Kids in care on the rise

The number of children in foster care is climbing in Rainy River District, with 113 brought into care with Family and Children Services last year.
That’s up from 96 in 1996 and 59 in 1995.
And foster care co-ordinator Sandy Skirten is anticipating this year’s figures will be even higher–up between 150-200 children.
“If the stats continue the way they are,” he said Monday, noting 57 children already had been brought into their care so far this year.
With the rise comes another trend–the children are getting younger. Eight years ago, the majority in care were adolescents and teenagers. Now most are under seven years old, and particularly pre-schoolers.
But as of yet, no one has determined why.
“We ask ourselves that. I don’t know,” Skirten said, adding other agencies were noticing the same trend.
FACS executive director Betty McLeod agreed behaviour problems were being identified in younger children.
“Whatever is happening in society . . . the problems seem to be starting earlier,” she noted Friday. “The children are really very angry, very violent, or very upset.”
She felt part of the rise could be linked to the inquests into the deaths of eight children–under child welfare supervision but still living at home–in southern Ontario last year.
One of those involved an infant death in July where both the mother and social worker were charged with criminal negligence.
“It certainly made all of us a lot more cautious,” McLeod noted, saying family support workers were probably a lot more willing to take the child into care now instead of leaving them in a potentially dangerous situation in the home.
“There’s been a lot of criticism of the children’s aid societies down east,“ she explained, adding there also was a heightened public awareness.
“Now [people] are more likely to call us up and say, ‘Hey, we have a concern about a neighbour’s kids,’” she said.
In past decades, McLeod noted child welfare agencies were criticized for being too quick to take children from their homes. The act was revised in 1984 to put more focus on keeping the family together–sometimes at the detriment of the child.
Now the pendulum was swinging back to where she hoped they were finding a balance.
Many children go into care by agreement. For instance, if a single parent was an alcoholic and wanted treatment, the parent could agree to temporarily put the child into care until the treatment is over.
The key to putting kids in care is ensuring they have a better place to go. And Skirten stressed there has been tremendous response from foster care families, noting 11 new families were recruited last fall, leaving 39 foster families in the district.
By this summer, he’s hoping to have another six.
“We’ve been very fortunate throughout our district,” he said, adding many other districts had a shortage of foster care families. “We still have the space.”