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Scripted Computer

May 25, 2011 permalink

Most deaths in CAS care stay out of the press. In the few cases that do make it into the papers, CAS responds from a script. Today's announcement is a popular item from that script: a new computer system, purportedly correcting the errors leading the the death of Matthew Reid, actually just an extension of the desire to monitor and control every child in Ontario.



Death of Niagara boy leading to new information system

The province is developing a single computer information system for all children's aid societies as a result of a Niagara foster child's smothering death.

The Ministry of Children and Youth Services said the first stage of the new system should be completed by mid-2013.

"It's a good thing. It's been something we've been wanting for 10 years at least in Ontario," said Chris Steven, executive director of Family and Children's Services Niagara. "It's a huge project and the ministry is making a significant investment in this."

It is one of several recommendations adopted after the March 2010 inquest into the death of three-year-old Matthew Reid.

Matthew was found lying on his bedroom floor at his Welland foster home the morning of Dec. 15, 2005. He had been smothered with a pillow overnight by a 14-year-old foster girl who had been placed in the home the day before.

The jury heard the girl, who cannot be named, had a long list of issues plaguing her, including fetal alcohol syndrome, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and the functioning level of a six- or seven-year-old.

She was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to seven years.

A four-week coroner's inquest resulted in 45 jury recommendations directed at multiple agencies.

Among them was the call for a single information system between children's aid societies that would provide key information about children to help workers make placement decisions.

Matthew was under the care of the Haldimand-Norfolk Children's Aid Society and the girl was a Crown ward in the care of FACS Niagara.

"Implementation of a single information system addresses several of the coroner's recommendations related to the need for better information management," a ministry spokesperson said in an e-mail.

The ministry said the new system, which was a goal before the inquest, will include historical documents relating to a child's case.

Steven of FACS Niagara said the system will allow children's aid societies to share information electronically, record files the same way and extract information for program planning and measurement.

"Right now, what you have across 53 children's aid societies is up to 53 different (information technology) platforms," Steven said, adding it makes it difficult to know what information should be stored by everyone, how they access it, who they can share it with and creates issues of timeliness.

"In our work, which crosses jurisdictional boundaries all the time, that's very, very important."

He said FACS Niagara is one of the agencies that is participating with the project as experts develop modules.

"It was a longtime coming, but it will be very helpful and will help to address at least, if not all, of the jury's recommendations around information technology."

FACS took several measures to improve its service prior to the inquest.

Steven said the agency enhanced staffing and created better communication with school boards and Pathstone Mental Health, which was formally Niagara Child and Youth Services.

The jury wanted better information sharing between agencies dealing with children with special education needs because there were concerns about who had what information about the girl. Jurors heard she had temper tantrums and behavioural problems that escalated after being kicked out of school in fall 2005.

Educational consultants have been working with FACS over the last couple of years to assist staff and foster parents on how to navigate the school system and be proactive for children with special education needs.

FACS Niagara staff held a conference with educational staff to better understand each other's systems.

The jury recommended a "passport" be developed by the ministry for each child in the care of a children's aid society with their health, history and safety information. FACS Niagara has already developed a passport internally that will soon be implemented and travel with a child should they move from placement to placement for the benefit of their care provider.

Steven said the work is ongoing.

He said the inquest showed the complexity of the work by children's aid societies and the intersecting systems they work with.

"For us, the ongoing charge to us is about vigilance. We can't ever assume things and we have to remind ourselves that each and every child and each and every decision is critical," he said.

"And I would not for a moment suggest something like this could not happen again because the moment we have that type of confidence means we're going to lose vigilance."

Source: St Catharine's Standard