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Ombudsman Editorial

October 15, 2012 permalink

The Hamilton Spectator editorially supports ombudsman oversight of CAS. Family lawyer Michael P Clarke adds a letter disputing one contention in that editorial.



Ombudsman needs new powers to probe

Monique Taylor
MPP for Hamilton Mountain Monique Taylor
Ron Albertson/The Hamilton Spectator

If Hamilton Mountain MPP Monique Taylor has her way, Ontario’s ombudsman will have the authority to investigate complaints against the province’s 47 children’s aid societies. Good for Taylor and the NDP. This idea makes sense.

It was wrong to exclude from the watchdog’s mandate the so-called MUSH sector — municipalities, universities, school boards, hospitals, nursing homes, long-term care facilities, police and child protection services. Repeated attempts to change that have failed. Taylor’s effort is more modest, but it’s a start.

The fact that independent investigative powers are a good idea does not mean that children’s aid societies are rife with problems. The opposite is closer to the truth. They are overloaded, underfunded and generally stretched too thin. Overall, they do an admirable job in a very challenging environment. But in this sort of high-stress, highly emotional environment, mistakes are inevitable. So are complaints directed at CAS and CCAS workers.

In the past two years, the ombudsman’s office has received nearly 500 complaints which it couldn’t investigate. In all likelihood, most of them were baseless or repairable. But the lack of independent, objective investigative tools makes the process more difficult and less transparent than it should be. It doesn’t have to be that way. The Legislature should set aside partisan concerns in this instance and support Taylor’s bid to give the ombudsman this additional responsibility.

Howard Elliott

Source: Hamilton Spectator

High time CASs were held accountable

Ombudsman needs new powers to probe (Editorial, Oct. 9)

It is a welcome development that NDP MPP Monique Taylor’s Bill 110 is progressing through the legislature. Children’s aid societies in Ontario have not been held accountable and it is high time they were subject to some scrutiny by an objective independent agency.

Where I take issue with the editorial is that it suggests the children’s aid societies are cash-strapped and, by inference, have difficulty fulfilling their mandate for lack of funds.

Ontario’s children’s aid societies receive $1.5 billion from the provincial government every year. For the last decade, funding provided to them has increased by $100 million every year. The problem lies with the way the children’s aid societies use these funds.

Readers should be reminded of the damning auditor’s report in 2006 that uncovered troubling expenditures including senior managers receiving high-end SUVs to use for work, worth much more than the maximum allowances for provincial deputy ministers; and trips by children and CAS employees to the Caribbean. Children’s aid societies have no difficulty building gleaming offices, hiring lawyers, support staff and teams of social workers and supervisors.

Unfortunately, the resources of the CASs are too often directed at apprehending children and keeping them in care rather than assisting families. Funding for children’s aid societies is predicated on how many children are “in care” — in foster homes or group homes. Thus, there is a strong financial incentive for children’s aid societies to remove children from their parents and keep them.

Hopefully the ombudsman will help curb these excesses and usher in a new era of responsibility and accountability in the way children’s aid societies fulfil their mandate.

Michael P. Clarke, family law, Hamilton

Source: Hamilton Spectator

Hamilton CAS executive director Dominic Verticchio adds his opinion, that there is already enough oversight. He comments that Hamilton CAS produces more litigation than Toronto though it has only a fifth the population. He blames the local bar. Fixcas has received more complaints about Hamilton CAS than Toronto. Maybe Mr Verticchio's policies are to blame.



Efficient oversight, not another ‘layer’

High time CASs were held accountable (Letters, Oct. 13)

The letter writer welcomes proposed legislation giving oversight of Children’s Aid Societies to the Ontario Ombudsman. CASs support accountability processes that help ensure the best possible outcomes for children, youth and families, and rely on public trust to fulfil their statutory mandate to keep children safe.

Currently, CASs are accountable to the government and the public through multiple mechanisms, which include opportunities for clients to raise concerns through independent bodies, such as the Child and Family Services Review Board, the Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth and, as the letter writer well knows, the courts.

CASs would like to see a comprehensive, seamless framework for accountability and oversight that minimizes duplication and ensures timely decisions for children’s futures. We welcome discussions about Ombudsman oversight but stress that what is needed is an efficient and effective approach, not simply adding another layer on existing processes.

The letter writer contends we use all resources in apprehending children. Let’s put this into context. Last year, the Children’s Aid Society of Hamilton responded to 6,703 new calls about children’s safety and well-being from the community and served an additional 1,368 families who were having significant parenting issues. We supported almost 10,000 children in their own homes while only admitting 253 children into care.

The letter writer would also know our high legal costs are a result of a very litigious local family law Bar. In the last available data, Legal Aid Ontario spent $1.1 million in Hamilton in legal fees paid to lawyers representing families in child protection matters. By contrast, Legal Aid Ontario spent only $750,000 in Toronto, with a population nearly five times larger than Hamilton’s.

Dominic Verticchio, Executive Director, Children’s Aid Society of Hamilton

Source: Hamilton Spectator