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April 27, 2010 permalink

Three articles, all from a doomsday perspective, report on cutbacks in social services in Waterloo, Sarnia and Toronto. The good side left out in the press reports: More children will now be spending time with mom and dad.



Children’s aid agency leaving front line positions unfilled to cope with deficit

Children’s aid societies across Ontario, including in Waterloo Region, say they are cutting staff to deal with shortfalls in funding from the province.

Family and Children’s Services of the Waterloo Region cut 14 positions last year, said Alison Scott, the agency’s executive director, in an interview Thursday.

The cuts were achieved by attrition, she added.

More than half of the unfilled position dealt directly with cases. “As staff left ... we didn’t replace them,” she said. “If we hadn’t been able to manage it through attrition, they would have been layoffs.”

In Waterloo Region, the child protection agency employs about 160 people, including 116 who investigate calls where children are potentially at risk of being abused, provide counselling and other services to families in their homes, help place children with members of their extended family and arrange adoptions.

The agency deals with about 4,000 investigations a year, Scott said.

“There’s the potential for children to be at risk,” Scott said. “If our staff are working to capacity with very high caseloads, then there’s the potential that families aren’t going to get the services they need in time.”

Additional cost-cutting measures have whittled down the agency’s deficit, in the $45-million annual operating budget, to $617,000.

Before the belt-tightening, the shortfall was expected to be $1.5 million.

But the agency also ran a deficit in previous years, Scott said. So its total debt is nearly $1.1 million.

Scott said the agency doesn’t know how much money it will receive from the province for the current fiscal year, which started April 1.

But based on last year’s funding and demand for service in the community, Scott estimates the shortfall could reach $1.8 million.

It’s going to be difficult to continue to find more ways to cut without also thinking about cutting staff and programs again, she said.

On Tuesday, Durham Children’s Aid Society, west of Toronto, cut 31 full-time management and union jobs to help address a $3.8 million deficit.

The Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies says another 39 agencies are underfunded by $32.5 million.

Scott said she recently met with MPPs John Milloy (Kitchener Centre), Elizabeth Witmer (Kitchener-Waterloo) and Gerry Martiniuk (Cambridge) to present the agency’s case for more funding.

So far, the MPPs have been “verbally” supportive, Scott said.

Milloy didn’t respond to The Record’s request for comment Thursday.

But Elizabeth Witmer, a Conservative, agreed it would be difficult for agencies to trim budgets further.

“They’re at a point where there’s not much more low-hanging fruit to cut,” Witmer said in a brief interview on Thursday.

“I think it’s disgraceful that we have a government that makes it mandatory for the children’s aid societies to ... protect our children and then they don’t provide the necessary funding to make it possible,” Witmer said.

The recent recession and booming provincial deficit aren’t valid excuses for the shortfalls, she added, citing the government’s costly plan to implement full-day kindergarten and the $1 billion in provincial money largely wasted in the attempt to establish an electronic health records system.

Scott, and the president and vice-president of the local agency’s board plan to further lobby local MPPs on May 17 during a day designated for children’s aid agencies to meet with legislators at Queen’s Park in Toronto.

Source: The Record

Girls’ Home closure comes under fire

A decision to close a residential girls' home for troubled teens after 37 years of operation is sparking a local backlash.

Sarnia's mayor, academics and a union all denounced last week's announcement that the Community Girls' Home will close its doors permanently next March.

"These are the most vulnerable kids in our community and they're not going to disappear," said Craig McKenzie, a social service worker and vice president with the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, representing 18 girls' home employees.

"My concern is, if they can't stay at home and there's no other option for them, they're going to end up out on the street. Our community deserves more, and certainly these kids deserve more."

McKenzie was scheduled to meet with impacted staff tonight to discuss their options.

Mayor Mike Bradley said Sarnians are "stunned" and "deeply upset" about the decision. He wrote Ontario's Minister of Child and Youth Services on Monday asking Laurel Broten to provide proper funding in hopes the decision can be overturned.

"For almost four decades this home has provided countless young girls and women the opportunity to receive proper care, to improve their lives and give them a passport to success, " the mayor said.

