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May 12, 2011 permalink
What's the easiest way for a children's aid society to get more money? Overspend the budget. The province will eventually have to pay, or watch children going without food and shelter. Two merging eastern Ontario societies have successfully robbed the taxpayers. The Ontario government is paying off their one million dollars in debt.
Debt relief a big help to child welfare agency
Lennox & Addington Family and Children's Services (LAFCS) will no longer be constrained by a roughly $1 million debt, as it goes about its duty of protecting children.
The Ontario Liberal government announced it would absorb the debt on March 15 to help the agency continue its investigative and counselling programs, and prepare for its merger with the Frontenac Children's Aid Society.
The two agencies are responsible for investigating physical, sexual and emotional abuse of children, as well as co-ordinating adoption and foster parenting programs, among other important services.
LAFCS executive director Greg Moon called it exciting news. He said the debt caused his agency to think twice about doing otherwise simple things, such as replacing workers on maternity leave or starting new programs.
"If you have a $1-million stone around your neck, you have to pause before you do any of those things," he said.
He took the news as a sign that the Ontario government has acknowledged its formula to fund child welfare agencies must be changed. Moon said 36 of 53 Children's Aid Societies in the province, including LAFCS, were carrying debt heading into this fiscal year.
And those organizations had no choice but to build up a debt, he said. Children's Aid Societies are supported solely by the Ontario government. But they have a mandatory obligation to investigate abuse cases. They begin each year not knowing how many they'll have to conduct, nor how many kids will come into their care.
"Our job is to keep kids safe from harm," he said. "We can't compromise on that because of a funding model that's inequitable."
The debt that was retired included a $628,444 from this past fiscal year and a $382,403 historical debt, from previous fiscal years. The Frontenac CAS also had $2.6 million of debt retired by the province.
Moon said the $626,444 debt from this year provides an example of how the funding formula needs to change.
The Ministry of Children and Youth Services provided the agency with a roughly $8 million budget, based on the number of children it cared for and the number of investigations in the previous year. However, the LAFCS anticipated its budget would be around $8.6 million. The gap in numbers was partly attributed to capital costs for the agency's new 99 Advance Ave. office in Napanee. The current funding formula does not provide relief for agencies that have new infrastructure needs, Moon said.
"The ministry has acknowledged their funding formula is deficient," he said. "They're in the process of putting together a new model."
That model is expected to include additional funding for child welfare agencies in areas with greater poverty or unemployment rates, plus additional funding for those taking on capital projects. Moon said he expects it to be phased in over the next year or so.
Meanwhile, the LAFCS will continue its plan to merge with the Frontenac CAS, a move announced last December to help both agencies save money.
Moon said a merger plan was recently approved by the Commission to Promote Sustainable Child Welfare. That commission was appointed by the provincial government to address agencies' debt issues.
Now that the commission has approved the plan, it must be reviewed by the ministry. Moon said he expects to hear back from the Ministry within a few weeks. If approved, the gritty work to merge the two agencies can begin.
"There's a lot of work there," Moon said. "On the government side, we need to develop a set of bylaws for this agency, look at board membership and legal processes. We need to pick a new name, we need to incorporate and get our charity licence number and all those sorts of things."
He said the merger will save money, likely through the elimination of a few senior management positions.
The argument for the merger is it would allow the two agencies to combine administrative offices. Moon said it won't lead to any decrease in service in the Lennox & Addington area.
"We don't envision any layoffs of any frontline staff," Moon said.
He said one of the first decisions the LAFCS board made upon deciding to amalgamate is to keep the local office open and not have all the case workers work out of Kingston.
"We'll absolutely still be providing services in a local way. We'll still be here providing services to our community from our building," Moon said. "We've been around 112 years. We're a part of our community and we don't plan on changing."
Source: Napanee Guide