Children’s Aid Society funding model with “perverse incentives” set to change this year
TheStar.com – News/GTA – Ontario is instituting a new formula includes socioeconomic factors, after news broke of Peel’s CAS decision.
Mar 15 2013. By: Katie Daubs GTA
A new funding formula for Ontario children’s aid societies will not have the same ties to service volumes that critics say encourage “perverse incentives.”
Critics point to the current funding model — which is based on historical projections — as the reason one children’s aid society seemingly urged staff to keep files open to secure government funding.
A leaked internal memo from Peel Children’s Aid Society asked staff not to close any cases in March and complete as many investigations as possible because “volumes continue to be lower than our projections and this will result in less funding.”
The agency has denied that inflationary tactics are in place and called the memo “unfortunate” and intended for an internal audience that understands the context.
Currently, if the actual caseload at a children’s aid society falls short of projections, money must be returned to the Ministry of Children and Youth Services. If the caseload exceeds projections, the agency gets more money.
The funding model has long been criticized for the incentives it creates. Over the last three years, the ministry-led Commission to Promote Sustainable Child Welfare investigated the sector and noted the problematic nature of funding being tied to “specific activities.”
“Since the highest cost activities relate to supporting children in foster and group care, the current approach inadvertently rewards CASs that maintain ‘in care’ volumes resulting in an inherent disincentive to find alternative lower-cost avenues to support children and families,” a report from 2011 read.
In the leaked Peel memo, staff were asked to transfer as many cases to “ongoing services as possible” and to “complete and approve kin care and foster care home studies” by March 31, the end of the fiscal year.
Karen Swift, a social work professor at York University, said social workers are often caught between professional and organizational mandates. In talking with people in the sector, Swift said the March rush to spend money and “create action” is common and “normalized.”
“I think it’s important that it’s revealed because I think many of these families feel like they are pawns in the funding game,” she said.
Children and Youth Services Minister Teresa Piruzza said the new formula “will enhance transparency and be more responsive to community need.”
With the new model, half of an agency’s funding will be based on a three-year average of service volumes — the number of investigations completed, average numbers of open protection cases, children in care, and children moving into a more permanent form of care. The remaining funding will be based on socioeconomic factors, such as low-income families, lone-parent families and aboriginal children in a society’s catchment area, in addition to geographical “remoteness.”
That means areas such as Peel and Halton that have higher population growth “should see a greater increase in the amount of resources that come in via the funding model,” said David Rivard, chief executive officer of the Toronto CAS.
Rivard said the Toronto CAS does not have a deficit, but that could change as Toronto won’t have the same socioeconomic factors as other agencies use, such as “remoteness” and “aboriginal population.”
Mary Ballyntyne, director of the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies, said the new funding model, which begins later this year, has positives and negatives. There will be fewer ties between funding and casework, but during the course of a given year, “if there is a large increase in cases within a community, there’s not necessarily the money available there to respond.”
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