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Marin Powerless Over CAS

January 24, 2007 permalink

In today's Globe and Mail Ontario Ombudsman André Marin pleads again for authority to report on problems within children's aid societies. Instead of leaving it all to the coroner, he could correct problems before there was a dead body.



POSTED ON 24/01/07

Watchdog pleads for children's aid oversight

Ombudsman cites CAS 'horror' stories that his office is powerless to remedy


Tragedies such as the teen who pleaded guilty this week to murdering a toddler in a foster home prove it is time Ontario's provincially funded children's aid societies were held accountable, Ontario's ombudsman says.

"There's not a day that goes by without us hearing another CAS horror story," André Marin said in an interview yesterday.

"The complaints are piling high on my desk and my hands are tied by dated legislation. I simply can't help these people."

Since April of last year, his office has received 496 complaints about children's aid services, ranging from child safety concerns to claims of sexual abuse by children's aid staff and claims that agencies retaliated against people who "dare challenge them," he said.

Yet his office is powerless to investigate because the province's 53 children's welfare agencies -- which collectively consume about $1.5-billion in provincial funding each year -- are treated as private institutions, outside the provincial watchdog's authority.

On Monday, a 15-year-old girl pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the suffocation death of a three-year-old boy in a foster home in Welland, Ont.

The teen's case worker had placed her in the home on Dec. 14, 2005, after bailing her out of a youth detention facility. Less than 24 hours later, the toddler was dead.

An inquest into the death is expected to be announced later this week by the Office of the Ontario Coroner, which for the past year has been investigating the case and what role child welfare agencies may have played in the death.

Relatives of the slain toddler have accused Family and Children's Services Niagara of failing to protect the boy by placing the teen in the home.

She previously had been removed from her adoptive family for assaults on her younger sister.

Bill Charron, the agency's executive director, said earlier this week that case workers knew about the accused teen's troubled past, but put her in the foster home because it was the best place for her.

Mr. Marin says the Office of the Ontario Coroner does a good job of investigating such deaths, but "we should be able to be pro-active and deal with the complaints before we have a dead body."

Mr. Marin says he has lobbied Premier Dalton McGuinty and Child and Youth Minister Mary Anne Chambers to push for independent oversight of the agencies -- with little success.

"It saddens me to this day that the government has been swayed by the self-serving arguments made by the CAS," he said.

Ms. Chambers said the province has recently introduced several new regulations that make children's aid societies more accountable, including heavier security checks for foster families and a system that helps people register complaints.

The minister was in Niagara Falls yesterday, where she announced new funding for grandparents and relatives who take custody of children in the foster care system.

The grandparents of the slain toddler in Welland had been in the final stages of becoming his legal guardians when he was killed.

Source: Globe and Mail