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CAS Claims Unchallenged

July 27, 2006 permalink

Our comments follow this editorial from OACAS.




Message from the Executive Director

Ontario’s Ombudsman has stated publicly his belief that his office should have investigative oversight of Children’s Aid Societies, as well as school boards, and hospitals and long-term care facilities. The NDP introduced private members bills in April to amend the Ombudsman’s Act with respect to investigative powers in these three areas. This has led to comments and questions about the accountability of Ontario’s Children’s Aid Societies, and discussion about what improvements are needed in child welfare to better serve children and families. While we have great respect for the Ombudsman’s role and share his goal of improving the system, the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies has a different view of how this can be best achieved.

The existing system of regulation and accountability has been strengthened substantially in recent decades. It is true that in other Canadian jurisdictions, child welfare is operated by the government. Therefore, oversight rightly falls under the purview of an Ombudsman. However, Ontario is unique in Canada in that child welfare services in this Province are provided exclusively through children’s aid societies.

CASs are not-for-profit organizations, governed by local boards through which they are accountable to their communities. In addition to accountability to local boards, CASs are accountable to the Ministry of Children and Youth Services, to Ontario’s Family Courts, and to the public they serve. In fact, Ontario’s 53 CASs are subject to more than a dozen accountability reviews by the Ministry of Children and Youth Services (MCYS), which actively monitors their services and practices. MCYS conducts reviews of children in care, performs service and financial reviews, reviews child fatality reports, and serious occurrence reports. As well, all CASs in Ontario must fulfill the legislative requirement to have mechanisms in place to deal with client complaints. These reviews include provisions for a Director’s review by MCYS.

When a child is harmed or dies under questionable circumstances, and/or as a result of abuse, mistreatment or parental negligence or neglect, there are extensive reporting procedures including an external review by the Office of the Chief Coroner and its multi-disciplinary Pediatric Death Review Committee.

The family court system is a powerful mechanism to ensure that CASs have acted properly within their mandate, that individual client rights are respected, and that children are protected. Children’s Aid Societies only intervene in family life when there is evidence that a child may be in need of protection. If a child is admitted into the care of a Children’s Aid Society without parental consent, the Society must go before the court within five days to explain to a judge why the child was taken into care. The decision that the child is in need of protection is made by the judge, as is the determination of the child remaining in the care of the CAS.

However, having these accountability mechanisms does not mean that further improvements cannot be made. The field is preparing for implementation of the Child Welfare Secretariat’s Transformation Agenda, which focuses on permanency, differential response, accountability, a new funding model, research, and court processes. The passing of Bill 210 in March will allow the MCYS and the field to proceed with transformation initiatives contained in the Bill.

OACAS has advocated for changes in these five areas:

  1. Mandatory training in forensic investigations for all children’s aid workers, in collaboration with police.
  2. Enhancing the coroner’s role in reviewing and reporting on child deaths.
  3. Passing kinship care legislation.
  4. Workload relief for CAS staff.
  5. Raising public awareness on their responsibility to report child abuse and neglect.

Progress is already being made. The Ministry recently announced increased funding to the Coroner’s office for an annual report and statistical analysis from which the field can learn valuable lessons. In February 2006, The Ministry issued an “out of care” kin placement regulation to reflect the importance of background checks and assessment of kin in every instance where a Children’s Aid Society proposes or is apprised of a plan for the placement of a child with a relative or community member, and the child is not in the formal care of the Children’s Aid Society. Bill 210 identifies changes in client complaint procedures. All Societies will be required to have a standard complaints process. If the complaint is not resolved internally, the complainant may apply to the Child and Family Services Review Board (CFSRB) for an external review. The Ombudsman will have authority to review the process used by the CFSRB.

While it is always challenging to implement significant systemic changes, we know that these will translate into improved service to children and families, which is something that all Ontario CASs value.

Source: OACAS

Comments: One consequence of having no real oversight is that the OACAS can repeat its misrepresentations without official contradiction.

The assertion that CAS boards are accountable to their communities is simply false. Boards are chosen by their predecessors, without possibility of community involvement. Most of the board members are employees of the CAS they are governing, making them subordinate to the executive director. Some are members of other branches of the social services or policing systems, such as school board members or policemen. A few carefully selected community representatives serve, but they are required to sign a confidentiality contract with the agency, making them little more than stooges. When outsiders attempt to run for the board, CAS amends its rules to make the election of outsiders impossible. Recently, many Ontario CASs have changed policy, rejecting membership applications from anyone they feel does not agree with the policies of the society.

Oversight by the courts applies only to that tiny portion of CAS targets able to spend the price of a new car, or sometimes even a new house, on lawyers. Many are reduced to penury before finding a lawyer who is effective. For those required to rely on court appointed lawyers there is no representation at all, since those lawyers are under control of the court system and rarely take serious issue with CAS for fear of losing future business. CAS influence in the courts is so great that they now are attempting to jail a man for testifying to the Ontario legislature.

The responsible minister, currently Mary Anne Chambers, does have authority to correct problems with CAS, since she can replace members of the board in any of them. So far, all ministers exercising responsibility for CAS have been loyal to the bureaucracy, none have seriously tried to implement reform.

"Children’s Aid Societies only intervene in family life when there is evidence that a child may be in need of protection". If that is true, why are most cases justified with evidence gathered after the child was taken into CAS custody?

External review by the Office of the Chief Coroner and its multi-disciplinary Pediatric Death Review Committee have so far served primarily to cover up problems. Our statistical analysis shows that Ontario has 28 deaths per year in foster care. Less than one becomes known outside the bureaucracy.

No official agency in Ontario can challenge any of the statements promulgated in advocacy of Children's Aid Societies. Ontario desperately needs a body with real oversight power.