By Medicine Hat News Opinion on January 10, 2020.
Re: Laying it Out: In a world of spin and lies, you can still see the truth,” Jan. 4
In response to Scott Schmidt’s opinion column, I would like to provide some clarity around the improvements we are making to the prevention and early intervention services provided to vulnerable families.
I read Schmidt’s column with concern; not because of the attacks directed at me personally, but concern because he failed to provide basic facts, context, or explain to readers what is actually being done within the Ministry of Children’s Services.
Let’s start here – there are too many children in government care. There are around 8,500 children removed from their families, 5,200 of them permanently so, and 11,000 total children who are involved with child intervention. This equals about 1.7% of the child population in Alberta, a figure that has remained steady for several years. Nearly 70% of them are Indigenous. In our view, this is unacceptable.
It is unacceptable that despite billions of dollars and the good work and well-intentions of thousands of child intervention workers and caregivers, there has been no noticeable decrease in the number of children removed for their safety from their homes, families and communities.
Moreover, many of our grants and contracts haven’t been reviewed since the 1990s, and while bits and pieces have been added over time, a larger review of the whole system has not happened. This means a patchwork of inconsistent services that has left families in need of navigators to access programs or help. I don’t know that anyone could honestly say that the status quo is working perfectly.
Change isn’t easy. The factors that lead to children coming into government care are numerous, complex and neither start nor end with any one department in the provincial government. But these are the types of supports that when accessed early, can give families the tools they need to raise their children.
In consultations with the non-profit sector, we were asked to simplify the system of contracts and grants, reduce unnecessary red-tape, be more transparent and provide longer-term funding. By doing this, community partners will be better able to focus on supporting families.
This is why we’ve asked all current service providers to reapply. Again, many of these existing agreements haven’t been reviewed since the 1990s to see whether they are as effective as they need to be.
And yes, we will save money – money that will be reinvested back into Children’s Services. That’s what happens when you target a program’s focus and reduce duplicate services. We will no longer pay for community newsletters and “system navigators.”
And contrary to claims made in this paper, the budget for Children’s Services is actually increasing by $94 million after our government’s most recent budget.
Every dollar my ministry invests must go to those who need our help most – to those whom these programs were designed to support – to kids and families for whom it hasn’t done enough.
Rebecca Schulz is Alberta’s minister of children’s services.