Saskatchewan’s former child advocate says the government initially made some progress on helping kids, but Bob Pringle says efforts have stalled on many fronts.
Bob Pringle speaks during a news conference in Regina on Wednesday May 14, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jennifer Graham
“The last year-and a-half to two years, there has not been the same sustained effort to support the child and family agenda as there was the first 3 1/2 (years),” Pringle said as his six-year stint as advocate for children and youth ended this week.
“I understand there’s budgetary pressures, but I take the position that with some of the conditions facing families at risk or children at risk in vulnerable families, we’re making some decisions that are exacerbating that problem.”
Pringle said improvements include the creation of legal counsel for children in protection proceedings, a reduction in foster home overcrowding and a risk assessment tool to help social workers determine if children are going to be safe in their homes.
There are also more accredited First Nations child-welfare agencies and significant cross-cultural training, he added.
But in the last two provincial budgets, Pringle said, there has been virtually no progress in services for autism or fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, or in programs for vulnerable three- and four-year-old children.
“We’re in a situation where four out of 10 children are not kindergarten ready,” he said. “So if we’re concerned about the future … when almost half of your children are not kindergarten ready and you’re not putting resources there, that’s a concern because where does that lead, right?”
The government introduced its agenda for children and families in 2011. Pringle has said that the initiative is positive, but has not been fully implemented in the way it was intended.
As well, many of the ideas in a poverty reduction strategy introduced earlier this year won’t be pursued until the province can afford them, said Pringle, who noted that poverty drives child welfare and puts children at risk.
The 2016-2017 provincial budget projects a $434-million deficit.
The former advocate also noted that a mental health and addictions plan outlined almost two years ago is on hold.
Dr. Fern Stockdale Winder, commissioner of the plan, submitted a report to government calling for a more co-ordinated and timely response to people in need of mental health and addictions services.
“That would have been a transformational change in addictions and mental health. That 10-year plan is kind of in limbo,” said Pringle.
However, the issues are not unique to Saskatchewan, he said.
“They’re long-standing and … no government’s really done a very good job in addressing the child-welfare system.”
Social Services Minister Tiny Beaudry-Mellor, who was appointed in August, was not available for comment.
Government Relations Minister Donna Harpauer, the previous social services minister, said she disagrees with suggestions that efforts have stalled because of budget constraints.
Harpauer said there is more support for foster homes and child-care spaces have increased every year since the Saskatchewan Party took power in 2007.
“We will always have work to do as long as we have a child at risk,” she said.
“That does comes with challenges, of course, because it’s an emotional file. But we continue to make that a priority and even in the tough years, that’s a budget that’s always seen increases.”
In 2014, the province said it had put nearly $62.5 million in new funding to the child and family agenda.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of Edmonton and Area Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Network.