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Financial Chaos at Chatham-Kent Children's Services

July 18, 2014 permalink

Last year Mike Stephens resigned as executive director of Chatham-Kent Children's Services. Rose Whyte-Bray has used a freedom of information request to provide fixcas with a ministry review completed earlier in the month of Mr Stephens' resignation.

Staff identified that there were, at times, challenges in putting into practice the principle of collaboration with some families. They spoke of the increased presence of Canada Court Watch in the community, and noted that this has prompted some families to "push back" making a more intrusive approach to service delivery necessary at times.

The document is Expenditure Management Review of Chatham-Kent Children's Services, by the Ministry of Children and Youth Services dated August 2013. We have it as a photocopy (pdf) or a web page. According to the press, it is the product of a ministry review conducted in the spring of 2013 of records from April 1, 2010 to March 31, 2013.

The review team consisted of professionals from the ministry. No parents or former foster children were part of the team. Richard Wexler says that audits of child protection agencies rarely go beyond the filing cabinet. This review was close to that pattern, though it did include interviews with senior staff. Front-line workers, parents and children were not approached.

The report is positive about the board of directors, "including representation from the police force, the judiciary, school boards/education, business, foster parents, health care and other community services." Most of the directors receive pay from tax funds, the members from business are an afterthought. The judiciary member is most likely a judge. Approval from a judge is required for most CAS interventions in the life of a family. Does this judge disclose his board membership when hearing a case?

The report says:

The Board receives regular service and financial data reports from management, and Board members report that they have good access to data and information to inform their decision-making. However, what remained unclear was whether members received appropriate and relevant information to allow them to assess the effectiveness of management in running the organization and meeting strategic goals.

This is bureaucratic speak for "management keeps the board in the dark". The report goes on to say, in more bureaucratese, that the board does not do a good job of overseeing management.

The audit that did not go beyond the filing cabinet found lots of problems even there. When the review team announced a sample of files, CAS staff worked all weekend to clean up those files for the investigators. The records were routinely out of compliance with provincial child protection standards.

Under Service Delivery Challenges the report comments on delays caused by litigation, a large number of cases. It is the CAS policy to hold cases at investigation pending resolution of the court case. This policy is contrary to child protection standards, which require investigations to be completed within 30 to 60 days.

Under Financial Review the report found a long list of areas where financial controls were inadequate. While the agency was subjected to ministry-imposed budget cuts, staff salaries continued to increase. Signatures on documents for travel expenses were there as a requirement, not as a control. Expenditures for roofing HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning), snow removal, volunteer drivers and mortgage payments all were subject to criticism for improper controls. When CAS provides multiple services to a family, rules require that family to be counted once, but the report found CKCS was counting the same family repeatedly.

The guarded wording of the report suggests that executive director Mike Stephens could have benefited personally from travel expense over-imbursement, duplicate payments for travel expenses and a retirement stipend (█████) paid several years before his expected retirement. The amount was redacted from the report, but appeared in the press as $32,000.

The Chatham Voice reported on the financial chaos at CKCS. The Chatham Daily News reported on a directive to CKCS from Joanne Brown, Regional Program Manager, South West Region Ministry of Children and Youth Services. That letter is at the end our our copy of the report linked above. Expand for four newspaper articles.



Boss’ salary goes up as jobs go down

The local children’s aid service is seeing its budget head south while its top manager’s salary has gone north.

The Chatham-Kent Children’s Services (CKCS) budget is being reduced 2% per for the next five years, resulting in layoffs this fiscal year for 12 staff members, according to CKCS CEO Mike Stephens, whose own salary jumped more than $32,000 from 2010-2012.

For 2013-2014, the agency will receive in excess of $21.2 million in funding for child protection from the Ministry of Children and Youth Services, down from last year’s budget of $21.6 million. According to ministry officials in Toronto, the CKCS also required a one-time funding bail out last year of $406,738 to cover an in-year shortfall for child protection.

