Children's Centre Thunder Bay executive director Tom Walters.
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The local children's centre can only reopen its long-term care home for troubled youth if significant funding changes are made.
For more than a decade the Thunder Bay Children's Centre's long-term residential care program has taken in some of the region's most high-risk youth who suffer from mental health, behavioural and substance abuse issues.
The children, mostly older teens and wards of the Crown, were referred to the program through other child welfare agencies. At the six-bed facility they were able to find stability and structure that couldn't be found elsewhere.
"(We had) some very good success stories," executive director Tom Walters said. "We have a number of youth who were able to move into adulthood."
But at the beginning of the month the program had to close its doors, sending those kids to programs in Southern Ontario or temporary foster homes.
That's because the program, which cost around $493 per day per child, was paid for through a fee for service rather than being permanently funded by the province.
"We had to make a tough decision," Walters said.
Officials with the local centre had asked the Ministry of Child and Youth Services to increase the fee, which has remained the same for nearly 10 years, to $600 but the request was denied because it didn't have the support of other agencies.
As agencies were told to tighten their budgets the referrals started drying up, leaving the children's centre to pick up the tab, which cost the agency $122,000 last year. Walters said they just couldn't afford to keep the program anymore.
"The government has really been working on getting child welfare agencies to get their budgets under control," Walters said.
The children's centre has a short-term assessment facility that has permanent funding. There is a lengthy waitlist for children to get in there. When the long-term facility shut its doors, it had four children.
Walters said if they had permanent funding for long-term care, there would be a waitlist for that program too.
"This kind of need is still there in the community there's no doubt in my mind about that," he said. "The need is not gone."
And while the cost of the program might seem expensive, it kept those kids out of hospitals and jails, which is much more expensive Walters said.
"It's very expensive to care for a few number of kids, but there are kids who need that," he said.
City council agrees.
On Monday it decided to write a letter of support for the centre and discuss the matter with its intergovernmental affairs committee.
Coun. Andrew Foulds, who put the idea forward, told colleagues that the children involved were some of the most vulnerable in the community. If they don't get help now, they might become a burden on other municipal services like police and EMS.
"The kids that we're dealing with are dealing with significant issues," he said.
Mayor Keith Hobbs said many of these children will end up on the street. The city needs to ask the province why programs like this aren't supported.
"It's absolutely ridiculous. It's just the swipe of a pen."
Walters said he's pleased that the city is backing the centre but he's not sure how much it will do.
"I always remain hopeful," he said.
Some of that hope comes from the ministry's new framework policy that looks at core services. Included in that is the need for intensive services. He hopes that might mean another chance for the longterm care program.
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