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Hold CAS Responsible
December 6, 2006 permalink
The following opinion by Rosie DiManno is important because the Toronto Star expresses opinions similar to the Liberal Party, now governing Ontario. It starts with the observation that children's aid is really the responsible person when a child in its care dies. We have been saying that for years, now the establishment is catching on. It goes on to recount the abuse found by the Auditor General, then suggests that CAS is in need of oversight. Dave Brown said that six years ago in the Ottawa Citizen, now his view is catching on.
DiManno: Minding the minders
Report on children's aid societies shows that it isn't just the money that needs better care
When Jeffrey Baldwin died a miserable, lonely death, the courts took their pound of flesh from his grandparents, who were convicted of second-degree murder.
The chronically starved 5-year-old had only 21 pounds of flesh and stunted bones on his wasted little frame.
Yet the Catholic Children's Aid Society, which had placed that doomed boy in the custody of his wicked grandparents — never even checking their own records, thus unaware the "caregivers" were both convicted child abusers — was not made to answer for such a tragic lapse of judgment.
No caseworker, no supervisor, no executive was ever called to the stand. That was largely a tactical decision made by the Crown attorney, who did not wish to shift any of the blame from the two accused.
But the CCAS was acutely responsible for Jeffrey's fate. And there was no reckoning.
The thing is, child welfare agencies have enormous autonomy in Ontario: Their decisions rarely scrutinized, their finances unexamined, their catastrophic failures revisited only at coroner's inquests. Tens of thousands of children placed in their safekeeping — directly, as wards of the state, or indirectly, in monitored at-risk households — and nobody really knows how they're faring, if they're receiving appropriate services, whether they're hurting.
The provincial government doesn't know. That was pitifully evident in the auditor general's report released yesterday.
Ontario lacks even a standardized province-wide information system to collect and assess the data that exists.
They know not the age and gender of children receiving services; the proportion of children receiving services who are taken into care; the proportion of children who've received services and then been victimized again; the types of reported and investigated maltreatment; the number of children moved from one placement to another.
This audit is essentially a financial closeup. It speaks of cases and care plans far more frequently than vulnerable children and damaged youths.
It follows the money — $1.218 billion for the 2004/05 fiscal year — and annotates some of the more grotesque misuses of funds: senior managers driving agency-issued SUVs worth up to $60,000, lavish restaurant meals, $600 monthly car allowances despite exclusive use of CAS vehicles, trips to Caribbean resorts, unsupported billings to corporate credit cards, a $2,000 gym membership for one senior executive along with quarterly personal trainer fees of $650, $150 car washes.
Such extravagances only hint at the culture of entitlement and self-determination — the astonishing fiscal and moral latitude — that pervades these agencies.
The excesses uncovered all relate to the four societies investigated: Toronto, York, Peel and Thunder Bay, which accounted for almost 25 per cent of total CAS expenditures. Auditor General Jim McCarter does not tie any of this mismanagement and malfeasance to a specific CAS, although the report notes that one particular society was most often referenced. The Star has learned that agency is the Toronto CAS.
Senior managers take what's not coming to them, while child referrals — initial intake and investigation — go begging for follow-up. In one-third of the cases reviewed, where a child should have seen a caseworker within either 12 hours or seven days, visits were late by an average of 21 days. Ninety per cent of cases reviewed for completion of "initial plans of service'' — what to do with the child, assessment of risk and need — went uncompleted for months, a few times late by more than 400 days.
And there's cheating, too. In one case, three plans of care were completed for a child on the same day — 192 days after the first was due. That's catching up, on paper. But there's a real child inside that file.
"Non-compliance'' with requirements is how the report dryly puts it. In human terms, consider these children: The youngster, beaten by his mother, who was not seen until his aunt and school principal called again 12 days after the mandated deadline had passed. Or another child never visited at all, the explanation being that the caseworker hadn't been able to reach the mother over five months. When contact was finally made, the mother said, s'okay, everything okey-dokey, and the worker simply closed the file.
Only last March did the Child Death Reporting and Review Directive come into effect, requiring the societies to report all child deaths to the chief coroner. Up till then, the government had no idea how many kids under protection had died.
Since their inception, these societies have been fiefdoms unto themselves, with minimal oversight from what is now the Ministry of Children and Youth Services. The little review that once was done had been dropped in recent years, with audits of non-Crown wards and child protection files discontinued in 2003. While this Liberal government introduced a risk assessment model — to promote consistency and accountability in the intake process — it failed to monitor its implementation.
The agencies determine when a child should be removed from the family home and when that child can safely remain. But they have a remarkable knack for getting it wrong repeatedly, which we know from the headline disasters. And they're rarely held to account for that, or much else.
Children's aid societies can afford lawyers, and properly so. Sometimes, though, deep pockets obfuscate and obstruct. In the Jeffrey Baldwin case, detectives complained about the lack of co-operation in obtaining documents from a resistant CCAS. The auditor general's report, in a separate case, refers to a society that paid a law firm an annual retainer of $160,000, with poor records as to actual services rendered.
Gobs of cash going out; distressingly little clarification of value-for-money. Hourly billings for lawyers, psychiatrists, psychologists, interpreters, but no indication of how those professionals had been selected, whether they were qualified, or whether the cost was justified.
Child welfare services are not underfunded. But where does all that money go? And who's keeping track?
The government covers 100 per cent of costs because the one non-negotiable rule is that no child must wait for services because of funding constraints. Yet there's no explanation as to why costs doubled between 1999 to 2005, while the caseload increased only about 40 per cent. Agencies got a lot more money basically because they asked for it.
Nobody seems to have wondered why foster-care per diems — regular care, nothing specialized — ranged from $41 per day for a CAS-placed child to $449 per day for care arranged through subcontracted placement agencies.
Nobody ensured that all children's homes and foster-care operators had documents supporting the issuance of a licence.
Why? Short answer: Because nobody's been minding the minders.
Source: Toronto Star
Addendum: The Star printed a reply from Mary McConville.