In comparison, Stephens’ salary increased by 22% in two years to $179,488, as reported in the Public Sector Salary Disclosure Act, also known as the sunshine list, which requires publicly funded agencies to report any salaries over $100,000. Stephens is joined by eight other CKCS managers on the list, however those salary increases in the same period were no more than 9%. In fact, two managers’ salaries – manager of legal services and director of corporate services, were cut by approximately $4,000.

According to ministry senior media relations and issues co-ordinator Courtney Battistone, 85% of the CKCS budget comes from the province, and the board of directors sets executive salaries and compensation independent of the province.

CKCS board chair Monica Bacic, when asked for an explanation of Stephens’ salary increase, was tight-lipped on the matter.

“Further to our discussion this morning with regard to the salary of our CEO, the information was provided to the public as required by the Public Sector Salary Disclosure Act. Anything beyond that is considered personal information and there is no further comment,” Bacic said in a text message.

This information comes on the heels of a press release from Bacic on Aug. 29 announcing the sudden retirement of Stephens after 13 years with CKCS. While his retirement is effective Oct. 11 of this year, Stephens’ autoreply on his e-mail indicates he will be on holiday until his retirement date.

Bacic, in the release, said the board will begin searching for his replacement immediately and will be announcing an interim CEO shortly.

According to the ministry, officials “routinely conduct on-site reviews of children’s aid societies to better understand cost drivers and opportunities for efficiencies.” This year, the CKCS was one of the agencies chosen for an expenditure management review, and as a result of the findings in the review, the ministry:

  • Shared the findings with the board of directors;
  • issued a set of service and financial directives to the society;
  • is working with the board to identify areas of improvement, including financial accountability; and
  • hired a consultant to help CKCS enhance its service delivery model.

The details of the directives are not being made public.

The CKCS, according to Stephens, has approximately 300 staff, of which about 125 are child protection workers.

Source: Chatham Voice

C-K Children’s Services CEO receives retirement allowance during pay freeze

The outgoing Chatham-Kent Children’s Services CEO is leaving with a retiring allowance paid to him while the province had restraint measures in place freezing management salaries.

According to a memo widely distributed to CKCS staff on March 24, 2012, CEO Mike Stephens advised staff his Ontario Public Sector Salary Disclosure figure, also known as the sunshine club, would be higher than the previous year, despite the provisions of Bill 16.

The province enacted Bill 16 in 2010 to freeze public sector and broader public sector employee management salaries for two years to try and deal with the provincial debt load.

During that two-year period from 2010-2012, Stephen’s salary increased more than $32,000, according to the list.

“In my employment contract, I have agreed to be available for 12 months following my retirement to act as a mentor and advisor for whomever the board chooses to replace me with,” Stephens stated in the memo. “In exchange for that service, the board has agreed to pay me a retirement stipend. This is not an uncommon practice.”

In the memo, Stephens explained why he received the cash before his actual retirement.

“Last fiscal year, the agency had a surplus and the board elected to pay me a portion of those retirement stipend dollars, thus reducing our fiscal liability in the year I actually retire just in case we are back to a deficit or break even in that year,” he stated.

Stephens said in the memo he checked with a third party lawyer and the agency auditor to make sure the move was “ethical and legal” and went ahead with the payment. He added the stipend was to be put on his T4 slip as a retirement allowance but was instead reported as income, thus showing up in the public salary disclosure.

He also said in his memo that if he were to leave the agency because of any reason other than retirement, he had to return the funds.

According to Section 24 of Bill 16, the 0% increase came into effect March 24, 2010 and was in force until March 31, 2012. Subsection 12 indicates that Bill 16 “prevails over any provision of a compensation plan and, if there is a conflict between this Act and a compensation plan, the compensation plan is inoperative to the extent of the conflict.”

When asked about Stephen’s salary, Ministry of Children and Youth Services (MCYS) spokesperson Gloria Bacci-Puhl said the CKCS is a not-for-profit organization with an independent board of directors.

“Each children’s aid society is responsible for staffing decisions, including executive management compensation. The ministry does not negotiate executive compensation rates for broader public service providers.”

Board chair Monica Bacic did not want to comment on the memo, saying that Stephens’s employment contract was a private matter between him and the board.

Several attempts to reach Stephens for comment were unsuccessful.

