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Save the Economy — Steal Kids

July 21, 2012 permalink

Muskoka CAS executive director Marty Rutledge has a reason to continue supporting his agency. The $11 million a year he spends separating children from their families boosts the local economy.



District of Muskoka continues efforts to save children’s service

MUSKOKA - Increased services and cost savings are the small beginnings of a collaborated effort to keep Muskoka’s child services agency from moving out of town.

About 20 months ago, after the province began amalgamating Children’s Aid services to make them more financially sustainable, the District of Muskoka began working with Family Youth and Child Services of Muskoka to keep it alive.

Marty Rutledge, executive director of Family Youth and Child Services of Muskoka, said it’s difficult to estimate the cost savings, but the effort has increased their services.

“We now co-locate some of our services in Gravenhurst and we were looking for an opportunity to expand into Gravenhurst,” said Rutledge.

The agency is using some of the district’s excess space in Gravenhurst. It is also working together to share staff, facilities and services such as snow removal. Rutledge said he is hoping there won’t be any jobs to be cut through the collaboration.

“Our goal would be any savings that are realized would be redirected to front-line services,” he said.

At this time, the organization has 85 staff in Muskoka and puts just under $11 million revenue into the economy each year through things like payroll and benefits.

So far, the District of Muskoka has saved up to $200,000 by sharing behind-the-scenes facilities, working together on staffing issues and other back-office savings.

Rick Williams, commissioner of community services for the District of Muskoka, said he doesn’t know if Muskokans will see a change in services due to the collaboration.

“This is very much tied to the expectation that there will be funding cuts in most provincially funded services, including children’s services as well as any municipal services,” said Williams.

The agencies are waiting for a final report from the province in September before they can formalize the shared service agreement.

Though the process has taken more than a year and a half and has no specific finish line, district CAO Jim Green said it’s important to remember the larger purpose, to keep the children’s aid and children’s mental health services in Muskoka.

“If it’s been successful … in doing that, it’s probably worth continuing on, even though it’s a bit uncertain as to what the real reaping specific benefits (will be),” Green said.

Williams said as the district has watched other Children’s Aid services amalgamate or relocate their headquarters, it has seen the services decrease for rural areas.

“The new head office tends to serve all the specialized programs and the ability of the people in the outlying areas such as Muskoka to access those services is greatly reduced,” Williams said.

Under the old system, Williams said services were available three days a week. If they were amalgamated, they would only be available when someone comes from the head office about once a month.

Currently, Family Youth and Child Service of Muskoka offers crisis intervention seven days a week, regular programs throughout the day, as well as evening and weekend programs. They are also moving forward with a walk-in model for mental health services so children don’t need to wait see a trained therapist.

Green encouraged the district to continue to fight the good fight.

“We want to show that Muskoka is strong, coordinated, has accomplished hopefully some cost savings, and therefore those services are retained here as opposed to gone the route of the amalgamation that’s gone elsewhere,” said Green.

Source: Cottage Country Now