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May 20, 2011 permalink
On May 16 the Ontario legislative heard more testimony on bill 179, The 18 witnesses were:
The testimony-in-chief of witnesses giving personal stories is enclosed below.
Ms. Kelly Mackin: Good afternoon. I am here to speak against Bill 179.
The children’s aid societies and the Ministry of Children and Youth Services have been failing Ontario’s crown wards for far too long. The reason I am here today is one of personal pain. When my son was just a little boy three years old, I voluntarily put him into care of the Catholic Children’s Aid Society of Toronto. At the time, I had a substance abuse problem, there was nowhere else for me to turn and I knew I could not be a good mother, and I trusted them. This would be the biggest mistake I have ever made in my life, and I don’t believe that I, nor my son, will ever forgive me for this.
My little boy had to sneak down at night and get food—remember, he wasn’t even four years old yet—for a boy even younger than himself. This happened quite frequently in the year and a half he spent in the first place he was put in, a so-called foster home. There is much more that happened, but I will not disclose that here.
I am here today representing the children who have died due to the incompetence of various children’s aid society employees: Afua Boateng, Shanay Johnson, Matthew Reid, Sara Podniewicz, Jordan Heikamp, Jeffrey Baldwin, Randal Dooley, Katelynn Sampson and, as of late, baby Miguel Fernandes. These children would be alive if children’s aid society employees really did their jobs.
Children in crown care are medicated and diagnosed at a much higher rate than the general population. Nearly half of our crown wards are medicated. I have included several articles of facts for everyone, and they will be available at some point, as there is a lot of it.
On April 1, 2010, a 51-year-old man, a foster parent in Windsor, Ontario, was sentenced to six months in jail for sexually assaulting a girl in his care. There are still foster children in that home. Again in Windsor, Ontario, on March 9, 2011, a foster mother pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a 14-year-old boy in her care. She also provided him with alcohol and drugs. In January 2011, Maurice Lavigueur, 52 years old, a man who was honoured by Family and Children’s Services Niagara, was charged with six sexual offences against children in his care. In Sudbury, Ontario, 11 months ago, why did the CAS want the father’s name kept secret—this girl was adopted. At 11 years old, her foster father began molesting her; at 14 she gave birth to his now two-year-old son, and she was the one responsible for the publication ban being lifted. He got seven years in prison. That’s four child molesters in 13 months.
As for safety nets for children, an article was done on roughly 20,000 serious occurrence reports—those are for children being physically restrained: “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 a Commission to Promote Sustainable Child Welfare. The commission also found the paperwork is rarely” acted on by the ministry. I have several articles here.
In closing, I will say that it is not—I’m sorry; I’m so emotional, I’m so angry and so disgusted—in children’s best interests to be adoptable after 30 days. I’d really like to know what—let me quote Mr. Cardozo correctly—a portable home study is? Is that a meet-and-greet?
With a track record of incompetence resulting in many needless deaths of children, fraudulent spending, firing over pornographic emails—that’s the Catholic children’s aid society in 2002—overmedication of children, abuse by foster parents, child molester after child molester fostering and $1.4 billion a year with no accountability, imagine what we don’t know.
What I want to know, as well as what people of this province deserve to know, is who could actually believe that the children’s aid societies and the Ministry of Children and Youth Services are capable of choosing “forever safe” people to adopt when they cannot keep children safe in their so-called care?
The best interests of the children need to truly be the priority.
Ms. Rose Bray: Thank you for the opportunity to make this presentation to your committee. My name is Rose Bray. I live in New Dundee. I am here as a concerned citizen. I have become aware of the actions of the children’s aid society against good families. I have also learned that the children’s aid society is privately owned and has no independent oversight.
After hearing so many stories of children being forcibly removed from loving families for reasons other than child abuse, I became alarmed. Children are being removed for poverty, and parents are being coerced into giving up custody to secure government funding for required medical and therapeutic services. This is so wrong. It is not a crime to be poor or to have medical needs.
Both of these issues are very near and dear to me as I was a medically fragile child who came from a poor family. I was born in 1962 with a complete heart block. Back then, there was nothing that could be done for my heart condition. I was sent home, and it was not known how long I would survive. My family kept a constant vigil over me. I was always in and out of the hospital. I had a heart attack at ages 2, 6, 11 and 17.