Representatives of the social service worker program at Lambton College have also written the minister urging immediate action.

"This is a government that's always talking about investing in young people and education, and that's exactly what the Girls' Home does,'" Bradley said.

The Michigan Avenue home provides therapeutic care for girls aged 13 to 19 with emotional, social, family and behavioural problems.

Rick Shields, executive director of St. Clair Child and Youth, which operates the home, announced last week it was closing because fewer beds are being used, creating a $180,000 deficit this year.

The agency has approved a plan to replace the 14-bed home with a new service division, in which staff will partner with the Children's Aid Society to support foster care families, and develop a two-bed treatment facility.

McKenzie has been flooded with calls from parents, child advocates and service providers asking what's going to happen next, he said.

"I had a teacher call — she was almost in tears, saying `I've got a child in the girls' home right now. What's going to happen to her? She's finally being successful; she's finally stabilized.'" That's when you start realizing just how far reaching the roots from the girls' home go into the community.

"There are still some legitimate concerns," added McKenzie, noting the CAS is also bleeding red ink.

"The concern here from staff is, `What if this doesn't work?'" he asked. "We've got two agencies running a significant deficit trying to shore up the dam here. People are asking me, `If both agencies are struggling, what makes you think bringing them together on this is going to solve the issue?"

Families are waiting longer than ever for children's mental health services, said McKenzie, and the problem isn't going away any time soon.

"As a front line worker I can tell you that the needs of our kids today are a lot more severe than they used to be," he said. "So hopefully we can stir up enough of a hornets nest here to move government. It's not an easy thing to do, but I think these kids deserve it."

Source: Sarnia Observer

Strike at home for teen moms blamed on government cuts

Money from Queen’s Park needed to end walkout, union and management at Massey Centre say.

Four teen mothers with newborns and three who are about to give birth are staying in homeless shelters or with friends in the wake of a strike at Toronto’s Massey Centre.

Child care and parenting programs at the Broadview Ave. centre have also been disrupted for 21 teen mothers and their babies who remain on-site and for parents living in the community who rely on the services.

The centre’s 55 unionized staff walked off the job last Wednesday after provincial Children and Youth Services Minister Laurel Broten refused to respond to a joint staff-management plea to cover $80,000 in pay equity costs incurred in 2003.

The money is just a fraction of the centre’s $500,000 debt that dates back to a 25-per-cent provincial cut in the mid-1990s by the previous Conservative government that has never been restored. The centre relies on government funds for about 80 per cent of its $3.8 million budget.

A spokesperson for Broten said the minister only became aware of the centre’s financial plight last Tuesday and can’t act because the request is part of labour contract negotiations.

“Once the labour dispute is resolved, I look forward to hearing from the Massey Centre about their programs and working with them to continue to deliver these critically important programs in our city,” Broten told the Legislature last Thursday.

Union members who voluntarily agreed to a two-year wage freeze in 2000 are still frozen on the pay grid a decade later and can no longer subsidize the centre with their wages, union official say.

“The funding crisis has gone on so long the centre is unable to meet its labour obligations,” said Sharleen Stewart, president of Service Employees International Union, Local 1. “What we are hearing from the government is excuses. There is no excuse for continuing to deny the centre’s request.”

The union has been “incredibly patient,” said the centre’s chief operating officer, Ekua Asabea Blair. “It’s horrible that both the union and the centre are in this vortex.”

The centre plays a key role in getting vulnerable young mothers on their feet and keeps their babies out of the costly child protection system, she said.

Victoria Hospedales, 18, whose son, Ethan, is almost 6 months old, is one of the 17 young mothers still living in centre’s postnatal residence. She’s anxious to resume high school. But with the daycare operating with minimal staff, she doesn’t know when that will happen.

“I can’t move on with my life without daycare,” she said. “We need our staff back to work.”

Resident Angelica Bonilla, 19, had to send her year-old son, David, to live with her mother because the daycare closed the toddler room last week due to the strike.

“I can’t miss any of my co-op classes if I want to graduate this spring,” she said. “But I’ve never been away from him overnight before and I can’t even focus. I just want this over.”

Source: Toronto Star