A four per cent funding cut to child-welfare workers across Manitoba is “frustrating” and will directly impact local services, according to Dave McGregor, CEO of Child and Family Services of Western Manitoba.
The cut amounts to $3.1 million across the province’s 20-plus front-line agencies and applies to the current fiscal year.
McGregor said they received a letter regarding the province’s funding cut at the beginning of January. He said it was “hard to comprehend” the news 10 months into the fiscal year. CFS of Western Manitoba will have to find $170,000 in savings to manage the four per cent cut, he said.
“We’re being hit hard ... it’s having a real impact on our staff,” he said. “We’re still digesting the news.”
Cutting expenses and rearranging internal staffing resources to cover the need are just some of the measures they’ll have to take, McGregor said. Either way, the agency will most likely be left with a $90,000 deficit at the end of the year due to vacancies and turnover, he said.
Having to leave positions vacant will also put “a real pressure on the front-line worker” and will impact local services for children and families, he said. Wage cuts for social workers are out of the question, McGregor said, due to Manitoba Government and General Employees Union guidelines.
CFS of Western Manitoba employs nearly 140 staff members, roughly 40 of which are social workers, he said.
With just two months left in the fiscal year, agencies across the province are now scrambling to keep jobs vacant longer, shift workers around, phase out contracts or even consider layoffs. There is speculation the province clawed back funding in order to have a stash of money available to act on recommendations from the Phoenix Sinclair inquiry.
In mid-December, after almost two years of hearings, commissioner Ted Hughes turned over his report into the 2005 death of Sinclair to the province. That report, which examines how the child-welfare system failed the five-year-old, is slated to be released publicly today.
McGregor predicts today’s recommendations could increase workload expectations of staff, making the cuts before those recommendations even harder to understand.
“These are hard-working people doing a very difficult job and it’s a tough message to understand,” he said. “The whole system is waiting to hear what those recommendations will be.”
The funding cut comes after years of increases to child welfare in the years following Sinclair’s death. In the last four years alone, front-line agencies have seen a total increase of nearly $100 million, in part because the number of children in care has also skyrocketed. This fiscal year, funding for agencies was budgeted at $421 million.
The province says the funding cut shouldn’t result in layoffs or affect front-line services.
» firstname.lastname@example.org, with files from the Winnipeg Free Press