CAS employees fight for funding

TheSudburyStar.com – Local News
June 8, 2010.   Posted By HAROLD CARMICHAEL THE SUDBURY STAR

It was a nippy day to be selling icy-cold lemonade in Memorial Park, but that didn’t bother a handful of local Children’s Aid Society employees one bit.

“Our philosophy is that every penny counts,” said child protection worker Jennifer Giroux, about the Ontario Public Service Employees Union Local 668 “Lemon-Aid for Child Welfare” stand set up during the lunch hour.

“If we can write a cheque for $5.74, it says something.”

The lemonade stand was one of five fundraisers set up in cities across Ontario on Monday in response to comments by Child and Youth Services Minister Laurel Broten.

Broten suggested CAS employees do some fundraising if they were so concerned about the fate of Children’s Aid Societies across the province.

Giroux, who is an executive board member of Region 6 with Local 668, said the problem with provincial funding of Children’s Aid Societies is that it has remained frozen in recent years, even though changes have been made to child welfare laws that require more money to be spent and resources used to enforce them.

“They have added to the responsibilities, to the jobs that we do, but there is no additional money to the budget to get the job done,” she said. “It really makes it a difficult task, not only for the workers, but the agencies themselves.”

The Children’s Aid Society of the Districts of Sudbury and Manitoulin employs about 180 members who belong to OPSEU Local 668.

Money raised at the event was destined for bursaries for CAS wards going on to postsecondary studies.
Fundraisers were also held in London, Kitchener-Waterloo, Brockville and Cornwall.

According to the union’s provincial office, 200 new directives came about when Queen’s Park introduced amendments to the Child and Family Services Act in 2006.

But a failure to boost CAS funding has resulted in some agencies facing bankruptcy in 2009, while many others are facing operating deficits this year.

Some agencies have been forced to negotiate lines of credit with local banks simply to keep operating because of the failure of the government to adequately fund their programs, the union said.

Many of the programs delivered by the CAS are legislatively mandated, the OPSEU provincial office said. Yet, CAS offices have laid off workers, cut programs and, in some instances, forced employees to cover expenses.

Executive Director Colette Prevost, of the Sudbury and Manitoulin CAS, who is attending a conference in Toronto this week, declined comment on the fundraiser.

Prevost said the Sudbury and Manitoulin CAS had a budget deficit of about $350,000 for the fiscal year, which just ended, but the province came up with some extra money to take care of it.

But for the 2010/11, she said, the society is forecasting a $1-million deficit due in part to salary increases and additional costs for children in care.

Prevost declined to blame the projected deficit on the added responsibilities the societies have had to take on.

“The funding formula for child welfare is very complicated,” she said. “It is currently being reviewed by the ministry, which we support.”

Sudbury MPP Rick Bartolucci said the Liberal government has increased, not cut or maintained, funding to the province’s 53 Children’s Aid Societies in recent years.

“In Sudbury, in the last 10 years, the funding to our Children’s Aid Society increased by $18.9 million, an increase of approximately 110.6 or 111%,” he said.

“Between 2003 and 2009, the funding allocated to the 53 Children’s Aid Societies grew by $350 million, which is an increase of 30%. That’s across the province.”

Bartolucci said funding went up while factors such as the number of children in care grew by less than 1% — and there was a 2% drop in investigations by the societies.

“So, the funding we have been giving to the Children’s Aid Societies is a lot greater than the service increases.”

Bartolucci said the three-person provincial commission assigned to look into the budgetary problems with Ontario’s Children’s Aid Societies is scheduled to report back with its findings this summer.

hcarmichael@thesudburystar.com

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