Every day, my mom or dad would check my temperature numerous times. If I had a temperature, I was given a bath and a nitro pill, and the family doctor was called. One time my mom called the doctor, and he told her to give me two Aspirins and put me to bed. She did not follow this advice and phoned another doctor who came to our house and gave me a shot. My family doctor said that if she had done what the first doctor had said, I probably would have died.
It was very scary being such an ill child. I would sometimes be so weak that I could not walk; I had to crawl. I was not able to run and play the same as other kids. My parents never left me alone for fear I would have a bad spell. I cannot imagine anyone but family who would take such good care of a sick child. I was only allowed to stay with family and never stayed over at a friend’s house. My parents would have never taken the chance that I might have a bad spell when family who knew what to do and watch for were not around.
The children’s aid society says that the children who die in their care are medically fragile, but they do not tell you that upon investigation, 75% of these deaths were found to be preventable. The safest place for children is with their loving families.
Poverty is not a reason for taking children and adopting them out to strangers. I have been raised to believe that you give to the poor and that you help those less fortunate. As a child, I never went to a restaurant with my grandparents, yet I ate the best meals of my life at their home. I never went to a zoo with my grandparents, yet I learned to love and care for farm animals. I never went away to faraway beaches, yet I swam at the best beach ever. I never went to a movie with my grandparents, yet watching bears at the dump was the best entertainment ever. As a child, my grandparents never bought me gifts, yet I had the warmest homemade quilts, mittens and socks.
The message here is that family is about love, not about money. Poor and sick children do not want forever families; they want their families forever.
omissions by fixcas
In 1972, I received my first pacemaker. In 2009, I received my 10th pacemaker. It is the machine that keeps me alive, but it is my heartbeat that gives me life and feeds my soul. It is said that no machine can beat as strong as the human heart, so please, use your political position to do the right thing and save family. Thank you.
Ms. Laurie Montag: I’m Laurie Montag.
Bill 179 is an inhumane treatment to Canadian families who do not want to give up their babies by forced adoption. With Bill 179, young mothers are at high risk to lose their babies in a second. For some, the trauma of losing their baby is a death sentence to suicide. The trauma is simply unbearable. My question is, how did you convince yourself that you have the God-given right to decide when a mother should or should not keep her child and force adoption for her newborn baby? Who gave you that right? The decision is not yours to make. The decision should only be decided by the mom or the dad. It’s a violation of Canadian law, and let’s drop this bill before any more of our children die.
Looking at the reputation of the children’s aid, we know that the children’s aid is toxic, and I believe this bill should be put on hold until a specific statute of limitations for delayed discovery and damages caused to families by children’s aid and a full investigation. Taking babies at birth unlawfully for forced adoption is simply another gravy train for their own project. Drop the bill.
What was done to my daughter was simply evil, and an apology or a paycheque is not enough for me. My daughter was harassed by CAS, not because of what she was currently doing, but because of her past. Say a new parent has drug issues or other problems and they find they’re having a baby. How is 30 days time to recover and stabilize themselves and prove to children’s aid that they can take care of their baby? CAS claims that they are in the best interest of the child. Where is the support they claim to offer? Even after my daughter agreed to a six-month supervision order, she was continually harassed the month she was at the hospital while her new son recovered from surgery. She was home a week and she committed suicide. This was the letter that she left behind:
“My mind doesn’t make sense no more.
“It’s like I’m hurting deep to the core.
“Please, dear God, make these thoughts go away,
“Please, dear God, I don’t want to live today.
“I look into my little boy’s eyes
“Is our world built on lies?
“I lost the fight for this world,
“Please, dear God, make my thoughts go away.
“Please, baby Michael, don’t feel my hurt or anger,
“Just lay back, my little boy, in a manger.
“I am sorry for bringing you into this horrible place,
“I am sorry for the tears running down my face.
“My baby boy, I am sorry, I am so sore,
“My baby boy, I am no good for you.
“It’s what they say, and I’m thinking it’s true.
“Please, my little boy, if I have to go, don’t be sad,
“Please understand these people think I’m bad,
“And I think I am too, when I should be giving you hugs and kisses.
“Please, my little boy, don’t you ever miss me.
“Just remember I love you.
“Please don’t cry for me, little one.
“I will always love you for ever and ever, and that’s the truth.
“Suicide, suicide, say you’re not a sin,
“Suicide, suicide, do you know where I’ve been?
“Suicide, suicide, please cut me deep,
“Suicide, suicide, take me in your sleep.
