Now is the time

The plight of Manitoban children in care needs to be dealt with

The number of children in care in Manitoba rose to 9,432 in 2011.

This is far too high. 

On a per capita basis, we have about 10 times as many children in care as Western Australia and Sweden and about five times as many children in care as the United States, the United Kingdom and New Zealand.

Shockingly, by seven years of age, 7.5 per cent of Manitoba children have been placed in care. It is a picture of who we are as Manitobans - and we need to change.

A recent article by Ruth Gilbert and others in The Lancet, the world’s leading medical journal, makes it clear that high rates of children in care are being pursued “despite no policy advocating this option and little evidence for its effectiveness.”

The lack of evidence that Manitoba’s approach is providing more optimum development opportunities for children is very concerning.

All too many children in care are moved too often from home to home. As Laura Eggertson and others have pointed out in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, government as a parent does not have an outstanding track record.

The thorough investigation undertaken to produce the article in The Lancet suggests that Sweden has a better model.

Their model has a primary focus on improving support for children and families, on reducing poverty, and ensuring there is adequate support for early years development of children. 

In spite of high blown rhetoric to the contrary, the NDP have failed to adequately support children and families in the early years in Manitoba.

The extraordinarily high number of children in care is a testament to this fact.

In our office, we see and hear of too many cases where children are taken away from their families at great expense to the public, and often to the court system, when an effort focused on supporting the family at less cost could provide a better in-family support environment for the development of the child.

It is heartbreaking to see families torn apart and children taken away from their parents and put in less optimal circumstances, occasionally still in hotels, when understanding and supporting the family could have superior results.

It is time to put the primary focus on supporting children and families rather than breaking families apart.

We need to do this by focusing on the critical financial and social supports for families. For example, support for low-income families needs to be adjusted so that we have fewer families depending on food banks.

As Winnipeg Harvest executive coordinator David Northcott has pointed out, the number of kids using food banks is going up (from 5,500 10 years ago to 29,000 today) instead of going down. It needs to be reversed.

Too many low-income families are having their finances squeezed because support for housing is far below what the real cost is, and they have to use their food budgets to get housing.

The result contributes to the stress and break up of families.

David Northcott has repeatedly said the government should do two things to lift people out of poverty: finally raise the welfare rates after more than a decade, and ensure there is more affordable housing. 

Manitoba Liberals also call upon the NDP to act on these measures combined with giving intensive home support to at-risk children, and following policies that recommend against out-of-home care for most cases unless other interventions have failed.

By providing families with the basics of enough food to eat (with welfare rates adjusted for inflation), a safe home to live in and focused additional support, the number of children in care will decrease. 

All Manitobans will benefit when children can be healthier and safer in their home environments - instead of almost 10,000 (a city of children) being in “care.”

Dr. Jon Gerrard, a former pediatrician, is the leader of the Manitoba Liberal Party and MLA for River Heights. His blog can be found at

Published in Volume 66, Number 16 of The Uniter (January 18, 2012)

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