More than half of children in CFS care not ready for school

Winnipeg Free Press
June 10, 2015
Behind their classmates before they start
By Larry Kusch

Fewer than half of Manitoba children in the care of Child and Family Services are ready for school when they begin classes, and only a third will graduate from high school.

Those are two of a host of grim statistics in a new report from the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy, commissioned by the provincial government.

The centre found only 47 per cent of kids who have been apprehended by CFS agencies are ready to learn when they reach school age. That compares with 76 per cent of children who are not wards of the state.

Children in care are generally well behind in math competency by Grade 3 and in reading and writing by Grade 8.

Their graduation rate — at 33 per cent — is far below the 89 per cent rate for kids who have never had contact with CFS. It is also well below the rate — 67 per cent — for kids who have not been apprehended but still received supports from family service agencies.

The MCHP study is the first in Manitoba to measure the differences in educational outcomes across a range of ages and grades between children in care, those whose families have received services from the family services department and those who have neither been in care nor had to receive CFS services.

Education Minister James Allum responded to the report by announcing the formation of a task force to examine ways to close the achievement gap. The task force will be co-chaired by Tammy Christensen, executive director of Ndinawemaaganag Endaawaad Inc., a youth service organization, and Kevin Lamoureux, an instructor and aboriginal education expert at the University of Winnipeg.

According to the MCHP report, kids in care are seven times more likely to have a developmental disability and four times more likely to have experienced a mental disorder than kids who have had no contact with CFS, the report said.

They are also eight times more likely to have a mother who reported using alcohol or drugs during pregnancy and almost six times more likely to be from a family that received social assistance.
The report, entitled Education Outcomes of Children in Care, www.umanitoba.ca/medicine/units/mchp shows how these disadvantages translate into poorer school outcomes.

It says that even before they first attend school, more than half of kids in care are already at a disadvantage because they lack either the physical health and well-being, social competence, emotional maturity, the language and cognitive development, or communication skills and general knowledge to flourish.

The report says while it’s widely known Manitoba has a large number of children in care, what is less known is the province has one of the highest apprehension rates in the world.

“This should be a major concern for Manitobans,” the report says.

“High rates of children in care are an indication that effective home-based services are lacking for families in need, and that unacceptable living conditions, such as poor housing, poverty, poor parenting skills and family dysfunction are not being addressed on a broader community or societal level.”

Allum said while the report dealt with many social issues children in care face before they reach school age, the task force will confine itself to coming up with ways to improve outcomes once kids are at school.

He said the province is already taking several measures to reduce poverty and provide supports to families to raise their kids.

“We want to be sure that we have the right circumstances, the right solutions, the right resources, the right supports in order that those kids have every opportunity to be successful learners and go on to live happy and productive lives,” the minister said.

He said he expects the task force to submit its report by the end of the year.

Allum said it would be up to the task force to set any specific targets for improvement in educational outcomes.

Christensen said while the 131-page report contained many troubling facts, none of it was a shock to her.

“As an organization that has been working with indigenous youth for 20 years, it’s something that we see day in and day out,” she said.

Christensen said on the positive side, young people are quite resilient. “And I think part of our role in the task (force) is to really focus on… (how) we engage them in a process that will create better outcomes for them in the future.”

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca