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Liberals taking children to task

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The McGuinty Task Force on Children came to Fort Frances last Friday morning but some here were left wondering what will stem from its findings—at least in the short term.

“We’ve been through so many of these things. In terms of anything coming from this whole thing, I’m pretty skeptical,” Wilma Sletmoen, chairwoman of the Fort Frances-Rainy River Board of Education, said yesterday.

She was one of six people who addressed Windsor-Sandwich MPP Sandra Pupatello, also Liberal children’s issues critic, and Kenora MPP Frank Miclash at the Red Dog Inn.

Betty McLeod, executive director of Rainy River District Family and Children Services, agreed if the Harris government didn’t do anything with the findings, it would be another three years before the Liberals would have a chance to come to power.

But she also said having an informed opposition was important, adding the hearings would paint a realistic picture of what was needed across the province.

And despite her pessimism, Sletmoen also felt it was important for the school board to voice its concerns. She told the MPPs the board was under pressure to provide the quality of education parents and society expect—and that the students deserve.

“The problem we experience, though, is the educators are trained to educate, not to do social work,” she explained, adding there was an increasing lack of financial resources.

“In the north, there’s just a lack of services, period.”

“There are less resources. There are less professional services,” echoed McLeod.

She spoke on the lack of access to children’s mental health treatment beds, and the omission of 16- and 17-year-olds in the Child and Family Services Act so FACS can’t intervene on their behalf.

Skip Gryschuk, executive director of the Kenora Patricia Child and Family Services, raised concerns on the area’s low rates of education, high employment, and growing single parenthood.

Also speaking here were parent Carol Eady, a children’s mental health consumer; Rosemary Robertson, president of the Catholic Women Teachers’ Association; and Colin Wasacase, executive director of Ojibway Tribal and Family Services.

Miclash noted they were taking deputations from other front-line workers across the northwest.

Pupatello said the most important question they were asking was how to get the government to respond to peoples’ needs, charging the latest statistics and reports showed the province isn’t meeting the needs of children.

“We are going to make it an issue, and the findings of this report an issue with this government," she pledged Friday. ”Failing action on the government’s part, it will become part of the Liberal platform for the next election.

“Dalton [McGuinty] is very adamant that children are going to be a priority,” she added, referring to the provincial Liberal leader who launched the task force Aug. 13.

The task force also is making stops in Belleville, Barrie, Windsor, Toronto, and Ottawa until mid-September to hear from front-line workers about what needs to be done to give kids a better start in life.

The report, slated to be completed in mid-November, then will be presented to the government.

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