WINNIPEG — The Manitoba government has stopped tracking the controversial use of hotel rooms to house kids seized by child-welfare workers.
The former NDP government promised to stop putting up kids in hotels, except in exceptional circumstances, after repeated criticism from the province's children's advocate that hotels do not provide adequate security or supports for children taken from their families.
The NDP collected data from child-welfare agencies and regional authorities and posted monthly statistics to demonstrate its progress on eliminating the practice.
The Progressive Conservative government, elected a year ago, no longer collects or posts the data, and says it believes the problem has been solved.
"The Department of Families has regular meetings with ... authorities and agencies. Since the 2015 directive (not to use hotel rooms), they have checked on this issue and each time partners have stated that the directive has been successfully met," Andrea Slobodian, press secretary to Families Minister Scott Fielding, wrote in an email this week.
"Hotel use is not tracked as it is not permitted."
The province has also disbanded the Hotel Reduction Team — a group that was tasked with tracking and eliminating the use of hotel rooms — instead focusing its attention on emergency placement use and discharge planning.
In 2014, dozens of children each month were being housed in hotel rooms, due to a lack of space in foster and group homes.
One of them was Tina Fontaine, a 15-year-old girl who ran away from her hotel room in downtown Winnipeg shortly before her body was pulled from the Red River.
The following year, a 15-year-old girl being housed in a hotel was brutally beaten and sexually assaulted. A boy who was also being kept in the same hotel by child-welfare officials was charged in the attack.
The NDP government at the time expanded the number of emergency shelters and group-home spaces. In the fall of 2015, the province said hotel rooms were no longer being used except in exceptional circumstances — when kids are travelling for family visits, for example, or when siblings are seized in the middle of the night and there is no immediate placement available without splitting them up.
But Cora Morgan, the children's advocate for First Nations in Manitoba, said she believes hotel rooms are still being used. She said she saw evidence last New Year's Eve, when her family took a mini-vacation at a Winnipeg hotel.
"We were in the pool and there were four First Nations kids there with a support worker," she said.
The Office of the Children's Advocate, an arm's-length provincial watchdog, said hotel use should still be tabulated.
"We should be tracking every way that we're interacting with children who are in care of the system," spokesperson Ainsley Krone said.
"The types of placements that they're staying in — whether those are group homes or whether those are foster homes or whether they're hotels — all of that information should be known."
The last statistics posted on the government's website dates from December 2015. A request for updated numbers, filed by The Canadian Press under Manitoba's freedom-of-information law, was rejected because the data are no longer collected centrally from child-welfare agencies across the province.
"The information you requested does not exist in a single record and would require a large number of records to be searched and compiled, interfering unreasonably with the operation of the agencies," stated a letter from Jay Rodgers, deputy minister of the Department of Families.
"As a result, the department is unable to provide information that is responsive to this request."
Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press