News / Kitchener

Family and Children’s Services face $2.5M deficit

WATERLOO REGION — Some of Waterloo Region’s most vulnerable children could be at risk because of additional job losses and program cuts at Family and Children’s Services, said the head of the agency.

“When you get to our door and we can’t help, the risk is kids in care numbers go up or the risk to children goes up. That is a terrible place to be as a community,” executive director Alison Scott said Monday.

The culprit, Scott said, is provincial underfunding resulting in a $2.5-million deficit at Family and Children’s Services of Waterloo Region, the largest in the agency’s 118-year history.

“We can’t continue to meet all our mandated responsibilities with less dollars and increased need. It (provincial government) needs to increase the funding envelope,” she said.

“I can appreciate that the government’s got problems … but these are our most vulnerable kids,” Scott said.

Last month, the agency announced it is closing two group homes and eliminating the equivalent of 24.7 positions to save $1.3 million.

On Monday, Scott said another 22 part-time and casual workers — the equivalent of 6.3 full-time positions — will be laid off to save $260,000 to reach that $1.3-million goal.

The agency will carry a $1.2-million deficit since she said she’s not willing to sacrifice the agency’s ability to meet its legal mandate to see high-risk children referred to them within 12 hours.

To save $260,000, Scott said some support programs will be cut including those geared to keeping families intact, for sexually abused children and for foster parents.

“It may mean that programs will not run as frequently as they have, or will run with less staff and some programs may need to be cancelled.”

About 90 per cent of the 5,000 children the agency is serving are receiving care and support services so they can stay at home instead of being taken into care, Scott said.

The agency will also be cutting back on its supervision of court-ordered parental visits of children in care, or arranging for other family members to supervise the visits, she said.

The agency requested $49.8 million from the province to provide government-required services for the fiscal year from April 1 to March 31. The province granted $47.3 million, less than the $48.6 million received last year.

Scott said the agency already has an accumulated deficit of $868,000 — from two previous years of provincial underfunding — and this year’s deficit of $1.2 million brings their total debt to $2 million. Debt charges come out of the agency’s budget, she said.

A new expense for the agency is having ill children in care in treatment centres or foster homes that provide nursing care at a cost of up to $400 a day. That does not include the cost of medications, supplies and equipment. The province pays $91.70 of the daily cost.

Other community agencies used to care for these children, but no longer can because of government cutbacks, Scott said.

Of the 500 children who have been taken out of their homes and are now in care, about 65 require this more expensive medical care, including six medically fragile babies, she said. The daily cost for the babies is up to $800.

Kitchener Centre Liberal MPP John Milloy said since 2003, the province has increased funding to Family and Children’s Services by 25 per cent.

“Obviously, right now the pressures are beyond what they have in their budget. We have seen that as a trend across the province.”

He said the government is working with child welfare agencies across the province to address their budget issues and several years ago appointed a commission to recommend a more sustainable funding formula for this sector.

“We are trying to find a way forward. These are tough times and notwithstanding the increases, there’s constraint everywhere.

“We have to think of ways of doing things differently,” he said.

Kitchener-Waterloo MPP Catherine Fife said the agency is being punished for being progressive and living up to the province’s mandate to keep families intact.

“This agency is running as lean as it can be and the fear is that children will pay the price,” said the NDP member who met with Scott on Monday.

“I think it is time for the province to fund the real cost of protecting children.”

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