Tina Mundy is trying her best to reduce the lumps of coal she placed deep into the stockings of grandparents and other caregivers across the province in recent weeks. The minister of family and human services is attempting to restore some Christmas cheer on P.E.I., but is fighting a losing battle to defend government stumbles on the province’s new Grandparents and Care Providers program.
The plan was unveiled in early November, following effective lobbying by grandparents and dramatic testimony at standing committees of the legislature. It’s designed to ease the financial burden for family members who are providing a safe home for children unable to live with their parents.
In an overwhelming number of cases, those caregivers are grandparents – who are retired, living on fixed incomes and doing their best to make ends meet for themselves and their grandchildren. They need those $700 a month payments and the kids need the extra medication, dental and childcare coverage.
There is little doubt, based on the initial press release and comments from the minister, that most, if not all, grandparents and other caregivers would be eligible for immediate support once the program rolled out Dec. 1. However, only families of 54 children who are the subject of an open child protection case, are eligible. Of that number, almost 40 are in grandparent-led homes.
The province says this is to ensure the safety of the children and prevent them from coming under government custody. Mundy said including more families would have taken too long so the decision was made to not wait until a program was fully developed but to help the 54 children now.
It also reduces the costs to the province when otherwise, those children might end up in more expensive foster care. That savings should widen the program, not narrow its scope.
Most grandparents providing care for children aren't involved with child protection cases. The reasons are valid - parents could have died, are hospitalized, have addiction issues, are working in western Canada or are in custody. Their costs are the same as those in those in open custody cases.
Mundy said the reduced number of initial cases targets those at risk. Staff will direct their attention there and then add others later. It does make some sense. But she should have said that at the very start and not mislead many grandparents who expected immediate help.
Government has data on those open custody cases. It has a good idea of the total number of grandparent-led caregiver homes because it has approved a budget. There should be no excuses for delaying the approval of cheques to all eligible grandparents.
The minister is adamant that the new grandparents program is about the best interests of the child. Sadly, the facts seem to suggest otherwise. People feel misled. The province is asking for patience but that’s a luxury most grandparents cannot afford.
Many grandparents feel excluded and misled. Children in their care will suffer some deprivation. It’s something that should never happen to a child - especially at Christmas.