Manitoba accused of violating rights of foster children stuck in jail
Published Wednesday, April 15, 2015 3:50PM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, April 15, 2015 10:02PM EDT
The Manitoba government is under fire after a provincial watchdog said children in government care are languishing in jail due to a lack of foster care spots.
Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger said the province is investigating after Children’s Advocate Darlene MacDonald said she receives calls from judges who want to release youth from police custody, but can’t because there is nowhere else to put them.
Manitoba’s Child and Family Services is looking into the matter, Selinger said, and working to create more placements for foster children.
"If in fact, there’s any children staying in any kind of correctional facility longer than necessary, we want to make sure that’s not the case,” Selinger said Wednesday.
However, critics say it is a human rights violation, and are calling on the provincial government to do more.
Progressive Conservative critic Ian Wishart says police custody is not an appropriate place for a vulnerable child, and that the government isn’t moving fast enough to end the practice.
“Kids that don’t need to be in institutions should not be in institutions,” Wishart said.
Manitoba has more than 10,000 children in care and the vast majority are aboriginal.
Youth who break the law are placed at the Manitoba Youth Centre, a correctional facility for kids. They are also placed there when they are picked up off the streets.
A girl who asked not to be identified told CTV News that spending time at the Manitoba Youth Centre became somewhat normal for her as a teen.
As a ward of Child and Family Services since infancy, the girl said she has been in and out of youth jail six times.
A runaway, she was picked up repeatedly for breaking curfew, and has also been charged with assault. The girl says she and others have remained in remand before because there was nowhere else to go.
“It makes us feel like we are not wanted, like they don’t want to get us out of there,” she said.
No one knows how many kids are being kept in jail when they should be released, because officially, no one is keeping track.
Provincial departments such as Manitoba Justice don’t have statistics, and neither does Child and Family Services -- the agency responsible for kids in care.
Cora Morgan counsels youth who have been involved with the law. Increasingly, she’s been speaking with kids who have been left in the Manitoba Youth Centre.
In some cases, she said, they want to stay in jail to avoid hotels.
“In the past two years, I’d say it’s happened around 20 times,” Morgan told CTV News.
Officials are now working to add more shelter beds and foster care spaces. The province estimates as many as 160 new emergency placements are needed by deadline.
The criticism over the lack of foster spaces comes after recent violent incidents involving Manitoba children in government care.
Earlier this month, a 15-year-old girl under the care of Manitoba Child and Family Service was severely beaten outside a Winnipeg hotel. The girl and the 15-year-old boy subsequently charged in the beating were both in foster care and were being housed at the same hotel at the time of the attack.
On Wednesday, the 15-year-old girl was taken off life support.
In light of the attack, the province has vowed to stop using the hotel system to house children by June.
With a report by CTV Winnipeg Bureau Chief Jill Macyshon