Five months ago, the ministry of children and family development described it's own child welfare system as being "in crisis and in need of innovation." This, according to a September 2008 internal analysis that was leaked to opposition New Democrats and released today. According to the analysis, the "overall cost and cost per case" of children in care has been increasing at "rates beyond inflation and beyond the Ministry's capacity to continue to fund within existing budgets."
Among the reasons: although the number of children in care has "remained relatively flat," new children coming into care now have more "severe" needs - in part because of improving survival rates for low birth weight, drug addicted and high risk babies. The analysis also blames rising housing and transportation costs, as well as increases in the use of pricey group homes because of a declining foster parent population.
And, to make matters worse, those homes and other contracted services "rarely contributed to good outcomes for children in care." In fact, foster parents who were rejected by the ministry of children and family development "sometimes resurfaced with agencies."
In response, Children and Family Development Minister Tom Christensen told reporters the analysis is partly why his ministry will receive a $14 million increase to its budget in fiscal 2009/10 and another $11 million in 2010/11.
But, despite that analysis, the government's public fiscal plan forecasts the average annual cost per child in care will remain at $31,400 in fiscal 2010/11 and 2011/12, following a $300 increase in 2009/10 and a $1,900 increase in fiscal 2008/09.
Minister Christensen didn't specifically address why the ministry expects that number to stay stable. But, he maintained, "what this fiscal plan clearly does is add more financial resources to this ministry to enable us to meet the needs of vulnerable children" as a result of those budget increases and administrative savings.
The minister also stated his staff are working to "minimize" the use of contracted resources. The following is a recording of that scrum.