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Bountrogianni Wants to Help Parents of Disabled Kids

May 9, 2005 permalink

In the continuing scandal of parents forced to relinquish custody of disabled children to get specialized care, Minister of Children and Youth Services Marie Bountrogianni has denounced the policy, and declared her intention to eliminate the practice, re-issuing a directive to that end.

As long as her statements are genuine, and the directives are in place as she stated, this should cure the problem for now, since Children's Aid Societies are unlikely to defy an order from the minister. But her directives did not address one of the most serious problems, the funding. Children's Aid gets funding from the province for each child-day of foster care. Under ordinary circumstances, they get $71 per child day, and give the foster parents $27, leaving $44 per day to fund their own operations. That comes to over a quarter million dollars for a baby or toddler held until age of majority. For children classified as special needs, the numbers get bigger. For an insight into how much bigger, Gary Putman, Executive Director of Dufferin Children's Aid, told the Orangeville Banner on March 30, 2004 that care for what he described as "needy" children cost $210 per day. It was not clear from the article whether that was his net or gross, but either way a young needy child is good for over a million dollars for Mr Putman's agency.

Mrs Bountrogianni does not say what the funding formula will be for disabled children who receive services without loss of custody. Will the Children's Aid Society still get its megabucks? If so, someone is bound to ask: "What for?". Why should Children's Aid get paid for doing nothing while a parent arranges services from a residential care facility? But if Children's Aid does not get the megabucks, will the money go to the parents? Not likely. If properly implemented, residential care for parents retaining custody should be a lot cheaper than the current arrangement.

Toward the end of the Windsor Star article below, Mrs Bountrogianni announces her intention to provide more money for children's services. But it is precisely the large amount of money provided to Children's Aid that drives them to seek custody of children, and will continue to do so once the public spotlight is off this issue, and they can return to business as usual.



Parents of disabled kids win support

Minister reissues order to CAS

Children's Aid Societies in Ontario should not force parents to sign away custodial rights in order to get residential treatment for their severely disabled children -- which some parents say is happening -- the children's minister says.

"The children's aid societies are there for protection," Children and Youth Services Minister Marie Bountrogianni said in a phone interview. "They are not there to take parental rights away from parents of severely disabled children."

New Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin last week announced that his first investigation will look into complaints from parents who claim they were essentially forced to permanently relinquish guardianship of their children to the CAS in order to get the services they require.

Bountrogianni said she welcomes the review by the Ombudsman, who monitors government agencies, but says even before her ministry finishes its own investigation she has re-issued a directive for children's aid societies not to require parents to give up custody rights of their children if they do not require protection.

"I understand it is happening in Windsor so I want to rectify that immediately," Bountrogianni said Friday. "I've given a re-directive to children's aid societies not to take parental rights away, that if there is no protection issue and a very seriously disabled child comes to their attention they should get together with community agencies -- as they do in Hamilton -- to find help for that child.

"There are some parts of the province that do that better than other parts of the province."

Jennifer Bray complained recently when she was forced to give up custody of her 11-year-old mentally disabled son Wesley.

She'd called an ambulance to stop him from wildly kicking her in her vehicle.

He lived in a facility in London but when he was released she had not choice but to sign away guardianship for one year in order to get help, she said.

For the care to continue after a year, Bray was told she'd have to give up guardianship permanently

"To take custody as a parent away -- I don't understand that," she said last month. "I fell violated."

Bill Bevan, executive director of the Windsor-Essex Children's Aid Society, said no children come into care locally without at least some concern about protection.

"By the time they get to the children's aid society, they're saying 'I cannot cope,'" Bevan said. "When you get to the point where you're not coping well and you feel so stressed that you're not able to manage this child with such behaviours, that puts the child at risk."

Nevertheless, Bevan estimates his agency handles about two cases a year in which -- if funding and services were more readily available -- parents could have avoided dealing with the CAS.

About four years ago, Bevan said, children's aid societies could enter into special-needs agreements with parents, providing residential service for severely disabled children without changing custody -- a system he considers beneficial.

Bountrogianni said some children's aid societies still manage to help seriously challenged children without taking away parental rights. But the Hamilton MPP acknowledged that differing intervention could be a function of how many services are available in various communities.

"What happens here in Hamilton when children with severe disabilities are brought to the attention of the CAS is they immediately have emergency meetings with all community agencies and try to find placements for the children," she said. "They don't take the kids away. They find help for them."

Bountrogianni said that when she found out about two months ago that parents were relinquishing custody of their children in order to get help, she was "quite upset."

She wants to do two things to ensure this situation does not continue. She wants to channel more money to children's mental health and other services. Her government announced in its first budget last year that it would increase funding in that area by 15 per cent, or $74 million -- the first increase in 12 years -- though she says more is needed.

Bountrogianni also said she wants to make a policy change, including changing the law if necessary, but wants more information first.