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Suggestions for Andrea Horwath

March 27, 2006 permalink

Here is thoughtful letter to Andrea Horwath in the continuing effort to amend bill 210.



Dear Ms Horwath,

The following letter about Bill 210 is from a post I made to the afterfostercare group last December. Unfortunately, my concerns are still valid. In my view, the McGuinty government is withholding improvements to services as a means to blackmail citizens into accepting an entrenched lack of accountability.

Right now, the courts are parents' only means of external accountability. Aside from the expense in time and money that this invokes, it's like using a screwdriver to hammer in a nail. Judges are not versed in the code of conduct established by the Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers; they are versed in the Child and Family Services Act, which protects child protection workers under the heavy and obsuring blanket of "good faith." The OCSWSSW can lift that blanket, but there is no mandate in the CSFA for them to do so.

Does the CAS try to intimidate parents? Ask yourself why the Ottawa CAS employs a professional football player — Jason Mallett — as a front-line child protection worker during his off-seasons. Aside from the expense of this on-again, off-again employment, I have to ask why the CAS feels that this is appropriate. Remember, there is no statutory minimum of training or professional accreditation required for employment by a CAS.

You may use this letter as you see fit as long as my name is withheld. I believe that the Ottawa CAS is aware of my pseudonym but cannot confirm it. In the past, they have gone to some lengths to silence me. I left Ontario to get away from their harassment, but most of my family is in Ottawa and I don't want them harassed as the CAS attempts to "set me straight."

/name withheld/

Dec 06, 2005

My concern is whether or not a revised procedure would be implemented effectively. That is, would it be worded in such a way that it could be circumvented? We've already seen that there are no standards within or between CASs because there is nothing forcing them to be there. CASs, directors, the Minister ... up until now, all of them have been able to kill the process whenever they've felt like it, for arbitrary reasons.

CAS workers complain of being overworked and underfunded, yet their judgement under these stressful conditions is always assumed to be perfect.

Bad case workers and supervisors have become accustomed to being able to halt the process at their convenience. These people will be looking for ways to keep doing the same thing if the rules are changed, so safeguards must be built in to prevent them from from doing that.

Right now, the CFSA and the CASs themselves are structured to protect the workers.

Keep in mind that at least two Offices exist, in whole or in part, in this government *BECAUSE* too often the CASs and their workers fail to do their jobs properly: The Office of the Child Advocate and the Office of the Children's Lawyer. Even these Offices fail due to overwork, underfunding, and, in the case of the Children's Lawyer, a question of bias.

Those safeguards are for the protection of children. Not a single effective safeguard exists to protect parents or family integrity from the CASs, its workers, or the system. In effect, there is no "Child and Family Services Act," it is the "Child Protection Services Act."

Here are a few of my recommendations, as they pertain to an adult's ability to resolve problems in dealing with a CAS or problem worker(s):

  • Complaints procedures must be available publicly, with no restriction on their distribution. Right now, the Ottawa CAS distributes its rules *only* in printed form. They attempt to restrict distribution by claiming that nobody can copy the material but them (not just the layout but the content). What does this public-service organization have to fear from the public knowing about the rules under which the public can communicate with them? Refusing to waive the copyright on the printed document is a petty attempt to restrict access, and it violates the spirit of our copyright laws. I'd also argue that as a procedural document intended for the public, its content should be exempted from copyright protection (although the structure and layout should be protected). It's like trying to copyright a city's bylaws to prevent people from knowing where can park.
  • Complaints procedures must adhere to consistent guidelines set by the Ministry. These guidelines must ensure consistent treatment of the public throughout the province, with special accommodations given to individual CASs only in unavoidable circumstances. It is critical that these guidelines specify limits on response times and define a clear hierachy from level to level, a means of external adjudication to determine a fair outcome, and a means by which a complainant can get around roadblocks in the process (like a difficult worker or supervisor).

    The Ottawa CAS has a ridiculous response time of 30 business days (that's six weeks!) for EACH stage in the process, and that's with the case materials readily available to them. Parents are not given that kind of latitude in any kind of dealings with the Ottawa CAS, especially not legal dealings. Supervisors at the Ottawa CAS "dismiss" complaints after hearing from the workers, without asking for discussion with or clarification from the complainants. Executives at the Ottawa CAS "reassign" complaints right back down to the workers who failed to deal with problems properly in the first place. The Ottawa CAS reserves the right to restrict the choice of support person a complainant can bring in to a meeting. As the rules are defined in the printed material, a complainant would not be able to bring in an interpreter, lawyer or service assistant since the CAS will not allow a third party brought in by the complainant to speak to anyone except the complainant. The Ottawa CAS dictates the rules to follow during meetings, including whether or not to allow recording by the complainant, while reserving its own right to record via the audio system and have its own witnesses behind one-way glass.

  • Members of the public must be allowed the ability to make complaints, even if they are not "clients" of the CAS. CAS workers appear in public and deal with the public during the course of their duties, and the public should be free to report misconduct, particularly since the public is obligated to report suspected abuse to the CAS. For example, right now, if a member of the public witnesses an Ottawa CAS worker abusing a child, that person is obligated to report the incident. However, the Ottawa CAS is free to dismiss the report of abuse by defining it as a complaint against the conduct of a worker, thereby putting it under the aegis of the complaints procedure, which is barred to non-clients. This is not as unlikely as it seems, particularly with advocates and other third parties becoming increasingly involved during parent-worker interactions.
  • Guidelines must be clear and unambiguous, otherwise they will lead to legal battles that are likely to end in either inconsisent rulings or in the heavily-biased and utterly undefined "good faith" excuse.
  • Tangible and workable remedies must be defined to deal with CASs and workers that violate the guidelines set out by the Ministry--in all areas, not just the complaints procedures. One of the problems that parents face right now is that the courts are their only recourse for dealing with entrenched problems with the CASs, and the courts are powerless to do anything because there is nothing specified in the law to allow judges to deal with problem workers and CASs. Unless a judge chooses to be a maverick, he'll stand by the letter of the law, which favours, or at least absolves, the CASs and their workers (this is readily apparent from court outcomes in which in a CAS is determined to be clearly in the wrong, yet no significant consequences are levelled) . In terms available legal remedies, everything is at the Minister's discretion, with no clearly defined process or consequences set out to give parents any guidance or hope.

    Remember, there is no right without a remedy. If there is no legally defined solution to address a statutory violation, then the issue is *not* a right under the law, regardless of how firmly it's worded. In other words, if a CAS violates the CFSA and the courts are not told what to do, or what they they can do, to fix the problem, then all they can do is wag their fingers and say "Stop that," leaving the CAS free to do it again (and again, and again, and ...)