Chatham-Kent Essex MPP Rick Nicholls said he could not comment on the board’s rationale regarding Stephen’s salary but he believes accountability is important, especially for the government and the agencies it funds.

“We are about accountability and we should hold government to a higher level of accountability,” he said. “When people know they are being held accountable, they operate at a higher level. That’s why I was happy to support Bill 42 at second reading.”

Bill 42, The Ombudsman Amendment Act (children’s aid societies), was introduced in April of this year, the seventh time opposition parties have tried to get legislation in place that would allow the Ombudsman to deal with complaints against children’s aid societies in Ontario. The Bill did not pass second reading.

Ontario is the only province to not have Ombudsman oversight of children’s aid societies, and according to the office of the Ombudsman website, 2,541 complaints against children’s aid agencies were received in 2012 – complaints the office has no authority to investigate.

Ontario is also the only province in Canada that has volunteer boards of directors running the agencies, instead of the province.

“Locally, CKCS has good, caring, compassionate staff and the caseloads get the care and attention they deserve,” Nicholls said.

He said he is getting weekly reports on the situation at the CKCS after a MCYS review found several issues of non-compliance with the Child and Family Services Act and Broader Public Sector directives related to that Act, and will be keeping on top of it.

Source: Chatham Voice

Province issues order to Chatham-Kent Children's Services to fine tune the way it operates

The Ministry of Children and Youth Services has ordered the Chatham-Kent Children's Services to fine tune the way it operates, including how management and staff document child protection cases, are repaid for expenses and obtain public services.

The Chatham Daily News has received copies of correspondence from the provincial ministry to CKCS dated May 27 and Aug. 16, 2013, in which several directives for change were ordered.

"The consultant began on-site work on behalf of the ministry on Aug. 28, 2013 and continues to provide enhanced oversight and monitoring of society operations and records," Courtney Battistone, spokesperson for MCYS told The Daily News.

The directives resulted from a ministry review in the spring of CKCS data from April 1, 2010 to March 31, 2013.

In the May correspondence, signed by a regional program manager, the ministry issued five directives under section 20.1 of the Child and Family Services Act.

"There directives have been issued to support the society to meet legislative and regulatory requirements related to child protection standards and services to children eligible for or in receipt of child protection services," Joanne Brown stated in the correspondence.

Brown further directed CKCS to submit weekly written reports to a ministry regional office program supervisor to advise the status of compliance with the directives.

Among the orders, the CKCS is directed to confirm policy and procedures are developed and implemented that "ensures all child protection documentation includes the child protection worker's plan and schedule to see child(ren) and family members face-to-face when providing services on an ongoing basis."

The CKCS must also ensure protection plans are reviewed regularly by a supervisor and comply with Child Protection Standards in Ontario (as of February 2007) for direct contact with families in their home once per month or more frequent visits in cases with high or very high risk ratings.

The ministry ordered written confirmation that all child protection workers and supervisors review the entire protection standards and supervisors receive clinical supervision training from an Ontario Association of Children's Aid Societies' approved trainer within 90 days.

The ministry also directed the CKCS to work co-operatively with a provincial representative tasked to assess the organization's compliance with the directives through on-site meetings with staff and file reviews.

Seven additional directives added in August include orders to comply with the Broader Public Sector Accountability Act.

Specific compliance to the Broader Public Sector Expenses Directive, Broader Public Sector Perquisites Directive and the Broader Public Sector Procurement Directive, in delivering child welfare services are also cited in the August directive.

The CKCS is ordered to revise its expenses rules related to travel, meals and hospitality, plus institute a control process and provide documentation the new policies are taught to staff, approved by its board of directors and posted on the child welfare organization's public website.

The board is further directed to recover overpayments in expenses paid to staff.

As of press time Thursday, The Daily News was still waiting for comment from the board of directors requested on Wednesday.

However, Battistone confirmed the ministry directed the CKCS to look into the issue and determine overpayments.

"We can confirm that CKCS has demonstrated to the ministry that they are in compliance with all directives issued on May 27, 2013 and the 30-day directives issued on Aug. 16, 2013," Battistone added.

