Legal aid lawyer Riley Moss observed that removals of children from their families are occurring at a higher rate. Her observations are confirmed by statistics of the department overseeing the child protection system. Despite the fact that our province has an inverted population pyramid with fewer children, there are greater numbers of children on the child protection caseload than ever. What is truly bewildering is that there is no understanding of the basis of this situation. Having said that, this is a phenomenon that is not unique to this province. It is the experience in other provinces and jurisdictions, such as Australia.
As a society, we are removing children from the care of their families at increased rates while at the same time, there is a challenge in recruiting and retaining foster parents in this province. So, who is caring for these children and where are they being cared for? Research has shown that the first years of life are critical for human development. As Moss commented, the parents are often in need of supports. Are there not cases where families could be supported, learn parenting skills, and contribute to childhood development instead of removing them to uncertainty? Non-profit agencies have played a role in supporting these children and families but these services are located in urban areas and not available throughout the province.
Other issues raised in Sweet’s article are also of concern. Front-line child protection workers are, in many cases, new graduates and many, not all, have a limited life experience, yet we are expecting them to assume a high level of responsibility that can change the life of child and family. According to a report released by the auditor general in November 2016, the financial cost of the system as of March 31, 2015 was $74 million annually, depending on the level of service for 6,252 children, ranging from $1,000 for protective intervention services to $65,000 per child per year for 955 children in care. He commented on the lack of compliance with meeting policies and procedures of the department. He called for the department to report on program performance to the public, a recommendation that could reveal the outcomes of the child protection system.
It is open to question as to whether our current system is working for the best interests of children. I base this statement on viewing the cost of the current system and comparing it with outcomes for these children. Based on public information, 77 per cent of children in care completed high school as compared with 95 per cent of the population who were eligible to graduate. Of the children in care who graduated, 75 per cent had a general diploma versus 31 per cent of the students eligible to graduate in the province who obtained a general diploma. In 2014/15, there were 601 youth who had interactions with the youth corrections system. To what extent could these have been prevented?
I agree with Moss that the child protection system is focused on regulation. What of its fundamental principles to advance the best interests of the child? It has been argued that prevention and early intervention services are too costly. Looking at the increasing numbers of children in care, the outcomes for these children, and the costs of the system, financial and otherwise, surely we can explore developing alternatives to invest in them and their families, and not spend in reaction to crisis to create another generation to continue the cycle.
<i>Colleen A. Hanrahan
Institute for the Advancement of Public Policy, Inc.