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Most missing persons involve kids in care

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WINNIPEG—Police in Winnipeg say four out of five missing persons reports they receive every month involve kids in the care of Manitoba Child and Family Services.

A report prepared for the city’s police board says officers deal with an average of about 550 missing persons reports a month.

Of those, 83 percent involve kids in government care and 71 percent are female.

Another police report prepared for the same board meeting shows the top 19 addresses associated with missing persons reports are Child and Family Services facilities.

“The vast majority of missing persons reported are short-term chronic runaways,” the report says.

“Most are vulnerable indigenous youth who are in the care of Child and Family Services.”

The police figures also show that “habitual/chronic” missing persons accounted for almost 70 percent of all 709 missing persons reported between April and June, and that 22 people accounted for 20 percent of the reports during those three months.

Winnipeg police are refusing to comment on the numbers until they formally are presented to the city tomorrow.

Federal government statistics show Manitoba had the highest number of missing persons reports involving children and youth per capita in Canada last year.

There were just over 6,400 missing persons reports involving young people—nearly twice that of Saskatchewan and Alberta.

One of them was 15-year-old Tina Fontaine, who ran away from a hotel where she was in the care of Child and Family Services.

Her body was found wrapped in a bag in the Red River.

Manitoba has been grappling with its troubled child-welfare system for years.

The province has more than 10,000 kids in care and the vast majority of them are aboriginal.

The province recently came under fire from Manitoba’s First Nations’ children’s advocate for seizing an average of one newborn a day.

Family Services minister Kerri Irvin-Ross said the high number of missing persons reports from government facilities says more about the complex needs of the children in care than it does about the care they receive.

Sometimes a handful of “frequent flyers” can make up a large percentage of missing persons reports, she noted.

But Irvin-Ross said the numbers are a worry, especially in light of ongoing concerns around the number of missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada.

“Am I concerned about those numbers? Yes, I am, and everybody within child welfare is, too,” she said in an interview Tuesday.

“We need to develop relationships with these young people so if they’re in crisis, they have someone to talk to,” Irvin-Ross stressed.

“They don’t have to run away.”

Critics say the high numbers should be a wake-up call.

Ian Wishart, critic for the opposition Conservatives, said a shortage of foster placements has led the province to house children in hotels for years—making it easy for them to “walk in one door and out another.”

Kids, especially girls, are running away because they aren’t being properly supported, he added.

“Those are often ones that are at risk of being sexually exploited,” Wishart noted.

“We simply cannot allow that to continue to happen as easily.

“We become a feeding ground for sexual predators,” he warned.

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