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Group Home Closing

March 26, 2010 permalink

London Ontario's children's aid society is closing a group home. The reporter tells the story in doomsday terms, omitting the possibility of leaving children with mom and dad.



CAS closing group homes


A lack of funding from Queen's Park has forced the London region's Children's Aid Society to close its remaining group homes -- moves staff say will place in harm's way the most vulnerable of children and adolescents.

"These kids will have no place to go but shelters. I'm really scared for these kids," said a staffer at one of the homes.

The groups homes on Cheapside, Gunn and Argyle streets in London have been used for children whose special needs make it difficult to place them in foster care or a privately-operated group home, children battling addictions or mental health challenges or whose conduct puts others at risk.

"These are children, who, for a variety of reasons, can't be in foster care," said Jane Fitzgerald, executive director of the Children's Aid Society of London and Middlesex.

She disputes the contention those children will have no place to go. The society won't simply shut the doors of its group homes, but rather take months and years if needed to find places for 18 children who now live there.

In the meantime, Fitzgerald hopes to come up with a plan with private and non-profit providers to manage high-need children after the group homes are closed. While the process will be a challenge, she believes those children will be looked after well because most children's aid societies in Ontario don't operate their own group homes.

"We're one of the last still providing this service directly," Fitzgerald said.

But several workers who spoke to The Free Press disagree and say the evidence is available, if only agency leaders would look.

In the past three years, the local CAS has closed three group homes and some kids who had been there have since struggled, one shuttled between foster families and a unsuitable home, another forced to live with a parent who said she wasn't able to cope and a third not taking needed medication, a staff member said.

But the society hasn't tracked the kids who left group homes to see if they were as well cared for after, the staff member said.

Fitzgerald agrees the group homes have benefits because child and youth workers deliver great programs and no child can be turned away because he or she has needs that are too intensive.

But that care comes with a price -- it costs the local CAS at least twice as much per child in its own group homes than it does to place them in foster care or private group homes, she said.

That's a cost that isn't affordable for an agency which this month had to secure a $2.3 million credit line from a bank and an extra $1.1 million from the Ontario government just to pay bills before the end of its fiscal year March 31.

In April, the agency will get its next fiscal year's allotment of cash, money that will first be used to pay back the bank, leaving a less-than adequate amount of funds that will run out by next January - three or four months before the end of the next fiscal year.

"One option we don't have is not to deliver our services," she said.

The Free Press e-mailed questions Thursday to Children and Youth Services Minister Laurel Broten, but neither she nor her staff replied.

The province has formed a three-member commission to improve the child welfare system but it hasn't yet made recommendations.

Fitzgerald and unionized staff agree on this: the Ontario government has neglected its commitment to vulnerable children, providing far too little funding to keep children safe.

"The true problem is the Ontario government won't fund CAS's to the level of service it expects," said Marnie Dickout, president of local 116 of the the Ontario Public Service Employees Union.

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Source: London Free Press