As part of its regular business and accountability relationship, the ministry reviews service and financial data for all 46 children's aid societies across the province on a quarterly basis.

In addition, the ministry routinely conducts on-site reviews of children's aid societies to better understand cost drivers and identify opportunities for efficiencies.

In 2012-13, the ministry committed to expenditure management reviews of selected children's aid societies, one of which was CKCS.

Source: Chatham Daily News

CKCS board president calls organization's recent performance unacceptable

Monica Bacic
Monica Bacic, CKCS board president

The board of directors of the Chatham-Kent Children's Services wants answers.

Many questions concerning the operation of the CKCS have surfaced following a Ministry of Children's and Youth Services investigation.

"The board is concerned that it took a ministry investigation to bring these matters to our attention," Monica Bacic, CKCS board president told The Chatham Daily News.

"They should have been caught internally, and the board should have been informed," Bacic added.

The MCYS issued 12 directives in May and August following an audit of the organization's records between April 1, 2010 and Mar. 31, 2013.

The directives included how management and staff document child protection cases, are repaid for expenses and obtain public services.

Bacic said the ministry review identified $5,800 in overpayments to 13 people related to travel, meals and hospitality.

"We will share complete information when we have that, but in the meantime we have already begun to recover overpayments .... and will recover funds by payroll deduction if necessary," Bacic said.

The board has until Oct. 14 to satisfy the ministry the overpayments have been collected.

Bacic said the expenses relating to travel, meals and hospitality were paid without original receipts submitted.

"The receipts were lost or photocopied," she said.

A ministry spokesperson told The Daily News last week, CKCS is meeting its directives set out to support its legislative and regulatory requirements.

"The ministry review and these directives have been a healthy wake-up call," Bacic said.

"Everyone in the organization has a responsibility to ensure that they learn from this and improve accordingly," she added.

Bacic said the society utilized several checks and balances to process expense claims and it was not the responsibility of any one person.

"The ministry's concerns were broad based ... policies have been clarified and revised (and) staff training will be completed over the next three weeks," Bacic said.

The Daily News has also learned Bonnie Wightman, senior director of service, is acting CEO while Mike Stephens is on vacation until his official retirement on Oct. 11.

Wightman is also approved as a local director for the purposes of the Children and Family Services Act and has been instrumental in these capacities many times over the past years.

The board has also struck a recruitment committee to seek an interim executive director for the agency.

"New leadership provides an excellent opportunity to strengthen the organization," Bacic said.

The board president is hoping all staff will look beyond the directives and focus on their core mandate, "to ensure they are protecting children to the very best of their ability."

A spokesperson for the MCYS said the ministry reviews service and financial data for all 46 children's aid societies across Ontario on a quarterly basis.

In 2012-2013, the ministry committed to expenditure management reviews of selected societies, one of which was CKCS, Courtney Battistone said.

Source: Chatham Daily News

Addendem: A year after the departure of Mike Stephens the press reports that the Chatham-Kent finances are back in balance.



Children’s Services Balances The Books

Chatham-Kent Children’s Services is operating with a balanced budget of $20.5-million this year, following dozens of layoffs and the closure of its group home.

The organization has permanently laid off 26 employees and altered its services to accommodate the extra work load while still servicing those in need. In April, a total of 17 people were temporarily laid off. CKCS has also closed its group home and its Victoria Park facility where its Supervised Access Program was run. The buildings, located on King St. and Murray St., will be put up for sale in the coming weeks.

“We have made some permanent layoffs that haven’t been filled. Those were right from senior management positions right down to support staff positions,” says Executive Director of Chatham-Kent Children’s Services Stephen Doig, who notes the organization has seen a 2% decrease in funding from the province for the last two years in a row. “It’s roughly half-a-million dollars less than what we had last year.”

Doig says all remaining staff is moving into the Grand Ave. W facility. The money made from the sale of the group home and the Victoria Park facility will be used for infrastructure upgrades at that site.

It is expected the province will reduce funding to the agency by 2% for the next two years.

In 2012, a total of nine employees at Chatham-Kent Children’s Services made over $100,000.

Source: Blackburn Radio