, Nelson House agency, one of the–that has shown most of the consistent reduction in the number of kids in care and runs a highly successful, innovative preventive program, will be forced to lay off front-line workers.

      How can an agency that has shown such positive results in reductions of children in care be a target for clawbacks by–of funding by this government?

Ms. Irvin-Ross: What this side of the House is continuing to do is to work on the devolution of child welfare, returning it back to the indigenous people so it is culturally appropriate, so it respects traditions. That is what's important.

      We know what the members across feel about devolution. It is very clear how they feel about devolution, and people should be very afraid, afraid of their past record, of their reckless cuts, how they slash subsidies, how they didn't support youth when they were 16 years old, turned them to the street, reduced funding for people with children with complex needs. That is worrisome.

      What we need to keep doing is to work on a prevention to keep ensuring that we are supporting the front-line staff, so, yes, that Felix Walker and the staff at Nelson House can continue to do their good work. We continue to work with them on a daily basis.

Mr. Speaker: Order, please. The honourable minister's time has elapsed for this question.

      The honourable member for Portage la Prairie, with a final supplementary.

Mr. Wishart: Mr. Speaker, prior to this government's new funding arrangement, one the northern agencies have never agreed to, some agencies held half of the CSA money in trust for children in care, and the other half was used to fund foster parents and the benefit of children.

      Agencies have been historically underfunded by this government and have often been in a position to run deficits, and this government's solution to these deficits was to force the agencies to use this children's trust money that had been set aside for these children when they reached 18, to use that money to balance the books.

      How does this government steal the future of these most vulnerable children and call that fair?

Ms. Irvin-Ross: Mr. Speaker, this government works very closely with indigenous leadership, with families, with communities to ensure that we are providing the resources that are necessary that they can support their children, address the issues of poverty, making sure that they have good quality housing, make sure that there is good quality education, make sure that there is a not-for-profit child-care system so their child can access a space while making sure that their family can have a job while we work on our economy.

      I am extremely proud of the work that we've done. We have a lot more work to do, like many other jurisdictions across this province, but we have a plan, a plan to invest in prevention. We are currently in negotiations with the federal government around our funding model. We are looking to the federal government to support a funding model that improves prevention funding across Canada. Thank you.

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