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March 16, 2013 permalink
This was a bad week for CAS in the media. There was the report of a foster girl used as a sex toy, another story of two girls fleeing through school corridors to escape CAS workers and the leaking of a memo telling Peel CAS wokers to keep cases open for funding.
In apparent response to the last item the Toronto Star carries an announcement that the funding formula will change. Following that is an earlier attempt to spin the news from Peel.
Children’s Aid Society funding model with “perverse incentives” set to change this year
A new funding formula for Ontario children’s aid societies will not have the same ties to service volumes that critics say encourage “perverse incentives.”
Critics point to the current funding model — which is based on historical projections — as the reason one children’s aid society seemingly urged staff to keep files open to secure government funding.
A leaked internal memo from Peel Children’s Aid Society asked staff not to close any cases in March and complete as many investigations as possible because “volumes continue to be lower than our projections and this will result in less funding.”
The agency has denied that inflationary tactics are in place and called the memo “unfortunate” and intended for an internal audience that understands the context.
Currently, if the actual caseload at a children’s aid society falls short of projections, money must be returned to the Ministry of Children and Youth Services. If the caseload exceeds projections, the agency gets more money.
The funding model has long been criticized for the incentives it creates. Over the last three years, the ministry-led Commission to Promote Sustainable Child Welfare investigated the sector and noted the problematic nature of funding being tied to “specific activities.”
“Since the highest cost activities relate to supporting children in foster and group care, the current approach inadvertently rewards CASs that maintain ‘in care’ volumes resulting in an inherent disincentive to find alternative lower-cost avenues to support children and families,” a report from 2011 read.
In the leaked Peel memo, staff were asked to transfer as many cases to “ongoing services as possible” and to “complete and approve kin care and foster care home studies” by March 31, the end of the fiscal year.
Karen Swift, a social work professor at York University, said social workers are often caught between professional and organizational mandates. In talking with people in the sector, Swift said the March rush to spend money and “create action” is common and “normalized.”
“I think it’s important that it’s revealed because I think many of these families feel like they are pawns in the funding game,” she said.
Children and Youth Services Minister Teresa Piruzza said the new formula “will enhance transparency and be more responsive to community need.”
With the new model, half of an agency’s funding will be based on a three-year average of service volumes — the number of investigations completed, average numbers of open protection cases, children in care, and children moving into a more permanent form of care. The remaining funding will be based on socioeconomic factors, such as low-income families, lone-parent families and aboriginal children in a society’s catchment area, in addition to geographical “remoteness.”
That means areas such as Peel and Halton that have higher population growth “should see a greater increase in the amount of resources that come in via the funding model,” said David Rivard, chief executive officer of the Toronto CAS.
Rivard said the Toronto CAS does not have a deficit, but that could change as Toronto won’t have the same socioeconomic factors as other agencies use, such as “remoteness” and “aboriginal population.”
Mary Ballyntyne, director of the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies, said the new funding model, which begins later this year, has positives and negatives. There will be fewer ties between funding and casework, but during the course of a given year, “if there is a large increase in cases within a community, there’s not necessarily the money available there to respond.”
Source: Toronto Star
Province in talks with Peel Children’s Aid Society over strategies in leaked memo
Children and Youth Services Minister Teresa Piruzza says that if an organization loses sight of its role, that is a serious concern.
Ontario officials are in talks with the Peel Children’s Aid Society after a leaked memo suggested staff not close ongoing files to inflate the number of child protection cases during the month of March.
The internal memo, obtained by the Star, indicated that a certain number of cases had to be ongoing to guarantee a level of funding from the province.
One of the strategies was asking child protection workers not to close any ongoing cases during the month even though, as an anonymous whistleblower alleged, the move could be detrimental to families.
“I want to be clear that Children’s Aid Societies have a responsibility to provide the best possible services for children in their care and that anything that falls short of this is simply unacceptable,” Children and Youth Services Minister Teresa Piruzza said in a statement Thursday.
“If an organization loses sight of the important role they play in their community, that is a serious concern. Discussions between my ministry and Peel Children’s Aid Society are ongoing.”
The agency has denied that inflating casework was the intent of the memo, and says the so-called “service strategy” has been taken out of context.
However, Conservative children’s services critic Jane McKenna said Thursday the memo’s optics are “terrible” and “reflect poorly on not just the Peel CAS but also the Liberal government, which bears ultimate responsibility for child welfare in Ontario.”
“These are desperate people doing desperate things,” she said. “You’re not looking for the child’s interest to get them out of the system if your funding formula is only based on the volume of children you have in the system.”
