I Was Never Encouraged to Bring Children into Care

at a glance

Former CAS Social Worker, Therapist
Toronto, Ontario
Catholic Children's Aid Society of Toronto
1990 - 2011
Children and Youth Services Community and Social Services
Laurel Broten (LIB) Deb Matthews (LIB) Marie Bountrogianni (LIB) Mary Anne Chambers (LIB) Janet Ecker (PC) John Baird (PC) John Beer (LIB) Zanana Akande (NDP) Marion Boyd (NDP) Tony Silipo (NDP) David Tsubouchi (PC)

I watched the film and found it to be very unbalanced, and an unreasonable representation of the CAS. I worked at both the Children's Aid Society of Toronto (CAST) and the Catholic Children's Aid (CCAS) from 1990-1999. At Catholic CAS, where I worked for 9 years, I held various jobs such as intake and family and children's services. No system is perfect, and there are certainly workers who are burned out, inexperienced, or not very thoughtful, but on the whole, based on my experience of working at CCAS, and now working with CAST and CCAS, most workers are reasonable.

I graduated in 1990 with a Master degree from University of Toronto and I am a Registered Social Worker. I have mixed feelings about the importance of formal training, though I think that child welfare is so complex that good training is crucial. Today, I work at a community agency where I share a lot of clients with child welfare. When I worked for CCAS, the College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers did not exist. The College was established after I left CCAS and became a Therapist. Once the College opened, I registered with them. Though it is a requirement of my current job, I do agree with the importance of accountability.

On one occasion, when I was working as a Therapist, I called the CAST supervisor to advocate for a change in worker. The supervisor was responsive and the worker was changed. The Toronto CAS (CAST) was involved in this family's life as a support to a mother whose child had been sexually abused by the father's extended family. The social worker was not very helpful and the client (the mother) found the social worker's visits more stressful than anything else she was dealing with. This dynamic continued for a period of time. The mother was an excellent parent who was very child-focused. With her permission, I expressed my concern to the supervisor, who in turn, was receptive to my input. I do not know/think that the initial worker was fired since he had not done anything particularly inappropriate. He just seemed to lack common sense regarding how he should relate to, and provide service to this client. The worker did not seem to know how to think about the client in human terms. For example, he approached her as if she was a bad mother, when in fact, she had been amazing at responding to the child and dealing with a very difficult situation. It was almost like he had a cookie cutter approach and was not using his brain to consider the specifics of that case. Having said that, I think we all find some good and bad people who have degrees and training but are lacking in the human touch (including social work, doctors etc). I do know that the worker was changed.

As far as apprehending kids, it was very traumatic for me and my co-workers when this needed to happen. We would spend time debriefing and supporting each other for those difficult times. Most of my colleagues were very shaken up and upset if they needed to apprehend kids. It was very common that we would support teammates after they needed to take such a step. At times, other staff would do the apprehension since we found it so hard to apprehend after we had built a supportive relationship with the parent. To keep the child with the family, we would connect parents with services needed, such as parenting classes and housing supports. In one case, I helped a mother to sort out her immigration status so she could leave an abusive partner and take her kids with her.

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) was not in fashion when I was at CCAS, but I am all for it. Unfortunately, due to time pressures and so on, way too many issues festered because nobody took the time to sit down and hammer out a deal that works for all parties. I do not know about current trends, but when I was at CCAS, you were often racing trying to put out fires and you really had to make sure to find the time to think about overall case planning. Some supervisors were better than others about making sure that the big picture was being considered.

Yes, there are more dollars coming in if a child is in care, but that is due to increased costs. For example, paying the foster parent, feeding and clothing the child, covering transportation for visits, and so on. In all of my time at CCAS, I was never encouraged to bring children into care. It was always the point of last resort. I always felt (and still do) that child welfare has to be very careful as to when they intrude on someone's privacy and that the notion of least intrusive practises is extremely important. Today, in my role as Therapist, when I hear that Children's Aid is pressuring a client to contract for voluntary service, I often advise the client to get some legal advice. The clients always have access to a lawyer through legal aid and this is an important counterbalance. Of course, judges are also impartial. I know of many judgements that were not in favour of CAS and we were sometimes surprised at the court's decision.

I feel that the film is often inaccurate. For example, in terms of accountability, there are numerous checks and balances, even within the agency. I would often debate with a supervisor about how to proceed, such as whether or not to close a file, or continue in court. In another example, I received a file from another branch and felt that they were acting too intrusively. Fortunately, my supervisor agreed and we set a clear contract, asking that the client simply get medical input from a doctor and allow us to speak with the doctor. The client did so and we closed the file. We regularly consulted with the legal team, and if need be, we had access to outside consultants to get a fresh viewpoint, primarily experts with PhD's in psychology. There is also the check and balance of lawyers and courts. We did not always get what we asked for in court and clients' lawyers, or the judge, would critique people's work. Lying is not acceptable and you always have to swear an oath that your information is accurate to the best of your knowledge. So, if people are knowingly lying in court papers, etc., then they are breaking the law.

I am amazed to hear that many people feel afraid to go public, especially those who work at and are committed to child welfare. I have many fine colleagues that I respect, who are now supervisors or managers at various child welfare agencies, including Catholic, Toronto and York CAS. My experience in working with foster parents was mostly very positive. I generally found them to be caring and passionate about their work. In a few case, I knew of foster parents that ended up adopting the child once it was clear that they could not go home to the parent. At one point, at Catholic CAS, we had a program (I forget the name and do not know if it still exists) where very strong foster parents were paid extra to work with the parent as well. They built some amazing relationships and did some excellent work with the parents.

The ultimate worker accountability was in approx 1995, when Angie Martin of CCAS was charged with manslaughter along with the mother when a baby in the community died due to neglect. The charges were later dropped, but this event traumatized her and all of us watching this event unfold. The job of a child welfare worker is one of the most difficult. You try for least intrusive measures, but you pray to not make a wrong judgement call and have a child die on your watch. It is an incredibly stressful balancing act.

I agree that child welfare is such an important area and that CAS really must use their powers with thought and care since they can have massive impact on families. The film seemed pretty unbalanced because I know many examples of clients that thanked me, or others, for their assistance (for example, the woman who got her legal status sorted out or women who returned to school or work due to CAS assistance with getting child care in place). The film made it seem like CAS never does any good for anyone.

Source: Esther Buckareff