WINNIPEG — The Manitoba government announced Monday it is changing the way it funds child-welfare agencies and ending a federal subsidy clawback that has been the subject of a lawsuit.
The Progressive Conservative government is doing away with a formula based largely on how many children are in the care of each agency. Critics have said it rewards agencies for seizing kids from their families.
Starting in April, the government will provide block funding to the province's four regional authorities that oversee 24 child-welfare agencies. The block funding should allow more money to be spent on supporting families and preventing their kids from being taken, Families Minister Heather Stefanson said.
"It is difficult for child welfare agencies to invest in front-end, preventative and reunification services when the funding to support children is based on children being in care," she said.
The province will also end the practice of clawing back from agencies the federal Children's Special Allowance, worth up to $530 per child every month. The former CEO of one regional authority filed a lawsuit against the province last year that asked the Court of Queen's Bench to rule the clawback illegal.
Stefanson said the changes should result in more money for the child welfare system, but critics were not convinced.
Opposition NDP Leader Wab Kinew said the number of children in care has risen and block funding may not accommodate growth.
"If you have more kids under a block funding arrangement, it has the effect of meaning there's less money available for each and every child," Kinew said.
"This is purely about controlling costs."
The Manitoba Metis Federation said it likes the idea of block funding in principle, but is worried the funding may not keep up with growing caseloads or the cost of any new, stricter policies in the future.
"Needed services may be short-changed. Agencies may go bankrupt," the federation said in a press release.
Manitoba has the highest rate of children in care among the provinces. About 11,000 kids are in the system, and roughly 90 per cent are Indigenous.
The Tory government has introduced other changes that it says will help keep kids with their families. In 2017, it promised to set up customary care, which allows Indigenous children to stay within their community under the guidance of extended family and community leaders.