It might be the year of the tiger in China, but in Newfoundland and Labrador, it's the year of the child.
Monday's provincial budget focused heavily on children and youth.
"Mr. Speaker, directly or indirectly, every initiative in this budget is about children," Finance Minister Tom Marshall said in his budget speech.
On top of spending millions on the K-12 school system (see story page A9), the child-oriented expenditures included $167 million for Child, Youth and Family Services.
The money for the province's newest department - created in Budget 2009 - will go towards things like a survey on the plight of foster families, housing for at-risk kids and addressing a range of concerns from social workers.
The province's foster-care system was found to be in disarray in a troubling report by the child advocate released last year.
Residential services for at-risk kids were previously funded using money from other program areas.
Social workers, who are grappling with recruitment and retention issues, have expressed concerns about a lack of supervisors, the technology they use, their caseloads and the amount of time they spend on non-social work duties.
Lisa Crockwell of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Social Workers says the commitments announced to start fixing those issues were continuations of previous announcements.
She welcomed the investments, but cautioned it's going to take a sustained focus "to really make things happen."
She suggested that the province keep building on the recommendations in past reviews of the child protection system.
"There's a lot of really important directions that need to be continued with in regards to how the department rolls out in the next few years," Crockwell said.
Asked if social workers have found that their workloads and stress levels have eased under the new department, her reply was, "It's still early days."
"We still have issues with recruitment and retention, so even with the resources there we've got to put parallel ones in there to make sure people are available to do the work," she said. "So right now it's early days, but there's optimism around some of the direction. People are anxious to hear more and understand what it means to frontline workers on their day-to-day (work)."
Joan Burke, minister of the new department, said it was expected to take three to five years for all the changes to take effect.
"I think we're on target," she told reporters. "It will still take us three to five years, but today, we're where we would have liked to have been coming into this budget and the new fiscal year."
Linda Ross, president and CEO of the Provincial Advisory Council on the Status of Women, appreciated the investment in children.
"There's a huge amount of work to do, but at least the resources are there to be able to get a lot of it kickstarted and moving forward," she said.
Deirdre Greene of Easter Seals - which provides programs and services to children and youth with physical disabilities - was also encouraged that the province is focused on taking care of its youth.
She said she's looking forward to seeing how the government is going to create accessibility and inclusion as part of its planning.
"We'd like to see something specific on that, and I'm hoping government will make space to talk to disability-serving organizations like ours so we can help them find ways to spend their money."
Child, Youth and Family Services' first budget ($167 million) includes money for:
A new organizational model.
27 new employees.
$400,000 for a computerized case-management system for social workers.
$3.1 million to connect 52 locations to the government technology network.
$21.8 million to pay for residential services for at-risk children.
$36,000 to survey and understand issues facing foster families.
$30,600 more for the Foster Families Association.
Source: Department of Child, Youth and Family Services