“Suicide, suicide, I know you’re right,
“Suicide, suicide, come get me tonight.”
She was protected to death by the CAS. She walked away from drugs for her child, and they pushed her right back into it.
Ms. Maggie Steiss: Okay. My name is Maggie Steiss. My daughter and I were also victims of CAS. She was ripped away from me. I’m not really here to talk so much about her. Children are dying. Children are abused. This is Samantha Martin: Her parents are wonderful parents, but they were told that their child would never get the care that she needed unless she was put into foster care.
The other thing I would like to bring up is that I myself am adopted. I was adopted as a baby. I’ve been hearing about adoption subsidies for adoptive parents. When my parents adopted me, there were no subsidies. I became their legal child, with all the legal responsibilities, including financial, that go along with that. How can you justify giving adoptive parents subsidies when natural parents do not get subsidies? As a natural parent, I was not given money; I was not given subsidies for being a natural parent. But now you want to give adoptive subsidies. In the case of Samantha Martin, a child with disabilities, they were not helped; the natural parents were not helped. “Put her in foster care, you’ll get help. Keep her yourself, you will get nothing.” This is wrong. This is totally wrong—and by the way, she was abused in foster care, as many children were, as my own daughter was in the first home that she was at. Eventually, she ended up in a very good home—she was one of the lucky ones—but she never should have been in care in the first place. It was based on lies.
All I can say is that FACS has to go. FACS, children’s aid, they have to go. We have to have a new system. They’re evil money-makers.
Ms. Eileen Irizarry: Good afternoon, members of our soon-to-be-re-reformed civilized society, concerned parents and advocates for children of this province. My name is Eileen Irizarry. I am here to state for the record that I verily believe that the children’s aid society should be abolished. I have had extensive dealings with this agency—corporate baby monsters—and have witnessed an abuse of power and authority over children and the ones who love them.
I do not think this bill should pass, simply because it gives more authority to an organization that has misused its authority so far. And without Ombudsman oversight, there is no end to the abuse of power and authority of the so-called children’s aid society. We treat our puppies better than we treat our children.
If we are to consider ourselves a civilized society, we should take a look at how we treat our children, how we treat the biological non-offending parents of this so-called “civilized” society. They are not the society, my friends; we are. Please oppose Bill 179 for the well-being of our children.
I further recommend, whether this is my position or not, that an extensive investigation be launched against the children’s aid society for the sake of my child, your child, your grandchild and your neighbour’s child.
The people have spoken, and we will speak again and again and again. I spoke to my MP this morning. I spoke to the provincial children’s advocate this morning. I recommend to permit the Ombudsman to have power over the children’s aid society once and for all and that the CAS be held accountable for all the damage to all the families and all the children in this great province.
Ms. Barbara LaFleshe: My name is Barbara LaFleshe, and I’m a member of a group in Hamilton, Ontario, called We ROCK. It’s We Raise Our Children’s Kids. We are a support group for grandparents and kin families.
We feel that we more than go above on record as being a voice in our community. We not only support each other but we are out in community, supporting community. With peer-to-peer mentoring, we mentor people on OW/ODSP. We also know of many members of our community who, for lack of funds or lack of jobs, get cut off their—say their heating gets cut off. The direct line of communication is from, say, Union Gas to the director of community and social services, Joe-Anne Priel, in Hamilton. Her dear friend Dominic Verticchio, director of the children’s aid society, is informed, and those children are apprehended. It takes months and months to get through court systems to get your children away from children’s aid.
I want to speak on that, but I also want to say, as a grandparent and one who has cared for her granddaughter, that my daughter was diagnosed with a mental illness. She is levelled out and is doing quite fine now. Her life is her child. If I hadn’t been there to support her—children’s aid is not viewing grandparents as the best scenario in raising grandchildren. A lot of our grandmothers had to fight vigorously through the court system, exhausting all of their finances, to keep the children within the home. I can’t imagine me worrying and wondering, “What ever happened to my granddaughter?”
With that, I’ll pass it along to Bev McIntosh, another member of We ROCK.
Ms. Beverly McIntosh: Good afternoon. I’m here for the children. I have two grandchildren that I have been raising. They’re both fetal alcohol plus ADHD. The problem is, people will not take these children because they’re too much to have to look after. We’re at doctors’ appointments where we have to do this and we have to do that. We have to be very careful with these children. Even at school, they’re sent home a lot of times because they can’t sit still, even though they’re on medications. And it’s not just mine; there are a lot of children out there that are like this, who need the help. The school is doing as much as they can. The government needs to help these children as well.
