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London CAS Cutback
March 27, 2015 permalink
London CAS has complained about budget cuts, and the press has obliged with a sympathetic article. Of course, from the point of view of families, the theee million dollar budget cut is an improvement.
Kids lose in cutbacks at Children’s Aid Society of London and Middlesex
Programs that help kids traumatized by sexual abuse and domestic violence, and that help families buy groceries, are being axed at the London area’s deficit-plagued child welfare agency as its high-priced former director remains on medical leave.
Eight programs that benefit kids and families are being cut, scaled back or thrust under review, fallout of government funding cuts to the Children’s Aid Society of London and Middlesex, whose bloated management and questionable spending came under blistering review in a provincial report obtained by The Free Press.
Now, as it tries to whip its books into shape, absorbing 2% annual funding cuts imposed by the province until it’s back in black, the agency that protects vulnerable children has to shed or reduce programs that include one to teach parenting skills and another to help older kids transition to adults.
Even home visits — parents seeing their kids in the agency’s care — haven’t escaped the blood-letting, with not enough staff to hold them in the home. Instead, some have been done in the organization’s lobby.
With its staff and services being slashed as the CAS is forced to get by on $3 million less, its union is crying foul and one critic calls the government’s move “shameful.”
“More than $2 million has been cut from our budget in two years. How can we operate like that? We cannot guarantee safety of children,” said Karen Cudmore, president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, Local 116, which represents agency workers.
MPP Monique Taylor, NDP critic at Queen’s Park for family and children’s services, said the government has gone too far from cutting cheques for the agency’s over-spending to forcing severe budget cuts.
“It is shameful when the government can spend money where it chooses, but vulnerable children take the cut,” she said. “It is impossible for these agencies to fix their budgets overnight.”
To balance its budget, bringing it down to $61.3 million from $64.3 million, the agency — besides slashing programs — has frozen executive pay and cut management and union staff by 39 positions.
Former director Jane Fitzgerald, once Ontario’s highest-paid child-welfare agency boss, remains on a paid medical leave of absence.
A scathing provincial financial review, obtained by The Free Press after a freedom-of-information request, found the CAS top-heavy and wasteful. Bottled up for months, the review revealed the agency spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on renovations to its leased office and consultants, ran far-above-average costs on managing cases, and had more executives who were paid more than $100,000 than did other child-welfare agencies.
While it was in the red, the agency spent $300,000 on renovations, $174,000 on consultants, $50,000 on taxis — including $3,535 for one client — and $19,600 to buy 23 iPad tablet computers.
While cuts to the CAS are broad and deep, eliminating counselling programs to children and parents affected by violence and abuse are the greatest concern, said Cudmore.
The agency says it’s trying to work with the community to pick up the pieces, but that’s raising eyebrows. The CAS will have trouble finding community partners, since they weren’t consulted and won’t pick up the workload without input, said Kate Wiggins of the Women’s Community House shelter for abused women.
“It is outrageous that they have dismantled the domestic violence team,” she said. “These decisions are being made by big agencies in a vacuum, without input from community partners. The children lose, victims lose.”
But the CAS is trying to work with community agencies, said its acting director, Regina Bell.
“We are trying to develop a community consortium around it, but it is not off the ground yet,” she said of help for victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence.
“It will take time. We have to look to the community for solutions.”
In its 25-page review of the CAS, the Ministry of Children and Youth Services made 37 recommendations to improve finances.
Counselling programs aren’t part of the agency’s core service.
Bell said the CAS is working with private counsellors, Western University and police to help sexual abuse and domestic violence victims. She said other youth agencies, such as Childreach and Merrymount, are being contacted to see if other needs can be met.
“I wish we had funds to sustain it, but we can be part of a solution through community services that do exist,” said Bell.
CAS BUDGET NUMBERS
2013-14 budget: $64.3 million
Projected 2016-17: $61.3 million
Bottom line: $3 million cut in three years
PROGRAMS CUT OR REDUCED
- Sexual abuse: Counselling for kids and adults
- Domestic violence: Counselling for child witnesses and adult victims.
- Child therapy: For kids who can’t get community counselling.
- Adulthood: Helping older kids prepare for independence, finding apartments and managing budgets, etc.
- Family visits: Not enough staff to hold parental visits in homes. Some funding restored by province.
- Family support: Helping parents with child care, parenting techniques, getting kids ready for school.
- Education: Working with schools to help help develop programs for children in agency’s care.
- Health clinic: Under review, a doctor and nurses offer direct service to children in care
- Vouchers: To help buy needy families food, diapers, baby formula, etc
Source: London Free Press