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Ombudsman Still Needed
April 25, 2007 permalink
Ontario's ombudsman André Marin reminds us that a child advocate is no substitute for the ombudsman. Read the press release below or André Marin's submission to the standing committee(pdf)
APRIL 24, 2007 - 15:49 ET
Child Advocate is no Substitute for Ombudsman
TORONTO, ONTARIO--(CCNMatthews - April 24, 2007) -
ATTENTION NEWS EDITORS:
Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin today praised the province's proposed new Child Advocate legislation but cautioned that it will still leave a dangerous gap in the system that is supposed to protect vulnerable children.
Bill 165, the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth Act, takes only "baby steps" toward an effective system of child protection, Mr. Marin says in his submission to the Standing Committee on Justice Policy, which is holding hearings on the bill this week. The Advocate may speak for children but, unlike an ombudsman, will have no investigative powers: "An advocate is as much an ombudsman as an apple is an orange."
Yet Ontario's Ombudsman is unable to investigate the hundreds of complaints to his office about children's aid societies each year (more than 600 in 2006-07), because they remain outside of his jurisdiction. Cases that should be investigated are effectively thrown away, Mr. Marin says: "Despite all the government rhetoric that 'children are our future,' we in Ontario are choosing to rid ourselves of hundreds of these serious allegations every year by taking a trip to the dumpster and looking the other way." Ontario is the only province in Canada where children's aid societies escape such scrutiny, he notes. "However you slice, chop or spin it, there is no contest as to which province finishes dead last in investigating children's complaints. Ontario does."
Mr. Marin's submission calls on the government to act, in addition to establishing the Provincial Advocate, to amend the Ombudsman Act to include jurisdiction over children's aid societies. Unlike the provincial coroner and other bodies, the Ombudsman can investigate complaints by parents and children "before tragedy strikes," he points out.
Mr. Marin has advocated for the Ombudsman's mandate to be modernized to allow for oversight of such bodies as children's aid societies since his appointment in April 2005 - following a quest begun by Ontario's first Ombudsman, Arthur Maloney, in 1975.
Aussi disponible en francais
Read the full submission under What's New at www.ombudsman.on.ca
For more information or to arrange interviews with the Ombudsman contact:
Linda Williamson, Communications and Media Relations Manager
Source: press release
Addendum: Even the Toronto Star has printed an article advocating ombudsman oversight for children's aid.
Deaths spur dad to action
Daughters died after children's aid society downplayed pleas; now father backs ombudsman in bid for powers to investigate
April 25, 2007, Moira Welsh, Staff Reporter
Every time he sees a child on a swing, Leo Campione thinks of his dead little girls.
Every minute of every day, there is something that reminds him of 3-year-old Serena and 1-year-old Sophia, tousle-haired and grinning.
They were found drowned in their mother's Barrie apartment in October 2006.
Despite numerous red flags and several occasions where the Simcoe County Children's Aid Society removed the children from her care, social workers downplayed his pleas for intervention until it was too late.
"If I am in a mall and there are other children running and I hear a baby call out `Daddy,' it is just a torment to my heart," Campione said yesterday. "It is indescribable. This happened to me. I am going to do everything possible to make sure it doesn't happen to anybody else."
To that end, Campione, 35, who works with the Universal Workers Union, Local 183, is now publicly supporting the efforts of Ontario ombudsman André Marin, who wants the government to give him the power to investigate the province's 53 children's aid societies.
"I have already lost all that is most precious and valuable to me. I really don't have anything to gain, except that their deaths were not in vain," Campione said.
"My greatest resolve now is that this does not happen to any other children. It is what gives me the strength to keep going."
Marin has sent a written submission to the Standing Committee on Justice Policy at Queen's Park asking for investigative powers for the ombudsman's office. The committee is holding hearings this week on Bill 165, the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth Act, which will give greater independence to Ontario's child advocate, Judy Finlay.
But Marin says that an advocate cannot investigate the way an ombudsman can – a power to scrutinize that he says is enshrined in all other provinces.
"The system is virtually entirely funded by the government to a tune of $1.4 billion a year," Marin said. "But it is a system without checks and balances, where people who have issues about the children's aid have no place to turn unless there is a dead body, in which case the coroner can get involved."
The Ontario Association of Children's Aid Societies says there's no need for Marin's oversight. Spokesperson Marcelo Gomez-Wiuckstern said the agencies are subject to numerous accountability reviews. The Child and Family Services Review Board, created last year, already hears complaints from families, he said.
But Marin, who said his office received over 600 complaints on the societies last year, contends the board does not have strong investigative powers.
Campione lost custody of his daughters after his estranged wife, Frances, accused him of assaulting her and their eldest daughter, Serena.
He was allowed supervised access to his daughters from the Simcoe County Children's Aid Society, and records showed that social workers gave him positive reviews – an issue that angered his wife, who railed against his access.
In January, a judge stayed the assault charges against Campione because the Crown's chief witness against him was his wife. She now faces a trial, after being charged with two counts of first-degree murder.
After their deaths, a family court file was made public. It detailed years of family troubles. It contained a sworn statement from her father-in-law, saying she appeared at their home unexpectedly, behaving in an erratic manner, asking that they care for the girls because someone wanted to kill her.
There were numerous warnings that her mental health was deteriorating. She was hospitalized for her mental instability, losing care of her children each time, although they were always returned.
Despite this, and repeated warnings from Campione that the girls were in danger, the social workers said that the mother was best suited to provide their care.
"It was extremely frustrating," he said.
"I felt like my hands were tied at all times. I felt the children's aid society was an organization that ran independently, that their actions or inactions or whatever decision they made, was unilateral.
"I just felt like David and Goliath."
The Simcoe children's aid society said last fall it was going to conduct an internal review of the decisions leading up to Serena and Sophia's deaths.
So far, says Campione, those investigators have yet to call him.
Source: Toronto Star