They are going to be teenagers. My granddaughter’s going to be a teenager next year, and I’ve had her since she was nine months old. Right now, she is up at Lynwood Hall, because she’s having such a hard time, so she’s up there. Her brother is here with me. I had to take him out of school. I won’t be home in time to pick him up, so I brought him here with me. He’s also fetal alcohol effect and ADHD, and he has a lot of problems at school as well. Sometimes they’re sent home, because the teachers can’t control them. To me, that’s not right.
There are more and more children that are being born from parents who don’t think, when they’re pregnant, what they’re doing to their child, and that’s the biggest thing. The mother of my two still says, “I didn’t drink.” But it’s been found in their hair. Rosina is really bad. She’s very tiny. You wouldn’t even think she was 13. She only weighs 42 pounds; she’s just a little thing. Austin weighs more than her. But I was around when he was around, so the mother did not get as much alcohol in her system. She swore to me she didn’t, but she did, because they tested him when he was first born and it was in his hair.
This is a big problem—I think you have it in Toronto; we have it in Hamilton—that these young people are out there and they’re hurting the children that they’re supposed to be taking care of by taking drugs and alcohol. The drugs you can get out of their system; the alcohol you can’t. Alcohol is in the amniotic fluid for 48 hours before it is cleaned out, so every little baby is sitting in alcohol for 48 hours. So when they’re born, they usually have a lot of problems.
Ms. Barbara LaFleshe: One of the things I wanted to add for Bev is, when you’re considering putting through—rushing through and hammering through—Bill 179, you must be extremely careful, because there aren’t many people other than family members, grandparents, who would go 100% the distance with their grandchildren, ensuring that they have a fully functioning life, one that is sustained through all the years of growing up. As far as adoption goes, there aren’t many people on earth who will have gone the distance like Bev McIntosh.
I just want to say that this is an extremely important bill, one that we do want you to—really, at best, we want to say to shut this down right now. Definitely the CAS needs to be investigated on many strains, and I think one of the reasons why this is being pushed through right at this point is because CAS has failed.
With that, I just wanted to add one thing. Our president couldn’t be here. Her name is Diane Chiarelli. She does say that the constitution does give rights to people, but one right can’t overstep the right of another. I wish you would consider this today.
Mr. Attila Vinczer: Thank you. Good afternoon, committee Chair and committee members. My name is Attila Vinczer, a father of two wonderful children. Thank you for affording me this opportunity to speak to matters of concern with respect to Bill 179.
In consideration of the serious ramifications pertaining to the public and family interest and well-being, I respectfully make the following submission for the committee’s serious consideration and contemplation prior to voting on Bill 179, which, from what is understood, will make it much easier for children to become crown wards.
I am a member of the York CAS, as well as active within the community of Newmarket. I am the secretary of the Canadian Maltese Charitable Service Trust, a duly registered charity that has been in operation by my family for 16 years, raising over $250,000 to help families and children worldwide. Furthermore, I take an active role in assisting families who are having difficulty with CASs throughout Ontario, Canada and even internationally. As such, I have extensive knowledge of the dangers within CAS agencies and their ancillary veins of operation.
In 2008, I was dumbfounded when my vindictive ex-wife made false allegations to the CAS, which then unlawfully ordered my children detained by the school principal. I had to attend a CAS office, where I was coerced into signing a service agreement and was threatened with having my children put into foster care should I not comply—this, based on one phone call and no investigation. The allegations were found vexatious and untrue after a period of 30 days—the same amount of time that this bill would enable the adoption of children in care to become crown wards.
The Liberal government intentionally defeated the second reading of Bill 131, which would give the Ombudsman power to investigate. Minister Laurel Broten indicated on May 5 that there are plenty of avenues for parents to pursue if they have issues with the CAS. Recently, a father in Muskoka made such a complaint to a review board, to find himself being served with legal documents within two days after that complaint, and that he had to appear in court the next morning.
Mistakes can be and have been made—such as the disgraced pathologist Charles Randall Smith, who has caused grave issues of concern to countless families, such as William Mullins-Johnson and many others. He spent 12 and a half years behind bars for a crime he did not commit, costing Ontario taxpayers $4.25 million in compensation. CAS was heavily involved in that case against an innocent man.
