Jon Gerrard is a pediatrician-turned-politician who has spent much of his 20 years at the Manitoba Legislature fighting for families abused by Manitoba’s “out of control” child welfare system.
Manitoba has, per capita, the highest number of kids in care — 10,000 to 11,000 in any given year.
He said devolution 20 years ago, to give Indigenous agencies control over child welfare, was a well-intended but poorly executed plan.
“It went off the rails. The government wasn’t on top of it and didn’t push for families to be helped, they pushed for children to be apprehended. Under the previous NDP government we had double the number of kids in care after devolution,” he said.
That’s because the then-government funded agencies based on the number of children in care. It essentially incentivized taking kids, often with little to no grounds, and keeping them in the overburdened system for as long as possible. There are 27 child welfare agencies in the province and its one of the largest employers of Indigenous people.
Through devolution, the child welfare industry flourished. Four authorities oversee 23 agencies, 17 First Nations child welfare agencies, two Metis agencies and four non-Indigenous agencies.
The Progressive Conservatives came into power in 2016 and last year announced a switch to a block funding model they say de-incentivizes seizing kids. Agencies have said the block funding model underfunds them and short-changes vulnerable youth in foster care.
Gerrard said there needs to be a shift within the industry, to a model that’s designed to help families stay together rather than tear them apart and reconstruct them as a make-work project.
“If there’s a problem with food or housing or child care or mental health – help. Don’t use it as a reason to apprehend,” said the Liberal MLA.
He also said judges and legal aid lawyers also need to do better when these cases are in court.
Many Indigenous agencies are working to create child welfare models for on-reserve children under new federal legislation that took effect on Jan 1 of this year. It would cut the province out of the equation and give them autonomy to build and deliver their own child welfare system.