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Support for Ombudsman

June 14, 2012 permalink

The County Weekly News, based in Picton Ontario, has editorially supported ombudsman oversight of children's aid societies.



Opinion Editorial

Ombudsman could allay CAS fears

Last year, Prince Edward County Children's Aid Society defiantly stood up against an amalgamated, regional child welfare body, turning aside a provincial suggestion to join societies in Belleville and Northumberland to the west in a tri-party agency designed to streamline and centralize regional services.

“We're all right, Jack,” was the response, in essence, from the County CAS.

Clearly, though, that's not the case.

First came the charges, conviction and jailing of foster parents Joe and Janet Turner Holm in 2011.

The latest example of trouble with the County CAS was last week when a 71-year-old Bloomfield man — a foster parent — was convicted of assaulting two of three girls who said he'd molested them some years ago.

While there has been much hue and cry over what could be wrong in an agency charged with looking after the welfare of children in its care after two convictions for child molestation, it's not over yet.

There's a third case yet to be heard. Following the conviction last winter of a Bloomfield couple, the county agency redoubled its efforts to investigate any and all allegations of abuse, which led to the uncovering of a third case, resulting in charges against Ronald Slatter, a 63-year-old Bloomfield man for sexual assault, sexual interference and sexual exploitation. His next appearance is slated for June 20 in a Picton court.

Bill Sweet, the County CAS executive director said: “While the (latest) verdict can never erase the harm and suffering the victims in this case endured, we sincerely hope that the jury’s findings bring some closure and allows all those involved to move forward.”

He went on to say that the aim of the agency is to ensure the safety of children placed in the care of area families and the expectation is that all families providing care will see to it that the children are “respected and well-treated.

“The Children’s Aid Society of the County of Prince Edward will not tolerate the abuse of any of those rights,” he said.

He said internal and external reviews have been carried out at the agency to ensure “we are meeting the most rigourous standards.

“These steps include more transparent and robust process in the investigation of complaints against foster parents,” he said.

They are meant to be reassuring words and no doubt they come after much introspection and deliberation among senior officials within the County CAS offices in Picton.

But, the public continues to understandably have doubts about the ability of the agency to protect its most vulnerable. Properly dismissing the allegations of the fringe groups who suggest children's aid societies are harmful to children and families, there are valid concerns that the proper safeguards are still not in place, that complaints of children of abuse are not being properly or earnestly vetted.

The latest calamities in the County as they pertain to children in care of the CAS only lend credence to the ongoing calls for an ombudsman to oversee issues regarding children's aid societies in the province.

It may well be that the time has come to give such an office a hard look.

For the sake of the children in the County and across Ontario.

Source: County Weekly News (Picton)

Fixcas must take issue with one phrase in the editorial: Properly dismissing the allegations of the fringe groups who suggest children's aid societies are harmful to children and families ... We suspect the author has not interviewed hundreds of families affected by children's aid, as fixcas has done. Instances of CAS helping families are real, but rare. In face-to-face private contacts between CAS workers and families, the workers candidly announce their intention to ruin the family. And our research from diverse sources has shown that the death rate in foster care is ten times that in parental care. Other forms of abuse not subject to such direct measurement can be reasonably assumed to scale at the same rate.

Addendum: Rick Conroy in the Wellington Times (Quinte area) agrees an inquiry is necessary, without mentioning the ombudsman.



See no evil

The facts, at least those that have surfaced, are deeply unsettling. Last fall, foster parents Joe and Janet Holm were convicted of sex crimes related to children in their care. Last week, an unnamed 71-year-old man was convicted of sexually assaulting children entrusted to his care. Later this month another man will stand before a judge to answer to charges of sexual assault upon children in his care. Children abused in homes provided by the Children’s Aid Society of Prince Edward County.

Children’s Aid Society. Just saying those words out loud sounds wrong, knowing what has happened to children in this agency’s care in this community.

When he was sentencing Mr. and Mrs. Holm to jail time, Justice Geoff Griffin strongly urged this community to push for an inquiry—to find out what had gone so horribly wrong with the Children’s Aid Society that it had put already victimized children in harm’s way. How an organization tasked with the solemn responsibility to protect vulnerable children, could have failed so badly. Not just once—but repeatedly. How many more stories of sexual abuse of children in foster care are out there?

It is well past time we found out.

