Saturday, November 25, 2000

Allyson Jeffs
Provincial Affairs Writer

File Photo/Iris Evans
File Photo/Iris Evans

Children at risk get help from new gov't programs

Province's $48M plan aims to curb child prostitution

Child prostitutes, new mothers and families in crisis will benefit from $48 million in government spending over three years announced by Children's Services Minister Iris Evans Friday.

"These programs will assist hundreds of children and youth who need our help," Evans said. "By supporting parents, providing treatment and reaching out to children at risk, we'll be able to help at a critical stage in their lives."

Included in the announcement is $10 million for outreach and treatment of children involved in prostitution. New funding is needed to cover the costs of longer treatment stays for children taken off the street under the Protection of Children Involved in Prostitution Act.

Also included in the announcement is funding for:

  • $21 million towards programs focusing on home visits and help for children born into high-risk situations. Programs will include prenatal support and home visits from volunteers and professionals to help with infant care, nutrition and other basics.
  • $7 million for fetal alcohol syndrome programs that assist with early identification, public awareness and training for professionals.
  • $5 million for a pilot program involving community response teams for children and families who are in government care or are at risk of child welfare involvement. Services include crisis intervention at home and school and brief stints of treatment.
  • $5 million in transition support for youth leaving the care of child welfare who need skills for the move into adulthood.

Regional children's services authorities will announce programs for specific communities in each of the funding areas during the next few months.

The additional money for child prostitution reflects changes in the act. Previously, the law allowed minors suspected of working in the sex trade to be confined in a safe house for up to 72 hours for assessment.

Proposed changes introduced in the legislature this week would see child prostitutes held for up to five days initially. After that, officials could ask a court to approve two additional periods of detention lasting up to 21 days each.

Since the law treats children working as prostitutes as victims of sexual abuse, Evans said the three-day stays have not proved long enough to help them break their ties to the street and their pimps.

She envisions a "holistic" treatment program that would ensure those who are at a similar treatment stage move through the program together so they can support one other.

"Simply put, you don't put somebody fresh off the street with people you have had some success in bringing to the point where they're motivated to get back into learning or back with their family," Evans said.

The spending, Evans said, is part of the government's commitment to recommendations made at the 1999 Children's Forum chaired by Colleen Klein, Premier Ralph Klein's wife.

Liberal social services critic Linda Sloan said the needed money is likely being announced as part of the Klein government's preparations for a spring election.

"It really doesn't ensure permanent programs but the child welfare sector has been long underfunded and the money is welcome," she said.

Brian Bechtel, head of the Edmonton Social Planning Council, said the money is being spent on "good projects" but tying it to the priorities of the Children's Forum "is a bit of a stretch."

Many recommendations from the forum dealt with funding for basic needs like affordable housing, school lunches and income support but the province hasn't addressed those issues, he said.

Bechtel, who has announced he'll run for the Liberals in the next provincial election, was on the forum steering committee but withdrew his support for its final report at the 11th hour because of his concerns about the government's commitment to follow-up.

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Created: November 25, 2000
Last modified: January 17, 2001
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