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Child welfare panel set to begin work

By Lana Haight, The StarPhoenix (Courtesy of The Star Phoenix)

SASKATCHEWAN – February 25, 2010 – He’s been a social worker and the minister of social services, but now Bob Pringle is in charge of a comprehensive review of the child welfare system.

“There are too many children coming into care. That’s the bottom line. It’s a fundamental issue that has to be addressed,” he said.

In November, the provincial government appointed Pringle chair of the review. He is joined by First Nations elder Howard Cameron, former member of Parliament Carol Skelton and April Durocher, who was placed in a foster home when she was a child. The four members met for their first day of orientation last week.

For three months starting in April, they will travel the province listening to presentations from individuals, groups and organizations involved in the child welfare system. Pringle is responsible for submitting an interim report to the provincial government in June and a final report with non-binding recommendations in September.

At the end of December, 6,003 children were living in “out-of-home care,” such as in foster homes and group homes or with extended family. That number also includes 1,206 children who were in care on First Nations reserves. About 80 per cent of all children requiring care are aboriginal.

“Families need more support,” said Pringle, who added that he’s especially concerned about the “gross over-representation” of First Nations children in care.

“The projections are if we don’t provide more supports, we’re just going to be keeping more children in care, which creates less stability in their lives. That is not the solution. Foster homes and other child-care resources can’t handle the numbers.”

While the number of children taken into care continues the rise, the provincial government has struggled to recruit more foster families. At the end of 2009, 729 families were providing foster care — 41 fewer families than at the end of 2008.

Pringle is concerned about the length of time children are staying in foster care. He also acknowledges some foster families are not providing proper care because too many children are placed in homes.

“Foster parents are in a very difficult situation by overcrowding. The percentage of foster homes that are overcrowded is way too high — there is the odd exception — and that’s putting children who are in care in some jeopardy in terms of their safety and well-being.”

Pringle, who calls his review “broad-based,” will be examining more than just the foster-care system. The provincial government has asked him to look at all aspects of child welfare including adoption, child protection, the prevention of child abuse and neglect, and relevant provincial legislation.

“I hope to hear recommendations related to affordable housing and training and access to health care and trades and education and poverty and all those issues that are supportive and preventive,” said Pringle.

People who want to tell their story to the panel can call 1-877-370-6511 or go the website www.saskchildwelfarereview.ca.

Those who make presentations will do so behind closed doors. The consultations will not be open to the public.

“There are a lot of triggers. There will be a lot of emotion. A lot of people have been touched by that system and they will want to tell their story and we need to make sure there’s support for people when they do that,” said Pringle.

“We are going to guarantee people their privacy.”

It’s unclear how much Pringle’s review will cost taxpayers. When asked for the review’s budget, a spokesperson from the Ministry of Social Services said the review’s budget won’t be finalized until the 2010-11 budget is determined, but the government “will resource it appropriately.”

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