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July 18, 2011 permalink
On Saturday July 16 a motorcade for accountability and transparency ran from Kitchener to Hamilton. Police were friendly, even assisting the group through some intersections. Here are some photos.        
A press report is below.
Protesters demand ombud oversight of children’s aid societies
WATERLOO REGION — Child advocates are frustrated with what they say is a lack of accountability within the children’s aid societies in Ontario.
About a dozen protestors towed white coffins — which they said represented children who have died while under the care of provincial children’s aid agencies — from Kitchener to Cambridge and on to Hamilton on Saturday.
“There’s no oversight of children’s aid agencies,” protester Vern Beck said while stopped outside the Cambridge office of Family and Children’s Services of Waterloo Region.
Beck said Ontario is the only province in Canada without ombud oversight into children’s aid societies, and said an independent review of complaints is needed “for a start” toward accountability.
Children’s aid societies are treated as private institutions in Ontario. Ontario ombud André Marin does not have a mandate to investigate complaints of the system.
A private member’s bill failed in the provincial legislature in May. It called for ombud oversight into children’s aid societies, universities, hospitals, long-term care homes, school boards and retirement homes.
At the end of June, Marin wrote an editorial in the Toronto Star stating that the office of the ombud should have the power to investigate complaints made against the agencies.
“Since I first raised the issue in the spring of 2006, and counting the cases I’ll be reporting on today, we have received a total of 2,587 complaints about children’s aid societies. That’s more than 2,500 people we have been unable to help,” Marin wrote.
Local protester Catherine Frei said that, in response to the failed private member’s bill, their protest and about a dozen other similar protests around Ontario are trying to bring public awareness to the lack of oversight of Ontario’s 53 children’s aid societies.
Frei, 38 of Kitchener, had her son taken away by children’s aid for more than 700 days. She said she was frustrated that she had to “jump through hoops and jump through more hoops, and just when you think you’ve done everything to satisfy, (the society) throws something else at you.”
Now a Wilfrid Laurier University student, Frei said the independent review could help expose the failures in the system, which she said are made worse by a lack of registered social workers in front-line positions.
Karen Spencer, director of client services at Waterloo Region Family and Children’s Services, said registration with the Ontario College of Social Workers is not required for the child-protection workers at the agency, “it’s an individual decision.”
Spencer said employees are hired with a variety of social science university degrees and are put through training specific to child-protection work.
“Individual workers don’t make critical decisions on their own, they’re always made in consultation with a supervisor,” Spencer said.
There is also a review board, the Child and Family Services Review Board, that Spencer said is made up of “an independent panel” which hears complaints.
“That board really has no teeth,” Frei said. “They can make recommendations, but it’s not necessarily something they’re forced to adopt.
“Nobody wants to shut the children’s aid down, it’s very necessary,” Frei said.
“But there has to be checks and balances, and there aren’t.”
Source: The Record
Addendum: The same paper has a letter by Anne Patterson and an opinion piece on CAS.
Vulnerable children need ombud’s help
Re: Ombud oversight for children’s aid societies sought — July 18
Thank you for covering the rally to bring ombud oversight to the 53 Children’s Aid Societies.
I have advocated for this important measure for years. The Ontario ombud, as an independent investigative body, has been instrumental in reviewing matters where the government can improve. Ombud Andre Marin has probed various institutions including Ontario’s local health integration networks, the Workplace Safety Insurance Board, and the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation.
The Liberals have refused this oversight, and the Conservatives have backtracked on the issue as well. The New Democrats have been steadfast in wanting this measure to be implemented.
Many of the ombud’s recommendations have led to policy changes that benefit Ontario citizens. Why then would such a formidable, important and helpful office be denied in its attempt to help the most precious and vulnerable in our society? If the Ontario ombud can probe lottery tickets, surely the welfare of innocent children should be included in the ombud’s mandate as an unbiased office.
Source: The Record
A better watchdog for children’s aid
In about a dozen cities across the province this spring and summer, protesters have taken to the streets to bring public attention to the fact that Ontario is the only province in the country that does not allow its ombud to oversee children’s aid societies.
The issue has been coming up for more than 35 years, from sitting ombuds, and from successive private members’ bills, to no avail.
“These are highly important and emotional and technical matters that involve our children,” Child and Youth Services Minister Laurel Broten told the legislature as recently as May. The government prefers to leave the oversight to a little-known body called the Child and Family Services Review Board, which it says has the expertise to deal with such highly charged questions.
But the review board only deals with procedural matters: rather than review say, an allegation of abuse of a child under a society’s care, the board would either dismiss the complaint or order the Children’s Aid Society in question to respond. As well, the board will only consider complaints from only those who directly seek or receive services from a child protection agency; a grandparent or concerned neighbour, for instance, would be unable to appeal to the review board. An ombud can also take the larger view, highlighting trends or system-wide issues, rather than merely issuing decisions on individual cases.
The current ombud, André Marin, says his office has received more than 2,500 complaints about refusals to adequately investigate allegations of abuse or neglect, about concerns in the way children have been removed from a home, complaints about the care of children under the supervision of a children’s aid society, about inaccurate records or harassing behaviour by society staff.
There is no doubt the staff at children’s aid societies are committed professionals who perform a vital yet very difficult job under circumstances that are often fraught with emotion. That fact does not, however, erase the need for a transparent, easily accessible, arm’s-length system of oversight to which people can turn if they aren’t happy with the services they’ve received.
The province spends $1.4 billion a year on protecting some 18,000 vulnerable children through the services of 53 children’s aid societies. Such a broad function, consuming a significant amount of tax dollars, requires a clear system of oversight.
In 2009, the province set up a Commission to Promote Sustainable Child Welfare, which is set to report in the fall of 2012. As a minimum, the commission should clarify what Marin calls the “somewhat murky status quo.”
The thousands of complaints that have made their way to Marin’s office, and the protesters speaking out across the province, are abundant evidence that the current system, despite the minister’s bland assurances, is inadequate.
Source: The Record