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More Overspending

March 21, 2008 permalink

A recent article dealt with overspending by Hastings Children's Aid. Now the Toronto Star reports that 46 children's aid societies have overspent their budget. We repeat, this amounts to a taxpayer stick-up, since the legislature cannot refuse to pay, and let 18,000 children in foster care go without food and shelter.

It has been clear for a long time that the legislature cannot get interested in theft of children in the name of child protection. Maybe they could sic the Ontario Ombudsman on CAS to track down the theft of the taxpayer's money in the name of child protection.



Children's Aid Societies facing a money crunch

46 of 53 agencies running a deficit that could cut services for Ontario's most vulnerable children

March 21, 2008, Tanya Talaga, Social Justice Reporter

All but seven of the 53 children's aid societies in Ontario are running deficits, and some are so desperate they have taken out lines of credit in order to keep their child protection services afloat.

The Ontario Association of Children's Aid Societies says the 46 agencies are running a combined deficit of $22.3 million this fiscal year and for 2008-09 their projected deficit skyrockets to $60 million.

"The funding model definitely needs revision," said Jeanette Lewis, executive director of the OACAS umbrella group.

The cost of implementing Ontario's 2006 "Transformation Agenda" – with its guiding principle that children are best left with their immediate or extended families – has put financial pressures on the societies without the extra funding to match, she said.

The agenda requires social workers to devote more time to individual cases, connecting with the families and monitoring precarious domestic situations.

While the societies support this approach, they haven't been given money to pay for the added social-work commitment, they say.

Lack of cash flow means the societies – non-profit bodies that are funded by the province – are having to reconsider services for Ontario's most vulnerable children.

Some examples:

This week Family and Children Services of Waterloo Region cut two programs – Going Beyond and Outreach – aimed at keeping at-risk adolescents at home. Going Beyond helped 103 youths last year and Outreach 61 families.

Agencies that provide subsidies to parents adopting high-need children might have to abandon this financial support, possibly putting the adoption in jeopardy.

Crown wards becoming adults might lose access to grants for their post-secondary education as well as a reduced schedule with their social workers.

Agencies last year cared for and provided services to almost 30,000 children. On any given day there are 19,000 children and youth in group homes or foster care.

In addition, thousands of other children also benefit from agency services, such as the instruction programs given to parents on how to improve their parenting and avoid domestic violence and other stressful situations.

"The impact on children and youth isn't looking good," said Marcelo Gomez-Wiuckstern, communications director for the OACAS. "Permanent placement options such as adoptions or kinship arrangements are at risk right now."

Agencies are mandated to investigate complaints of abuse and neglect – last year 80,000 investigations took place. If staff reductions occur, the agencies fear their ability to provide this protection will be compromised.

"If a child is left out in the cold ... or in a stairwell as what happened weeks ago, (the agency) can't say, `Well, I'm sorry, we've run out of money,'" Lewis said.

Children and Youth Services Minister Deb Matthews acknowledged there were financial issues affecting children's aid societies but said they have to operate within their budgets.

At the end of February, her ministry provided a $34-million funding boost to the agencies, which at that time had a shortfall of $54.7 million. But that still left deficits of $22.3 million.

"We're definitely dealing with some funding issues at the CASs. We have gone a good way to help resolve some of them but the reality is they have budgets they have to live within," Matthews said yesterday.

She said her ministry has provided new funds to the agencies via the Child Welfare Transformation Fund.

Her office said in this year alone $37.2 million was allocated towards finding permanent placements for children and providing intervention support.

But not all the money in the transformation fund goes to the agencies, said Lewis. It also pays for training, research and other needs.

Toronto's Jewish Family and Child Services was advised by the government to take out a line of credit to prop up its operations, said executive director Dr. Richard Cummings.

The agency did so and is awaiting approval on a $500,000 line of credit. However "that advice feels like a pyramid scheme," said Cummings, who said the agency has accountants on its board who stringently go over the budget. "Who'll ... ultimately pay?"

The money crunch may force the agency to scrap summer camp for vulnerable children and lay off staff.

The agencies submit their proposed budgets to the ministry in August and some are still waiting to hear if their submission has been approved, said Gomez-Wiuckstern of the OACAS umbrella group.

They'd like to see budgets approved in a timely way, along with a review of the funding formula.

Peel Children's Aid Society is so underfunded, it's two-thirds along on a projected $3 million deficit, said Rav Bains, director of services.

"We aren't some sort of production line," said Bains. "We deal with the lives of young people. These are the adults of tomorrow."

With files from Kerry Gillespie

Source: Toronto Star

Addendum: Andrea Horwath also suggests getting the Ontario Ombudsman to look into look into CAS as a condition for funding the budget overruns.




Queen's Park

Hamilton Centre MPP Andrea Horwath says increased funding for Ontario's cash-strapped Children's Aid Societies should be tied to having independent oversight of those bodies by the provincial Ombudsman.

The NDP Critic for Children and Youth Services will be introducing a bill shortly that, if passed, would give the Ontario Ombudsman the authority to investigate complaints concerning the children's ministry, including CAS child welfare and protection decisions.

“The McGuinty government must quickly move to address the critical CAS funding shortfall to address the needs of children and youth,” Horwath said today. “But Ontario desperately requires full accountability in the child welfare system, the capacity to investigate complaints independently as only the Ombudsman of this province can guarantee. I want the McGuinty Liberals to address the lack of CAS funding and the lack of real oversight at the same time.”

Horwath's private members bill aims to put Ontario in line with eight other provinces that already have a truly independent body in place to deal with people who feel they've been wronged in a child welfare matter.

“Families anguish over the brick wall they face when trying to fight children's aid decisions,” said Horwath. “Not having a place for them to turn is a huge injustice.”

Canadian Ombudsmen have been calling for the authority to look into such complaints since 1984. Ontario Ombudsman André Marin has repeatedly called for a role.

Horwath said Ontario's current mechanism for oversight was “written on the back of a napkin by the Liberals” when she pushed hard for the Ombudsman's involvement during committee debates over the government's amendments to the Child and Family Services Act.

“The Liberals failed to back up their advertised child welfare transformation agenda with the dollars to make it happen. If the Ombudsman had oversight, this McGuinty government failure would be exposed," Horwath said.

The Ontario Association for Children's Aid Societies reports that 46 of 53 of its agencies are in deficit, grappling with program cuts and overloaded caseworkers.

Fri, 2008/03/21 - 1:00pm

Source: Andrea Horwath