OTTAWA – A federal grant for parents of murdered and abducted children may be inadvertently failing to provide important financial help to those who are “more vulnerable economically,” says a newly released report that illustrates the government’s thinking on how to eliminate barriers to the program.
Since its launch in 2013, the program has spent less than one per cent of its annual $10-million budget on grants, which the evaluation chalks up to a variety of issues, including strict eligibility criteria.
At the same time, administrative costs during the four-year-period covered by the review totalled more than $2.8 million — about nine times the $315,350 in grants handed out over the same period.
The program aims to provide up to $12,250 to parents whose children have been killed or have gone missing as a result of a probable criminal offence in Canada. Victims must be under 18, parents neither working nor receiving employment insurance benefits, and the offence less than a year old.
Police, government and victims services officials interviewed for the federal evaluation made public Friday argued for dropping the minimum earnings requirement, raising the age limits for children and making funding available for up to three years after an incident.
The strict eligibility criteria, coupled with a lack of public awareness about the grant, have hindered uptake, particularly for Indigenous families that are at greater risk and have lower incomes, the evaluation says.
A government source with knowledge of the file, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations, said the Liberals are looking at changing all the criteria flagged in the evaluation.
The Liberals had promised over the summer to make changes to the program, but have yet to act.
The government also limits payments under the program to within one year of the incident and requires parents to have earned at least $6,500 in the preceding 12 months.
Between 2013 and 2017, only 29 of 50 applicants received the grant. Recipients were mostly female, 35 to 44 years old and lived in urban areas mainly in Ontario, Quebec and Alberta. A slight majority were part of a couple.
Rejected applicants, on the other hand, tended to be single and unemployed people who earned less income during the year before the incident than those that received the money, according to the evaluation.
The reports’ authors caution against drawing any hard conclusions from the numbers, given how few parents have applied for and received the grant since it launched in January 2013.
The anticipated federal evaluation is the latest in a string of critical reports on the program created by the previous Conservative government, which estimated annual funding of $10 million would help 1,000 families each year.
But the evaluation questions whether that figure would ever be met, “considering that the incidence of murdered and missing children cases is low in Canada.”
Three-quarters of missing children are runaways, the report says, and most are cleared within one week. A second study cited in the report found on average four cases of child abductions over a 40-year period. And Statistics Canada data cited in the evaluation has shown between 40 and 60 children were victims of homicide in Canada in the last 10 years.
The report says the program is unlikely to achieve “significant economy of scale” because the grant can “only provide support to a limited number of individuals” and some fixed costs to run the program may remain high relative to the funding given to parents.
Annual spending on administering the fund has seen a steep decline since 2013 when there was “significant investment that was made in start-up activities,” including a computer system to process applications and payments. In 2013, administrative costs totalled almost $1.4 million; by 2017, that figure was $191,112.