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November 17, 2010 permalink
Between complaints that social workers are overburdened is a disclosure that in Newfoundland alternative living arrangements cost between $157,000 and $615,000 annually per foster child. Only a tiny portion of this can be going for food, clothing and shelter. The rest is lining the pockets of the social services bureaucracy.
Emergency child placements cost N.L. millions
Advocates say the Newfoundland and Labrador government is sheltering children in hotels and motels in a system that costs millions of dollars and burns social workers out.
As well, the practice may be jeopardizing normal development of the children the government is seeking to protect, advocates tell CBC News.
Because of a lack of foster homes, the government has for several years been placing children in local hotels, as well as paying for round-the-clock care.
Often, the caregivers are social workers who have already completed a day on the job, and their union says the practice has become too much to bear.
"They're concerned that they're run down and that they're tired," said Carol Furlong, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees, which represents them.
"They've already worked their regular job. This is in addition to the hours they've already put in that day. … They just can't keep it up."
NDP Leader Lorraine Michael said social workers have told her they are afraid of being disciplined if they refuse the assignments.
"It's just not acceptable. The minister could have taken action before now to aggressively go after more foster families," she told CBC News.
In his latest report, Auditor General John Noseworthy said the practice — known as alternative living arrangements — has been expensive, with the government spending between $157,000 to $615,000 per year, per child.
Joan Burke, minister of the recently formed Department of Child, Youth and Family Services, said the government recognizes there is a problem and new foster families - 143 in the last year - are being recruited.
"I understand their issues and their concerns and I can assure them that we're working towards options that will eliminate that," she said.
Lawyer Brian Wentzell, who represents parents who have had children in alternative living arrangements, calls the system "farmed-out" care.
"I've had situations where children have been in ALAs for as much as a year," he said.
Wentzell said the response requires more than just new foster parents, but a more thorough approach to working with the family.
"More foster homes would help, but I think that's more treating the symptom than treating the problem," he said in an interview.
"It seems more focused on getting the children out of the risk situation, which I applaud. Don't get me wrong, that has to happen," he said.
"But then the focus doesn't shift to the same intensity in doing what needs to be done to get the children back home."
Melba Rabinowitz, a retired St. John's social worker, said she is concerned most about the welfare of the children, some of whom are infants, who are placed in alternative living arrangements and must deal with an endless stream of adults looking after them.
"I just can't imagine what it would be like for a child to have that kind of change systematically. It doesn't matter how nice the people are," Rabinowitz said.
"It doesn't matter what we're doing in terms of changing policy. We're gonna lose most of these children where they're gonna have emotional illnesses," she said. "I know that. I've seen it and I know it."