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Legislators Discuss Campione Deaths

October 19, 2006 permalink

The Ontario Legislature has taken up the deaths of Serena and Sophia Campione. Howard Hampton renewed the request to have the Ombudsman oversee children's aid societies, and Dalton McGuinty used the same discredited excuse as Mrs Chambers: that the Ombudsman can examine the Child and Family Services Review Board.


High school civics teaches that civil servants running government agencies report to cabinet ministers, who in turn report to the provincial premier. This gives elected officers control over the operation of the government. This elementary lesson is true only in principle. In practice, bureaucracies are autonomous agencies that thrive by getting appropriations from the legislature. Profit-making businesses are dependent on customers for their funds, and consequently must maintain a high level of client satisfaction. But the success of a bureaucracy does not depend on clients, and they don't care whether clients are happy. All that matters is getting appropriations.

Successful bureaucracies have to have some way of forcing money out of the legislature. Police forces can demand appropriations, because the alternative is failure to keep the peace. The alternative to funding prisons is criminals released onto the streets. Schools get appropriations to avoid an army of parents angered by inability to send their kids to school. Failure to fund the child protection bureaucracy could result in lack of food and shelter for thousands of foster children.

Mr McGuinty is treating the problems of children's aid societies as too difficult to solve. The bureaucracy that provides a livelihood for twenty thousand Ontarians could make life difficult for him if he tried to cut their funding. Consequently, he is not challenging the bureaucracy, and using a lame excuse for inaction.

The problem is not to be corrected by convincing Mr McGuinty of his error -- as long as he does not want to confront the problem, he will shift to some other excuse. To get the politicians to act, it is necessary to make it advantageous for them to do so. One way might be to organize a rally at Queens Park attended by hundreds instead of dozens. Another might be exposure of deaths in foster care.

The best statistical analysis suggests that Ontario has 28 deaths a year in the foster care system. Some of these are because everyone, even the youngest, is mortal. But twenty of the deaths would not occur if foster children got the same quality of care as other children. Twenty unnecessary deaths a year are suppressed, never prosecuted because the bureaucracy covers up its mistakes and the politicians find it too dangerous to confront them.

One of the most popular pages on this website is the tombstone, a list of the names of children who have died in foster care. The interest comes from the ignominy of killing children in your care. There is a paucity of cases in Ontario, because of successful efforts at secrecy. In the USA, where the press is more vigilant, a fair number of deaths in foster care turn out to be homicides. If Ontario's deaths were exposed, would it be any different?

Elsewhere, such as this year in Michigan and Ohio, deaths in foster care have generated the kinds of attention that induced the politicians to take on the problems seriously.

Disclosure of foster deaths by an insider could tip the balance in favor of reform. Maybe one outrageous case will come to light through efforts of the press. Or maybe a whistleblower within the Ministry will leak a list of deaths. A previous leak opportunity was lost when the material got to the press instead of the internet. Until something happens, there is little prospect for reform.