Given the mistakes that have been made, can the Liberal government guarantee that a child wrongly removed from a family will not be adopted out? Who will take personal responsibility should such errors take place? It should be known that those who fail in their fiduciary responsibility to the public can be held personally liable. What real protection does a parent have to combat the now-proposed accelerated adoption process of children in care? Considering it can cost $50,000 or even $100,000-plus to defend against such intrusive action by the provincial government—that is, CAS agencies and other social agencies—how is an average family supposed to afford a defence against such action?
This committee must consciously be aware that if they vote on passing this bill, and having knowledge as I put before you that there are serious flaws in this bill where errors can be made, each and every one of you are jointly and severally responsible for the making of a bad law that will have dire consequences on the very fundamental fabric of our society: our families and our children.
I am gravely concerned, as are hundreds of other people I’ve spoken with, that this bill will grossly erode the fundamental rights of parents. I ask that each and every committee member seriously consider what I and others have brought before you in ensuring that a flawed bill such as Bill 179 is not passed into law.
Ms. Andrea Armstrong: I’m Andrea Armstrong. I have a legal administration diploma from college; I’ve worked as a legal advocate for low-income people for 20 years on a volunteer basis. I also worked as a nanny for the Canadian Tire family, Alfred Billes; I’ve worked as a nanny for Jeffrey Simpson, the Globe and Mail journalist. I’ve also done special needs work in the homes of people who had CAS involvement.
I am both for and against Bill 179. I’m adopted at birth myself. I was adopted immediately through York Region CAS into a very loving adoptive home. I support adoption when it is properly investigated and the children are going to a proper home. My parents were meant to be parents; they just had infertility issues. I have also gone through an adoption reunion, and my natural mother would have also been a very suitable parent. At the time, though, in 1968, that was not an option for her.
I also had a crown ward child over the age of 18 living with me. She had been placed into foster care on a kind of voluntary basis. The other siblings were left in the home: There wasn’t a need to remove them, apparently, but this girl did not want the discipline of her father and chose to go into crown wardship. When she went to college, she moved into my home for a short period of time. She didn’t have the life skills that her sister had, which she had learned staying at home with her family where she had to do chores and everything else. The girl who grew up in foster care had everything handed to her on a silver platter, including two laptops two years in a row. The second laptop she didn’t need, so she gave it to a friend who ripped her off for it instead of giving it to her sister who really needed it. So there are limits to what funding should be available to support these children up until the age of 21.
Ontario Works benefits are not sufficient to keep a dog in a humane situation. I’m on an ODSP pension and I’m forced to pay $1,100 a month for an apartment that still does not meet fire or health codes.
I have voluntary CAS involvement at the moment because of issues that involve the death of a child in Peterborough, so let me get into that.
Ombudsman oversight: This crown ward child of mine, who was a roommate, was actually falsely listed as my child on the provincial database. Shortly after a fire that killed a child that I was—I have evidence of systemic government negligence that led to this child’s death. Three government agencies knew that her sibling had been starting fires. The child had been taken to the fire department to be spoken to before the fatal fire. Probation and parole had been told about a bed fire that had been put out and that someone “was going to get killed.” Subsidized housing knew about this child’s fire-starting abilities. The neighbours complained, even asking about firewalls. They were ignored. There were several orders against the unit to do with fire hazards in the past: smoke detectors being disconnected, garbage having to be removed from the basement. That was a welfare fraud case because the grandmother was paying $1,500 every six months to have garbage removed from the basement, and it wasn’t being reported to welfare.
Sorry; I’m totally working without notes here. This is on the fly because you had an opening.
My matter is still before the Child and Family Services Review Board. I have never, ever had a custody issue with my children. The only reason children’s aid has been involved in my case is because I have an ex-husband who has post-traumatic stress disorder from serving in the army and, of course, he cannot get treatment for his post-traumatic stress disorder. I have to send him back to Alberta to get that, it seems. I still supervise my ex-husband’s visitations.
Toronto CAS found these serious errors on my file from Peterborough CAS, as in the fact that this crown ward child had been noted as being my child when she was not. We also noted errors on the file that I had apparently been gang-raped in the past, and there is no truth to that. There are also errors on the file saying that one of my children, however with a different birth date, is actually in the guardianship of somebody I don’t know, who is actually another CAS client; they’ve just confused the files and sandwiched them together. This file also states that the change of guardianship is in regards to a death in the family. All of this is untrue.
