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Manitoba Government Press Release–The Manitoba government is investing more than $1-million in a new program designed to help keep families together by matching them with community-based support workers who can help them feel supported, valued and connected to the resources they need, Families Minister Heather Stefanson announced today.

“Children deserve safe and stable homes, where parents and caregivers feel supported and can reach out for help when they need it,” said Stefanson. “The community helpers program will build strong relationships with families outside of the formal child welfare system, with people and organizations they know and trust. Our goal is to support the stability and wellness of vulnerable families, so they have a person to lean on when experiencing challenges.”

Two community-led partnerships have been chosen through a competitive grant process to lead this work and each will receive $525,000 to recruit, train and employ community helpers. They are:
• Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre Inc., Macdonald Youth Services and Fearless R2W, and
• Wahbung Abinoonjiiag Inc., Blue Thunderbird Family Care Inc., Andrews Street Family Centre Inc., Mount Carmel Clinic and The Winnipeg Boldness Project.

Launching this month, the program will match community-based support workers with families and caregivers living in Winnipeg’s inner city who are experiencing challenges that could lead to separation including issues related to addictions or mental health. Through facilitated family-led planning, in-home crisis counselling and skill-building exercises, the community helpers will also provide children and caregivers with tools and supports to help prevent or limit involvement with the child welfare system. Community helpers may also work with children who have been placed in care to help ensure they are stable and safe.

“Fearless R2W, Macdonald Youth Services and the Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre share the same values that north end families know best what families need,” said Diane Redsky, executive director, Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre. “We are going to take a community-based, culturally safe, trauma-informed, anti-racist and strength-based approach to support our families and bring children home whenever possible. We want parents to know when they call for help a compassionate community response is on the way. This unique partnership builds on a community care model proven to have long-term positive and meaningful impacts for families and community.”

“The community helpers project, in collaboration with Gwekaanimad (the collective five organizations supporting this initiative), will build on the inherent strength, capacity and resilience of our community, empowering families to thrive,” said Dana Riccio-Arabe, executive director, Wahbung Abinoonjiiag Inc. “Using a culturally appropriate, strength-based lens, the community helpers project will provide direct support to families to prevent involvement or further involvement in the child welfare system. Wahbung Abinoonjiiag is grateful to the province for the opportunity to provide this innovative, community-led programming. We are confident that by walking alongside our families, together we can build a safe, supportive and healthy community.”

The methods and teachings used by the community helpers will integrate traditional knowledge and wisdom to ensure a cultural connection.

The Manitoba government first announced its intent to support a community helpers program last fall. Based on the strength of the submissions received in this process, the available funding was doubled to support both of these initiatives, Stefanson said.

In addition, the province is reporting the third consecutive year-over-year decrease in the number of children in care. As of March 31, 2020, there were 9,849 children in care in Manitoba, a decrease of 409 children or four per cent from the previous year.

“Our government has invested in programs to help keep families together, has ended the use of birth alerts, and is committed to achieving better outcomes for children, youth and families,” said Stefanson. “For the third year in a row, we have seen the number of children in care decline and we will continue to ensure there are community-based programs for families to support this trend.”

The minister noted the community helpers program builds on the government’s investments in initiatives to support vulnerable families, such as:
• shifting to single-envelope funding for Manitoba’s four child welfare authorities, which better supports investments in prevention and reunification;
• establishing the Restoring the Sacred Bond social impact bond with the Southern First Nations Network of Care;
• increasing supports to family group conferencing;
• creating Granny’s House community respite services; and
• doubling the number of high-risk families that can receive supports from The Mothering Project, run by Mount Carmel Clinic.

More information on services and supports available to families is available online at www.gov.mb.ca/fs/childfam/pubs/expectant-new-parent-resources.pdf.

More information on the number of children in care is in the Manitoba Families annual report, which is available online at www.gov.mb.ca/fs/about/annual_reports.html.