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Smug, Sanctimonious and Impervious to Criticism

December 11, 2006 permalink

Christie Blatchford's weekend article deals with the excuses for the mismanagement by CAS of money and foster children. She has not yet dealt with the biggest form of mismanagement, taking children from good homes.




Kids always come first? Not likely

Accountability, in all its trying forms -- now that's a lesson child-welfare agencies need to learn

A wonderful Toronto cop I know sent me a note a couple of days ago; he was one of the officers involved in the Jordan Heikamp investigation, Jordan being the baby who quietly starved to death on July 23, 1997, while under the ostensible protection of the Catholic Children's Aid Society of Toronto.

"I see by the news," he wrote of the provincial Auditor-General's recent first-ever report on the performance of children's aid societies, "that the average response time is 21 days to a child at risk.

"Twenty-one days? Funny, that's exactly how long it took for Jordan to die."

Actually, it took him 25 days, the time he spent at a native women's shelter called Anduhyan, which was used as a collateral resource for the CCAS and where none of the half-dozen female staff noticed a thing awry. The CCAS worker herself saw baby Jordan, identified as being at risk from his then-homeless teen mother, only once in all that time.

He died early on the morning of his 36th day on Earth, a skeletal ruin of a child. The officer's rage was palpable. Mine is, too. So is it for a lot of us who, over the past decade, have written about children who died lonely and frightened while in the charge of one or another of this country's children's aid societies and about the paid professionals who failed them.

For the record, what Jim McCarter, the Ontario Auditor-General, was doing was conducting a "value-for-money" review of four agencies. Given his mandate, what Mr. McCarter found was a catalogue of sloppy spending practices, inadequate documentation for bills and contracts, and at least one example of a dishy deal or two with senior agency executives.

The agencies, and the organization that often speaks in unison with them, the Ontario Association of Children's Aid Societies, were quick to react, as well they might be, since they were given the report long before it was released publicly.

Carolyn Buck, the head of the Toronto CAS, was later flushed out as being the anonymous executive with the nice SUV that the A-G reported on. She was actually huffy about the A-G's criticism of car-detailing expenditures: It wasn't what it seems, she told the Toronto Star, the vehicle was being cleaned after caseworkers had used it to transport poor wee children who were sometimes sick to their tummies.

Well, you know what, Buckeroo? Perhaps if you and yours had submitted proper documentation, the way the rest of us do, that nasty misapprehension could have been avoided.

Ms. Buck wouldn't confirm whether she was also the executive with the $4,600 a year gym-and-personal-trainer package, in addition to her $158,000 salary, but she was sufficiently defensive about it that a betting woman might think she is.

Releasing that kind of detail, she snipped, "is beyond realistic. I'd like the public to understand that we pay very careful attention to how we spend our money here. We put the needs of children first all the time."

Not bloody so: That was the whole point of Mr. McCarter's findings, in fact. The agencies stand accused of paying scant attention to how they spend public money and furthermore, Mr. McCarter said, they are doing a rather lousy job of protecting children -- and he didn't even mention the dead.

Same story with the Peel CAS, revealed as the one criticized by the A-G for what the auditor called "questionable" trips to the Caribbean to repatriate children with their biological families. Why, those inclusive packages were the cheapest available, executive director Paul Zarnke sniffed this week; the workers spent a few days there to make sure the child was safe. This information wasn't in the books that the auditor saw, and Mr. Zarnke pledged to improve the paperwork but was unrepentant about the cost or the decision-making.

Children's aid societies, after all, in their formal response to Mr. McCarter's recommendations, agreed that "original receipts" might be useful things to submit with expenses -- this, they had to be told?

But the people who manage social workers and run these agencies have been like this forever -- smug, sanctimonious and impervious to criticism. For years, they have explained their various failures -- and these failures, remember, involve dead children -- by citing overwork, understaffing, underfunding, and, during the years of the Mike Harris Conservatives in Ontario, even politics.

This, it turns out, was the finest service Mr. McCarter's audit provided; he exposes this as a lie. Child-welfare agencies' budgets have more than doubled since 1998-99, he said, but caseloads have increased by only 40 per cent -- so basically, and these are my words, the agencies are doing less with more.

Some real-life examples?

Mr. McCarter found that in a third of cases where a child should have been seen within 12 hours or seven days -- this because the child was deemed to be in danger -- visits were late by an average of 21 days (thus, the figure my policeman pal cited); some plans of service were 300 days late; in one case, a visit was never made because it took the caseworker 19 days to call and the family had moved; in another, a child was finally seen only after his aunt and school principal called the agency again, by which time he'd been beaten by his mother.

Oh, well.

Every time a child dies in this country while "receiving services," as the CAS lingo has it, the story unfolds in a variant of the same way. There is, first, either a refusal to comment (citing privacy regulations); there is much head-shaking about the dangers of "finger-pointing" and "the blame game" and much pissing and moaning about overwork; there is evasion, public-relations spinning and protestations that change already has occurred, or soon will.


I think a good start -- learning the lessons of accountability in all its trying forms -- might be to round up the social worker, the supervisor and the executive director who took so long to see that little boy that his principal and aunt had to call the society again. I think they should all have to see the boy, and explain to him why it is that, in the absence of any action on their part, his mother had the chance to beat him.

I don't know which agency it is, but I do know of a nice SUV they could use, so that they could go together to the boy's home, in some comfort. Oh, and keep the gas receipt.

Source: Globe and Mail

Addendum: A reply:



Dear Ms. Blatchford,

The number of resources we see the Children's Aid Society using to keep children in care who should never have been there in the first place is the other side of the non-accountability story. The courts, judges and lawyers are part of that non-accountability story too. We have one case in Small Claims Court at Brantford right now trying to get the accountability we cannot get through the Family Court. In either the Ontario Court or the Ontario Superior Court of Justice. Those resources that are spent isolating children from their family without cause should be going to protecting children who need protecting. When is this story of non-accountability going to be told. When is the impact of these resources being unnecessarily utilized going to be covered.

We have lots of material from our audits some of it very, very current but nobody wants to hear it. One of the first cases I got involved in from Milton Halton CAS had the swat team in family court and it was reported on the national page of the Globe and Mail. The Globe and Mail never followed up on the outcome - why? The outcome showed how unnecessary it was 1. for the young girl to be in the care of the CAS - she was released back to her parents 2. there was absolutely no necessity for a swat team or any kind of security to be in family court. The Brantford CAS were supported by the Halton CAS Legal Counsel Megan Pallett and the ex Legal Counsel David McKenzie recently in an affidavit put before the Brantford court that denied this ever happened. That`s what happens when our media fails to follow through and support accountability for CAS behaviour.

Anne Marsden
Audit Manager
The Auditors
The Canadian Family Watchdog
308 - 1425 Ghent Avenue
Burlington Ontario L7S 1X5