Toronto CAS disclosed these errors to me because they were concerned that due to my legal advocacy work and the false arrests that I had been suffering, if a judge was to see these CAS records, my children might be put falsely into CAS care. It’s these types of issues that I find a problem with when it comes to a 30-day adoption.
Being on ODSP, I have a constitutional issue, and do not have $7,000 to retain a lawyer. If you are on disability or on welfare, you are not allowed to even borrow money from your life insurance or anywhere else for your legal defence, to order court transcripts, for divorce papers, and that is against human rights. I should be able to get that stuff, and this is one of the matters that has really been causing some problems.
My asset level on ODSP, with two children, is $6,000. To do a constitutional issue is a minimum $7,000 retainer by a lawyer. So even if I can borrow the $7,000, it’s above my asset level and I would be cut off.
There are many middle-class families that do not qualify or do not have the money for legal representation. Legal aid covers next to nothing, and I have several letters on the way trying to explain why they’ve dismissed two applications of mine. Legal aid does not deal with administrative matters, they only deal with custody matters, so I’ve been denied legal aid for the child and family services board after about eight months of wasting my time trying to get that.
If my children had been taken from me, then maybe I would have some legal representation, but if I’m fighting errors based on what CAS has created, I have no legal representation and no legal rights. This is what concerns me about 30-day adoption. There needs to be some more time to allow people to get proper legal representation, if it’s even available to them. A lot of people are given false information about the timing and what they need to do in the court process to ensure that they can continue visitation with the children. I’m concerned about grandparents who have visitation orders and those being taken away from them.
I myself am a perfect case of nature over nurture. I would have done well in either family that I was in. My siblings who grew up with my birth mother are RCMP officers, corrections officers etc. Although I was adopted into a loving home, I was abused outside of my home, and that has affected me greatly throughout my life.
I supported a woman whose child was taken from the hospital; she had had several other children taken. She was a neighbour of mine. I happened to be at the hospital when CAS came to take the child, so it was a little difficult for me, being adopted myself.
At the time, I thought that they should give her a chance and let her keep the baby. However, about eight months later I was in her home visiting, and she had burn marks all up her arms, and I asked her about them. She stated that she was falling asleep while smoking and she was burning herself. She was supposed to be on a sleep apnea machine that she refused to use.
She lived in the same townhouses where this other tragic fire happened on December 14, 2008. These townhouses do not meet present fire code. In the row of townhouses where the child died in December, six townhouses burned in 15 minutes flat because there were no firewalls. I live next door to this woman who was having the sleep apnea smoking issue. Obviously, a fire hazard like that is a threat to a child, and the CAS apparently did step in and removed the child again.
I also worked in another home where the parents were severely special needs. The woman couldn’t even do up her blouse to go out in public. She would just be hanging out of her bra wherever. Her child would be sent home from school to change her clothes because she didn’t even know how to wear a sanitary pad at the age of 14. Two other children had already been removed from the home and had been placed for adoption, yet these two children were left in the home, and I felt it was a huge disgrace that these children were left in the home.
So yes, there are different cases. Every case is individual. Without Ombudsman oversight, you can’t ensure that decisions are being based on true, factual information—
Mr. Irwin Elman: Thank you for having me here again. As you know, I’m the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth. My job is to elevate the voices of children and youth, particularly children and youth connected to care, and then, again, particularly crown wards. So this bill, this opportunity, is really important. I thank the young people who spoke before me.
I wanted to say that you know, and this committee knows, that I believe the children we’re talking about are the province’s children and they’re your children. I explained that before. So the young people that you’ve just heard were your children.
When I think about this bill, I think about the government dipping its toe in the water. I use that metaphor because I was with my seven-year-old child, teaching him to swim on the weekend. He was at the edge of the pool, and he just dipped his toe in the water; he was getting ready. You know, those children, when they’re ready to jump in, they dip their toe in the water, perhaps out of fear, perhaps to check the temperature, but not ready to dive quite yet. You’re encouraging them, and that’s what I’m saying to the government. I’m encouraging you to continue this debate about family, connection, the importance of community—the things that young people in care, crown wards, have told us are crucial to their success later on. This bill is the beginning of a dialogue, not the end a dialogue—just the beginning.
