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December 14, 2015 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

Hard on the heels of yesterday’s post on children in the United Kingdom going missing from foster families, comes this remarkably similar report from Manitoba (CBC, 9/8/15). As in England, the province’s foster kids are voting with their feet, leaving their state-mandated homes in droves. Indeed, when a Manitoba child runs away, there’s an 83% chance it’s from foster care. The police report attached to the article shows that, while 83% of runaways are from foster care, just 11% are from their biological family’s residence.

Police in Winnipeg say four out of five missing persons reports they receive every month involve kids in the care of Manitoba Child and Family Services.

A report prepared for the city's police board says officers deal with an average of about 550 missing persons reports a month. Of those, 83 per cent involve kids in government care and 71 per cent are female.

Another police report prepared for the same board meeting shows the top 19 addresses associated with missing persons reports are Child and Family Services facilities.

Just why kids are running away in such numbers, no one in the child welfare bureaucracy seems to want to discuss. That may be because they don’t know. In the U.K., child welfare workers are required by law to interview the child within 72 hours of his/her return. Presumably such an interview would include questions about why the child chose to leave foster care. So someone, somewhere probably has a good idea of why foster kids in the U.K. are missing. Not so in Canada that has no such requirement.

And why do girls make up 71% of runaways? Again, neither the police nor the child welfare authorities has an answer.

Likewise unlike the U.K., many of Manitoba’s runaways are indigenous Canadians. That places the entire issue squarely in the context of Canada’s outrageous abuse of native peoples for well over a century. Similar treatment of indigenous peoples has occurred in the United States and Australia. In all three countries, once those of European heritage got the political, military and cultural upper hand over native peoples, a brutal process of attempting to erase their cultural heritage was established. In all three countries, an important part of that process involved the destruction of native families. Inevitably, that meant removing children from their parents and placing them in non-native homes.

That’s going on today in Manitoba.

Manitoba has been grappling with its troubled child-welfare system for years. The province has over 10,000 kids in care and the vast majority of them are aboriginal. The province recently came under fire from Manitoba's First Nations children's advocate for seizing an average of one newborn a day.

Ten thousand kids? The “vast majority” of whom are aboriginal? Let’s see. The Province of Manitoba has a population of about 1.28 million people and has 10,000 kids in foster care. That’s the equivalent of the United States having 2.5 million children in foster care when in fact we have a little more than 400,000. Therefore, Manitoba is about six times as likely as the United States to take children into care. And let’s not forget that many sensible observers strongly believe that the U.S. is far too ready to take children from parents.

No wonder the indigenous of Manitoba are up in arms about the province’s child welfare system. To them I suspect it looks like simply more of the bad old days when governments channeled kids away from their parents and cultures and into white homes.  

Whatever the case, I strongly suspect that one of the main reasons why kids leave Manitoba’s foster homes is that they’re aboriginal and the foster parents aren’t. Again, the Child and Family Services agency doesn’t ask, so we don’t know for certain, but I wouldn’t be surprised if long-festering grievances between whites and aboriginals were at the bottom of much of foster kids’ discontent.

To all this, the Minister for Family Services offers only pabulum.

Family Services Minister Kerri Irvin-Ross said the high number of missing persons reports from government facilities says more about the complex needs of the children in care than it does about the care they receive…

"I guess because I'm a parent and also I'm a social worker, I understand in some ways what the families and what the young people are going through," she said. "I have that expectation with everyone that works within this field that we don't give up on the families. We don't give up on the children and the youth we are working with."…

"Am I concerned about those numbers? Yes, I am, and everybody within child welfare is too," she said in an interview Tuesday. "We need to develop relationships with these young people so if they're in crisis, they have someone to talk to. They don't have to run away."

Of course maybe the kids think they do have someone to talk to – their parents or other family members. Maybe they, like half the runaways in the U.K., leave in order to be with family and friends. Maybe there’s a reason why they don’t think they have anyone to talk to in foster care or the child welfare bureaucracy.

And maybe, if Manitoba’s Child and Family Services were to ask the kids why they run away and place themselves in danger, we’d have answers whereas now we mostly just have questions and business as usual on the part of Child and Family Services.

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