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July 9, 2010 permalink
The Commission to Promote Sustainable Child Welfare is a creation of the Ministry of Children and Youth Services in cooperation with the Ontario Association of Children's Aid Societies. Refer to web pages   and an earlier article. The Peterborough Examiner presents the possibility that it may recommend more disclosure from Ontario's children's aid societies. An unlikely outcome considering the commission's pedigree.
The commission's first report is Towards Sustainable Child Welfare in Ontario (pdf, local copy). As usual in this kind of report, it has no occurrences of the words father or love but did include seven occurrences of the word mother, all about the way CAS deals with a report of a derelict mother.
Children's aid changes eyed
If you want to know how Ontario's Grade 6 pupils are doing with reading skills, you can check the Education Quality and Accountability Office website.
Want to know the average emergency department wait time? Public websites also offer that information about the province's hospitals.
But if you want to find out how vulnerable children are faring in the Children's Aid Society agencies -- such as the average amount of time they spend in CAS care -- getting that information can be daunting, said Ene Underwood, chairwoman of the Commission to Promote Sustainable Child Welfare.
Underwood is part of the three-year commission, which is to release its final report in 2012, that's investigating how to make Ontario's child welfare system, including CAS agencies, more accountable, efficient and sustainable.
The final report could lead to more websites stats on CAS care, as well as merging CAS agencies to save on overhead and offer specialized care more equitably, Underwood said Wednesday in Peterborough after meeting with Kawartha-Haliburton Children's Aid Society staff to discuss ideas.
Merging CAS agencies would save money because, for example, there'd only be one executive director's salary and one human resources department, Underwood said.
But the "bigger reason" for such a move, she said, would be to ensure all children in need would have access to the same specialized services.
For example, one CAS agency may have an adoption support worker while another doesn't. Merging those agencies would mean people in a wider geographical area could access that worker, she said.
The commission is also investigating some funding formulas that may, inadvertently, stop people from practices that would help children, Underwood said.
Foster parents, for example, get paid a certain amount to care for children. Depending which CAS jurisdiction they're in, some foster parents who want to adopt those children may decide not to because it would stop the funding.
It's a matter of practicality, not greed, because often these children have special needs that require money for care, Underwood said.
The commission wants to see consistency across Ontario so that all people using CAS care have the same opportunities, Underwood said.
Some grandparents, for example, who have kinship care of their grandchildren get CAS funding while some don't, depending on their jurisdiction.
"Whether it's a grandma (raising her grandchildren) in Wingham or a grandma in Havelock, it should all be the same," Underwood said.
NOTE:The commission will also look at the system for people who have complaints against the CAS and will investigate ideas such as having the agencies be accountable to Ontario's ombudsman, said Ene Underwood, chairwoman of the Commission to Promote Sustainable Child Welfare. The commission, established in November 2009, is made up of three people -- Underwood, Barry Lewis and Wendy Thomson. There are 53 CAS agencies in Ontario.
Source: Peterborough Examiner
Addendum: The Toronto Star has an editorial on the report.
How to reform Children’s Aid
Ontario’s child welfare system is so rule-bound it regulates the bath temperature and the size of a bedroom window in foster homes. Yet there is no tangible evidence that these regulations, the hundreds of other rules and all the accompanying paperwork achieve the one goal that really matters: ensuring children are happy, healthy and getting the care they need.
Similarly, Children’s Aid Societies are well-funded to apprehend and put children in foster care and group homes. But, they are not adequately funded to do the harder, time-consuming work for what are often better options for kids: helping them safely stay with their families or finding them permanent homes through adoption and kinship care.
A commission set up by Children’s Minister Laurel Broten to provide advice on making CASs more financially sustainable has recommended a new way of doing business. It deserves attention.
The report calls for a “shift away from a focus on compliance against standards to a focus on outcomes for children,” and an end to a funding formula that creates “perverse incentives” that can “discourage good performance.”
These changes and others are desperately needed. After decades of political tinkering with our child welfare system, we’re still largely failing these vulnerable children. Crown wards are much less likely to graduate from high school and much more likely to rely on social assistance as adults than children raised in stable families.
The commission was born out of a crisis last year, when many of Ontario’s 53 CASs could not make ends meet and the government balked at topping up budgets. (Costs have nearly tripled over the last decade to $1.4 billion.) What they have come back with, though, is not a series of budgets cuts but a welcome vision for a system that would put the needs of children first. That, ultimately, should reduce costs and, more importantly, improve outcomes for children.
Over the next two years, the commission will produce detailed recommendations to make a child-centred system a reality. Then, it will be up to the province to implement it. So far, the government’s response has been encouraging. When the report was released last week, Broten said her ministry would take immediate action to reduce duplication and unnecessary administrative requirements.
Right now, for example, multiple people often fill out reports on the same incident, and a child’s case worker may file several different types of reports on a single incident. The purpose of “serious occurrence reports” has become so clouded that some workers fill them in for matters as trivial as a scraped knee.
The administrative burden — that is, time spent doing things that do not protect children nor provide effective accountability — has grown to the point that the report estimates only 15 to 30 per cent of CAS staff time is spent on direct service to clients.
The commission’s goal is not to reduce oversight in the child welfare sector but to create mechanisms that are “appropriate, focused and usable.” In doing so, though, great care must be taken to ensure our most vulnerable children do not fall through the cracks.
What we want to know is how kids are doing. Are they safe and are they improving? And, we need a system that spends public dollars in ways that make sure those answers are yes. The commission’s first report solidly sets us on that path.
Source: Toronto Star