The Peel CAS currently operates with a $2.3-million deficit. Province-wide, children’s aid societies face a $40-million deficit this year, and are carrying a historic debt of $33 million, according to the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies.
Currently, the agencies are funded solely on the number of cases they handle. That model is set to change this year with funding based not only on caseload but also on socioeconomic factors within each society’s catchment area.
The internal memo, signed by seven senior service managers, instructs staff to complete as many investigations as possible (no fewer than 1,000), transfer as many cases as possible to “ongoing services,” and not close any ongoing cases before the end of the fiscal year, March 31. The memo indicated that these strategies were necessary to reduce the society’s current deficit and secure future funding from the province.
“Our volumes continue to be lower than our projections and this will result in less funding,” the memo stated.
As a result of staff concerns and anxiety about the integrity of their work, CUPE Local 4914, the union representing Peel child protection workers, filed a grievance this week.
The Peel Children’s Aid Society has called the memo an “unfortunate use of language,” and says investigations are always carried out to ministry standards and decisions are made on the needs of children and families.
Asked if there was going to be an internal review, a spokesperson said in an emailed statement Thursday: “In all circumstances we review our work processes to learn and improve services and we will do this in regards to this situation.”
When asked if it was reviewing the practices and strategies at the Peel CAS, a ministry spokesperson said a “more accurate representation of what is transpiring is that we are in conversation with the executive director of Peel CAS about what the government’s expectations are for them to ensure they are prioritizing the needs of children.”
Glenn Cheriton, president of the Canadian Council for Co-parenting, a national non-profit that advocates for parents, said he wasn’t surprised by the memo.
“It confirms a lot of the complaints we’ve had from parents, who say these things are going on,” he said, noting that many parents accuse CAS of unnecessary intervention “to keep the money flowing from the provincial government.”
Family lawyer Gene Colman agrees that the current funding model doesn’t look to be serving the best needs of children.
“What appears to be going on now is not child-centred, it’s numbers-centred.”
Source: Toronto Star
Ontario's Progressive Conservative party chimes in.
Liberals’ Funding Formula Fails to Help Children
QUEEN’S PARK – Ontario’s most vulnerable children are paying the price for the short-sighted Liberal funding formula that rewards Children’s Aid Societies for having larger caseloads, Children, Youth and Government Services PC Critic Jane McKenna said today.
McKenna referred to the leaked memo from the Peel Children’s Aid Society, obtained by the Toronto Star, which directed staff to transfer as many cases as possible to “ongoing services” and to not close cases in March, the agency’s fiscal year-end.
“When the Liberals chose to fund Children’s Aid Societies based on volume rather than results, they decided the well being of Ontario’s children didn’t matter,” McKenna said. “They put the Societies – many of which can’t even cover their costs this year – into a position where they can’t help children to the best extent possible without compromising funding for the next year.
“Nobody wins with this Liberal funding model – least of all our children.”
Last year, the Ontario PCs released Paths to Prosperity: A Fresh Start for Children and Youth, which called for greater fairness in the funding model for Children’s Aid Societies. The paper proposes changing the funding model so that it rewards performance, encouraging Societies to achieve better results for children.
“My PC colleagues and I want to secure the best possible outcome for Ontario’s children. We want to make sure they are in more permanent homes, in promising situations where they’re safe and loved,” McKenna concluded.
Source: Ontario PC
And Peel CAS itself responds.
Peel CAS committed to best services for children, youth and families
Peel Children’s Aid is committed to ensuring the best services to our community and that children and families receive the services they need within the legislative guidelines.
A memo that was intended for an internal audience that understands child welfare work, and the Ministry standards that guide it, was recently sent to the media. We regret any misunderstanding, the unfortunate use of the language and the lack of context within this memo. We always make our decisions based on the needs of children and families which guide our practice.
Within the agency, there are year-end strategies that focus on the administrative side of the work done by staff to ensure case files and paper work are completed before the end of the fiscal year, March 31, 2013. These strategies do not comprise the services we provide.
We remain committed to good child welfare practice and the children and families we serve:
- We get involved with families earlier to prevent neglect and abuse from happening and prevent children from coming into care
- We have the lowest number of children in care, (on a per capita basis) in Ontario.
- The agency works diligently to ensure children remain at home with their families, extended families, and communities whenever possible
- 78% of children who leave the care of Peel CAS are reunited with families or go to live with a relative
- Family based support represents more than 90% of our work we do with children and families
We will continue to work closely with the Ministry of Children and Youth Services to ensure the children and families in Peel are supported, protected and cared for.