When I think about this—and I’ve travelled the last year speaking to probably 1,000 young people in and from care and service providers—I remember a young man who said, and I wrote it down, “I came into care when I was eight years old. I moved around from home to home until I landed in a foster home at age 12. I really liked it there. They told me they loved me, and after a while, I told them I loved them. Close to my 18th birthday they told me that I was going to have to leave. I was so hurt. I mean, I said I loved them. I left that home and I never went back. They said it was the rules, but what type of family does that after they say, ‘I love you’ and let you say, ‘I love you’ back? I was so depressed. I’m surprised I’m still here.”
I also remember meeting a group of crown wards in I think it was Guelph; it could have been North Bay, but I’m pretty sure it was Guelph. They said, “You have to remember that when you say ‘We’re building forever families,’ we do have families. You can’t pretend, especially when we’re older and you’re considering adopting us, that we don’t have families. And sometimes our families are brothers, are sisters, are aunts, are uncles, are moms or fathers that we’re still connected to, but sometimes, just as much, they’re our friends.”
This group said, “We have each other. We’ve gotten to know each other. We understand each other. We’ve been through the same stuff, and we’re family members too. Sometimes a worker, a counsellor or a teacher is a member of our family, somebody whom we’ve connected to.” They said, “We choose our friends and we choose our families. That’s the nature of growing up as a crown ward in care. We need you to argue for opportunities for allowing us to choose our families sometimes, because adoption isn’t for everyone. It’s important, but adoption isn’t for everyone.”
That discussion with young people about how to create these what I call, “positive connections”—the bill calls them family. Before, we talked about permanency. We’re not talking about that now, but it’s the same thing. Those discussions about how to create them is diving into the pool. Maybe it takes courage—I’m not quite sure why it takes courage—but it’s not sticking your toe in. The rules about adoption are really important. That’s where we’re at. So I do want to say something about Bill 179, but I think the discussion is more important to have it more broadly, and our children deserve that.
Around Bill 179: There are no targets set for how many children this is going to impact, how many adopted families there are going to be from this bill. I understand that there are many, many thousands of children with access orders essentially not being used, but how many young people are going to find families through this bill? I think it’s important to set a target for that, and then look at seeing if we’re meeting that target. Is the bill working? I believe that’s something that is endemic to child welfare, that we set up a system but oftentimes don’t have targets or expected outcomes for the children in the system, the crown wards. I think that’s something we should do.
In terms of adoption subsidies, I actually believe in them. It’s kind of a no-brainer; of course we should have adoption subsidies. The government has become the parent of children, and other people are willing to step forward. If they’re special needs, those people should be supported if they can’t provide for those children, in terms of special needs.
I believe probably the centralization of adoption, as the Raising Expectations report suggested, at least in terms of coordinating adoption services if not taking over adoption planning—that might stay with the local children’s aid societies, but some centralized coordinating function of the ministry probably needs to happen to ensure that adoption happens consistently across the province.
I want to talk just briefly about the 16- and 17-year-olds. I was ecstatic, actually, when I heard that 16- and 17-year-olds were going to be allowed to come back into care. They were going to be allowed to come home again, if they had decided to leave or the agency had decided to let them go. Quite frankly, it’s not in the bill; it’s not there. The way in which to put it into the bill, I believe, most easily—and you’ve heard this before, I think—is to raise the age of protection to 18, the way most other provinces have. That would also allow young people who live in foster care, if they chose and the foster parent chose, to stay in foster care past 18. Those are important recommendations. That’s about diving in.
The other thing I want to say is that we heard some talk about OSAP with the announcement of this bill, that extended care maintenance funds would not be used to calculate income when OSAP was being considered for a crown ward or former crown ward who was attending post-secondary education. I had made a very similar suggestion, that extended care maintenance should also not be considered if a young person was trying to pay geared-to-income rent, and it should not be calculated in the very same way. To me, it indicates the need for a whole government approach.
I fail to see how one part of the government—training, colleges and universities, which handles OSAP—can say, “This is a very valuable possibility for our children,” and another part of the government—in this case it was the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing—says, “No, this is not appropriate.” This indicates to me that there’s a need to look holistically, to have a whole-government approach, perhaps the way the Select Committee on Mental Health and Addictions did, a non-partisan approach to finally tackling the way in which our crown wards are leaving care and provide for them better so that they have better outcomes. I’d like to suggest that’s a possibility we can do for our children.
I’m willing to take questions.
Source: Ontario Hansard