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CAS may Curtail Reporting
July 18, 2010 permalink
Ontario's children's aid societies file serious occurrence reports with the Ministry of Children and Youth Services at a rate of 20,000 per year. No one in the ministry analyzes the reports, and since they are secret the press cannot do stories based on them and the public cannot review them. Currently a report is filed for each instance in which a physical restraint is used on a child. Now the Commission to Promote Sustainable Child Welfare proposes restricting the reports to restraints causing an abuse allegation, injury or death. One man who can look at the reports is provincial child advocate Irwin Elman. He found a case in which one child was restrained every day for five years. It was not an isolated case. Mr Elman wants the reports to continue, giving him at least a small window into the functioning of Ontario's foster care system.
Safety net for at-risk kids may be removed
Children’s advocate opposes move
The controversial use of physical restraints on some of Ontario’s most vulnerable children may soon go unreported to reduce the hassles of paperwork, a provincial report reveals.
The move to end the reporting of all but the most serious incidents undermines a critical safeguard for kids in group homes and treatment residences, Irwin Elman, the provincial children and youth advocate, told the Star.
“Then nobody knows what happened in that house but the people in that house,” Elman said.
Roughly 20,000 “serious occurrence reports” were filed last year where a child in residential care was subdued by staff with physical force, according to provincial statistics. Agency workers are allowed to use these techniques only when a child appears in imminent danger of hurting himself or somebody else, a rule put in place nearly 10 years ago following two inquests where children died after being pinned to the floor or sat on by workers.
A provincial commission tasked with revamping Ontario’s child welfare system is recommending reports should only be filed if the restraint causes an abuse allegation, injury or death. It is unknown how many of the 20,000 meet this criteria.
These “serious occurrence reports” are considered a “major irritant” by the Ministry of Children and Youth Services and children’s aid societies, according to a review by the Commission to Promote Sustainable Child Welfare. The commission also found the paperwork is rarely ever analyzed by the ministry or acted on.
“Why have agencies complete all of these tasks when nothing really happens with it?” said David Rivard, executive director of the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto, who raised this point with the commission.
“We see (the reporting reduction) as a good thing,” said Mary Juric, acting executive director of the Catholic Children’s Aid Society of Toronto.
“When you use the word restraint, it sounds as though these children are in a serious restraint for a significant period of time,” she said, adding that some reports, which take up valuable time to write that could have been spent working with the child, reflect “very minor interventions.”
She also noted that staff using physical restraints must take a ministry-approved training course.
“We don’t support reducing accountability and oversight of any kind,” commission member Barry Lewis told the Star. He said cases of physical restraint that don’t lead to injury, death or allegations of abuse would still be logged internally by group home staff.
That’s not good enough, said children’s advocate Elman, who likens the ministry’s role to that of a parent.
The reporting system is a valuable oversight measure that should be used as an early-warning tool to help at-risk kids, he said. The sheer volume of reports alone, Elman said, indicates something is wrong. Restraints are only supposed to be used as a measure of “last resort”. The fact that a restraint of any kind was needed means a child was in major distress and that is reason enough to alert the ministry, he said.
“Obviously, if there’s this number of restraints going on, then the treatment the child is receiving is missing the mark somehow,” he said. “The ministry needs to continue to know about these kinds of things and have some ability to actually influence the kind of treatment children and youth are getting.”
The advocate’s office recently conducted its own review of the use of physical restraints on a young boy in a group home. Elman said the results reveal the importance of the reports.
The child (Elman’s office provided no other identifying details) had been physically restrained every day for a period of five years. In reviewing the restraint reports, the advocate’s office found that in many of the cases, the use of restraints was not justified. The office also found that the group home’s own documentation of the incidents seemed to indicate that staff behaviour escalated the situations. These reports had been filed by the group home to both the ministry and children’s aid but neither of these oversight bodies identified the issue.
Elman said the example is not an isolated case.
Another recent review by his office of a group home in Ontario revealed serious problems with the use of physical restraints that did not meet approved standards. The concerns were reported to the advocate by youth in the home. Their claims were validated by the information in the reports.
“This is why I say the reports need to be analyzed with serious rigour,” Elman said.
“I do not agree with reducing the requirement to report on them because of the apparent nuisance of filling out the form. The nuisance is far less a problem than the potential trauma that the restraint necessary or not, inflicts on the child or the children witnessing it.”
The ministry said it has not yet decided whether it will adopt the commission’s recommendation.
Said ministry spokeswoman Paris Meilleur: “Our number one priority remains the safety and protection of our most vulnerable children and youth in a system with effective safeguards and accountability.”
Source: Toronto Star