CAS cuts kids to survive Funding: – news/London – The province will cover the $4.2 million deficit, but number of kids in care must be cut by 25%
December 13, 2010.   By Jonathan Sher, The London Free Press

The cash-strapped local children’s aid society will reduce the number of kids in care by 25% in order to keep its doors open.

A deal reached with Queen’s Park ends the threat that funds would dry up early next year at the Children’s Aid Society of London and Middlesex, which otherwise faces a $4.2 million deficit.

It was that sort of fiscal crisis that led the Ontario government to sack a neighbouring CAS in Huron and Perth counties.

“Will the doors to children’s aid in our community remain open? The answer is they absolutely will,” said Jane Fitzgerald, the London-based agency’s executive director.

Although the province has agreed in principle to cover the agency’s costs, it did so with big strings attached.

The local CAS must reduce the number of children in its care during the next four years by about 220 from its current caseload of 886.

It was just such a cut that led the provincial NDP to accuse Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals of gutting children’s aid and placing kids at risk.

But Fitzgerald insists cuts will be achieved in ways that enhances rather than hurts the welfare of children.

“The motivation is to get better outcomes for kids. That’s what it’s all about,” she said.

In an interview with The Free Press, Fitzgerald and her point person on children’s service, Larry Marshall, laid out a four-year-plan they’ll unveil this week to the community.

To reduce the number of kids in its care, the agency has three strategies but only the first doesn’t require significant changes.

Among the children in the agency’s care there is a bubble of older children who in the next four years will turn 21 and no longer be under the care of CAS.

That bubble alone will enable the agency to reduce the number of kids in care by between 10 and 15%, Marshall estimates, enough to achieve roughly half of the target reduction.

It’s the other half of the reduction, somewhere between 80 and 125 kids, that will prove challenging.

The agency will tackle it on two fronts:

The agency will try to take fewer kids into its care by keeping more of them with their families.

Once kids are in the agency’s care it will try to find permanent homes for them more quickly, with extended family or adoptive parents.

Though the agency will try to keep more kids with their families, Fitzgerald said none will be placed in harm’s way. Kids who have been abused will be removed from the home but the agency will do more to help families that can’t provide basics such as shelter, placing such a family in a motel and trying to find them accommodation, she said.

That effort to keep kids with family will get provincial funding but Fitzgerald isn’t sure how much.

The agency has already taken steps to seek adoptive parents by seeking judicial orders that cut off access to kids by their biological family — generally a prerequisite to adoption.

Five years ago only 10% of kids under the agency’s care were cut off from their biological family.

But now 70% of all new kids taken into agency care are cut off from biological family.

The kids aren’t cut off right away but legislation requires the agency to make a decision within one year for kids under age five and within two years for older kids.

Though cutting off biological family from a child may seem harsh, research shows that it’s generally best for the child to have a permanent family he or she can rely upon, Fitzgerald said.

The cash crunch for children’s aid has been province-wide and its trigger was from 1998 to 2004, when the cost of children’s aid in Ontario nearly doubled, growing more than three times as fast as the provincial government as a whole, she said.

Since 2004 the pace of growth has slowed to that of government overall — about 5% a year.

The new approach in London will slow growth further but it’s too soon to say how much when the number of children in need will be affected by issues outside the agency’s control such as poverty, she said.

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