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April 22, 2010 permalink
The recent increase in CAS opposition, including frequent rallies, is producing news coverage. Perth EMC reports on a group founded by Sarah Laurin, called FAILSAFE LANARK (the link goes to its website).
Let Ombudsman investigate CAS, says local group
EMC News - The founder of a local advocacy group is lending her support to a private member's bill that would allow the Ontario Ombudsman's office to investigate complaints against the Children's Aid Society.
Perth area resident Sarah Laurin founded FAILSAFE (Families Apart in Lanark County Supporting Advocacy, Fairness and Empowerment) last fall because, she said, "there is no recourse for complaints."
NDP Member of Provincial Parliament Andrea Horwath has introduced a private member's bill which would give the Ontario Ombudsman the authority "to investigate systemic complaints and problems plaguing children's aid societies across Ontario."
Horwath, the NDP critic for child and youth services, told the provincial legislature in 2006 that "nearly every province in Canada allows for independent oversight - except Ontario." According to Horwath, Canadian Ombudsmen first identified child welfare as their top investigative priority in 1986, and eight provinces now have their child welfare system accountable to an impartial legislative officer.
Horwath's private member's bill, Bill 93, has been a rallying point for groups fighting for more accountability and transparency in the organizations that attend to child welfare.
Currently Ontario's Children's Aid Societies fall under the category of institutions beyond the reach of the province's Ombudsman - along with hospitals, police, school boards, universities, municipalities and long-term care facilities.
Ombudsman Andre Marin said in his 2008-2009 report there were 429 complaints about Children's Aid Societies made to his office that year which his office was "forced to turn away." In the report Marin stated: "All we need is for the government of Ontario to extend this office's limited mandate."
"It's always good for there to be checks and balances in place," said Sheila Stanfield, service director for the Children's Aid Society of the County of Lanark. "We certainly have no issue with that."
Stanfield said the local CAS has an internal complaint review panel. "There are times when issues arise because of our role as Children's Aid Society workers, which is a difficult one," she said. Complaints first go to the internal complaint review panel. The panel consists of three people, one of which has to be a person who is not a CAS worker and has no specific knowledge about or involvement in the case. The panel's role, said Stanfield, is to determine whether the CAS has followed the policies, procedures and regulations "we're bound by under the Child and Family Services Act." The panel cannot review an matters which are currently before the courts. If the complainant is not satisfied with the review panel's decision, he or she has the right to ask the Child and Family Services Review Board, which oversees all Children's Aid Societies in Ontario, for a hearing.
Laurin said the fact the CAS is overseen by and accountable to a private board is a situation that lends itself to secrecy. "Secrecy is insidious," she said. "At the end of the day, CAS workers are people first and people make mistakes."
The local advocate's personal interest in the issue stems from her own battle with the local agency. The CAS, she said, has been "involved with my family on numerous occasions over the years." The series of events which prompted her to found an advocacy group began in 2009 when her daughter was removed from her care. Although the removal was intended to be temporary, Laurin's daughter has still not returned home. According to Laurin, her difficulties began because "there was a lady down the road who took a disliking to me and made an anonymous complaint."
Although she acknowledges that there are cases in which parents should not have custody of their children and that the CAS should certainly be involved, there are many other cases where the issues are not so clear cut. "What's left in most cases is a bigger problem than what they went in there for in the first place," said Laurin. "It's a system that needs to be fixed."
"It just amazes me how they can tear these families apart," said Jewel Purdon, a Perth resident who is also a member of FAILSAFE. "These families have nowhere to go."
Purdon said when agencies intervene in family situations, one parent - usually the husband - is forced to leave the home, which leaves a single mother without the financial resources to cope.
Laurin said she has tried to learn more about the agency by applying for a $10 membership, "but they won't let me become a member." She added that she has received no response to a request she made in early February to review meeting minutes.
Laurin said agencies like the CAS need to understand the dynamics of the community they're dealing with. "What we have now is a one size fits all system, and it's not a one size fits all scenario." She also believes that families in trouble need more guidance about community resources that could help them with their problems.
Laurin said her own case has been resolved, but she wants to ensure that what happened to her doesn't happen to others. "They're out of my hair but that doesn't mean I'm going away," said Laurin. "There are too many people who need my help."
FAILSAFE meets every second Tuesday at the Salvation Army Family Centre at 40 North St. in Perth at 7 p.m. The group also has a new website at www.fairsafelanark.org, and will be posting relevant media articles on a weekly basis. "It will be a safe forum where people can give their views," said Laurin. "It's not always about slamming the CAS, it's about overseeing it."
The group also hopes to raise funds for a benevolent fund that can provide donations to help families. Sarah Laurin can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Source: Perth EMC