Removing a child from his or her family is a grave duty—an act that must surely only be taken when all other remedies and actions have been exhausted. The stress and trauma of the destruction of this fundamental social structure must be balanced against the harm that the child may be subjected to by staying at home.

Even in the clearest of situations, this is a judgment call. A decision made by humans based on wobbly and moving variables—but one that we certainly must make as a community from time to time.

Surely when we do this, it is our non-negotiable, non-debatable obligation to ensure that the home, in which we place these damaged children is safe. Free from harm. Free from abuse. It is our duty to shield them from further evil.

But we know now that in at least two homes—perhaps more—we failed these children in this most basic of responsibilities.

The response from the Children’s Aid Society has been pathetic.

First, it did what most corporate perpetrators do when they get caught—hire a public relations firm.

Then the agency’s CEO Bill Sweet penned a press release last week claiming he shared the community’s outrage and among other things vowed to communicate better with foster parents, stating that the CAS would institute “regular compliance checks, reviews and enhanced supervision of foster homes and better training and support of foster homes.”

Really? It took a series of crimes against children in its care for this agency to figure out it should monitor and screen foster homes more closely?

Sweet writes that the Children’s Aid Society will not tolerate the abuse of children’s right to be safe, respected and well treated. These words must come as hollow comfort to the growing number of children who have been abused in foster care in this community under this agency’s watch.

This isn’t a public relations problem. This is a fundamental breakdown in the purpose and management of this community agency. And the victims are children.

We need a thorough inquiry into this agency. First we need to ensure foster kids in this community are safe. Then we need to understand what went wrong and begin making the necessary changes to make sure this never happens again.

We can have no confidence the Children’s Aid Society can do this on their own. At the end of the day it is the community’s job to keep our children safe— we’ve trusted this organization for too long.

It is clear we made a mistake. It is now our job to fix it.

Source: Wellington Times

Addendum: The Belleville Intelligencer adds its editorial voice to the call for ombudsman oversight.



Opinion Editorial

Time to shine light on dark corners of CAS

Recent news stories, particularly out of Prince Edward County in recent weeks, show unequivocally the current Children's Aid Society system is broken.

The extent of the damage and the best course to fix it remain a point of virulent debate.

Children's Aid in Ontario has always been an unusual beast in many ways. A private operation funded by the state with the powers of the state behind it, CAS has generally operated outside prying eyes, even the eyes of those paying the bills.

On the one hand, privacy is a key component to the CAS being able to undertake its responsibilities, namely to protect and assist children in jeopardy. Let's face it: it would be awfully difficult to protect children from dangerous parents if those parents could easily access all information about where those children are.

And let's be honest — there are plenty of people out there who pose a threat to their own children, through both violence and neglect.

The problem with secrecy, however, is that it is a double-edged sword; it not only protects the children in the system, it also protects those who wish to use the system for nefarious, rather than just, causes.

Some of those have recently been brought out of their dark shadows into the light.

In recent months, three people have been convicted of continuously sexually abusing children entrusted into their care by Prince Edward County CAS. Some of the victims were as young as nine and 10 when the abuse started.

Almost as troubling was the news this week that yet another foster parent is about to face sex crime charges in relation to a ward of the local CAS.

That revelation appears to contradict recent statements made by PEC Children’s Aid Society executive director Bill Sweet, who said, "I do not believe that there are any other (active) cases (investigations)," being managed by the society, meaning Sweet is at the very least ill-informed about what is happening in his organization.

Clearly changes need to be made. And while the PEC incidents may be isolated ones, they may not. Certainly when it comes to the safety of children, it is better to be safe and look at everyone rather than not.

In an editorial last week, our sister paper, The County Weekly News, opined, “The latest calamities in the County as they pertain to children in care of the CAS only lend credence to the ongoing calls for an ombudsman to oversee issues regarding children's aid societies in the province. It may well be that the time has come to give such an office a hard look.”

We agree completely. Some light needs to be shone into the dark shadows where predators lurk. We urge the provincial government to get busy turning on that light.

Source: Belleville Intelligencer

Again, one point needs clarification. The Intelligencer says: And let's be honest — there are plenty of people out there who pose a threat to their own children, through both violence and neglect. Another assertion that is probably not the result of measurement. Let's be even more honest. People who pose a threat to their own children are uncommon, even among families affected by children's aid. Our assertion is the result of speaking to hundreds of families targeted by CAS.