The Manitoba government says it has ended its use of hotels for temporary foster-care placements across the province – an announcement that comes after more than a year of headline-making incidents that spurred intense scrutiny of the province's emergency child-welfare system.
In a statement Monday, Family Services Minister Kerri Irvin-Ross said the government had fulfilled its commitment to phase out hotel placements in northern and rural areas by Dec. 1.
She said the province has added 55 emergency shelter beds and 114 emergency foster beds throughout Manitoba since April 1 – the same day a 15-year-old indigenous foster child, who had been placed at Winnipeg's downtown Best Western, was brutally assaulted, allegedly by another foster child who had been staying at the same hotel. The province has also hired nearly 120 unionized "child protection support workers" over the course of the past year.
The government came under fire after Ms. Irvin-Ross revealed, on May 28, that its long-touted June 1 deadline to end hotel use applied only to the capital. The minister said at the time that officials did not know how many foster children were being housed in rented rooms outside Winnipeg. It was then that she announced the Dec. 1 extension.
The province's child-welfare system has drawn criticism over the years, but it recently reached new heights when Tina Fontaine, an indigenous teenager, was killed in August of 2014 after going missing from her Best Western placement. She was one of 10,000 foster children in the province, where nearly 90 per cent of all government wards are indigenous.
In November of last year, the government publicly pledged to reduce its reliance on hotels for emergency placements and move away from third-party supervisors. But four months later, The Globe found there were at least 10 foster children – most, if not all, indigenous – staying at the Best Western on March 9. Among them was Tina's cousin.
The Globe's months-long investigation, which launched in the wake of Tina's killing, also found a litany of other problems with the emergency child-welfare system, including evidence of prolonged hotel stays, questionable supervision, possible security concerns and an overwhelmed after-hours child-welfare phone line that sometimes kicked emergency calls to an answering service.
In her statement, Ms. Irvin-Ross said the province has "boosted resources" to help ensure agencies can find safe places for children in need of protection. "We have created more appropriate options for caring for vulnerable children when a crisis occurs in their lives," the minister said. "We're also investing more in better supports to help families look after their children at home."