For more information please contact:
Lucie Baistrocchi 905-363-6131 ext. 1153
Source: Peel Children's Aid
The social worker's union CUPE wants more money for CAS.
Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE)
March 18, 2013 15:27 ET
Peel CAS funding shortfall just province-wide tip of $67 million iceberg
MISSISSAUGA, ONTARIO--(Marketwire - March 18, 2013) - Efforts by the Peel Region Children's Aid Society (CAS) to address funding shortfalls are simply the tip of an iceberg that threatens child protection efforts across the Province of Ontario, representatives for the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) warned today.
"No one should be surprised that agencies like Peel CAS are taking extreme steps to ensure they have the funding necessary to fulfill their legislated mandates to protect children," said Carrie Lynn Poole-Cotnam, Chair of the CUPE Ontario Social Services sector.
"Peel CAS is operating with a $2.3 million deficit. There is a Province-wide funding deficit of $67 million for Children's Aid, and agencies shoulder millions more in historic debts. What's happening in Peel right now is just the tip of the iceberg," she added.
Last week, a leaked memo revealed that Peel CAS was taking unusual steps to ensure ongoing funding. While the Ministry of Children and Youth Services has engaged in discussions with Peel CAS, Poole-Cotnam says the Province needs to take meaningful action to address the funding shortfall faced by children's aid societies across the Province.
"When you're dealing with an iceberg, shuffling deck chairs is not the answer. The Province has committed to revamping the formula used to fund CAS, but this still fails to address the root challenges facing the sector, which is $67 million in underfunding," she said.
Across the province, CUPE members have been sounding the alarm, reporting cuts to services that prevent them from providing necessary supports to families in crisis and care to vulnerable children in need. The first services to feel the impact are those services which support early identification of issues and intervention before problems can escalate.
"If the Province does not reverse the millions of dollars in budget cuts to child protection, we will likely be seeing many more scenarios like the one revealed at Peel CAS. Over the years there have been some positive changes in child welfare to provide services and supports to families that prevent admission to care. However, the mantra of cost-cutting has applied business ledger sensibilities to a human service like child protection. This threatens to undo the positive changes that have been made. This is not a strategy to keep kids safe," said Poole-Cotnam.
CUPE Ontario Region
Social Services Coordinator
Two letters to the editor of the Star.
Correcting CAS funding flaws
Re: Province investigates CAS memo, March 15
Province investigates CAS memo, March 15
There can be no surprise that Peel Children’s Aid Society (and in all likelihood the other 52 CASs province-wide) is keeping cases open to secure extra funding from the province. The institutional culture at the managerial level of child welfare agencies has always been more about perpetuating the interests of the society rather than the “best interests of the child” (as defined by a province-mandated “Eligibility Spectrum instrument”).
The Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies (OACAS) exists primarily to advise societies and lobby the provincial government for more funding and favourable oversight (read: hardly any) conditions. Historically the government has been happy to oblige a lack of public accountability, because politically, child welfare is best kept out of the public eye.
CAS managers historically are encouraged to see the best interests of the CAS as more important than the paramount interests of children. The front-line worker culture, on the other hand, is almost entirely focused on those children and their families. No wonder, then, that the Peel CAS “whistleblower” is scared of retaliation. The person has a right to be fearful for his/her job now.
Above the front-line social worker providing direct service provision to the children are, in the larger CASs like Toronto and Peel, at least five levels of management. Proposed programs like extending CAS support to clients between the ages of 21 to 24 has more to do with getting provincial finding for administrative costs than money to these needy children.
No other essential public service in the province is run by private corporate entities that are not directly run by, and accountable to, the elected officials of the province. These CASs are supposed to protect the most vulnerable members of our society.
Only by dissolving these private entities and merging them into direct ministry service with one non-redundant, and mandate-focused bureaucracy, can abuses such as the Peel case be reined in, and monitored in a publicly accountable manner.
Colin Barnard, Pickering
From your reports and other sources, like Esther Buckareff’s documentary “Powerful as God,” it is clear that the province’s funding formula for all Children’s Aid Societies in Ontario is flawed.
In your second article of this series, you suggest that the “model is set to change this year.” Is the new model now set in stone or could there be public hearings on such a critical issue?
From the perspective of someone who was adopted through CAS in the best of circumstances, I still believe that the damage done to a child in removing him or her from parents is so deep that it should be done, in all circumstances, only as a very last resort and only after a series of checks and balances, unless it is a matter of life and death.
The funding formula could be changed to encourage child protection workers to support families that are struggling to keep their children, rather than remove the children in order to receive funding.
K. Janet Ritch, Toronto
Source: Toronto Star