Funding children’s aid

TheStar.com – Opinion/Editorial
Published On Sat Feb 20 2010

With a $27 million bailout, children’s aid societies in Ontario will keep operating and protecting vulnerable kids while the provincial government seeks longer-term financial solutions.

This week’s funding announcement for the societies, which were about to lay off staff, was a welcome change from the province’s previous hardline insistence that they “work within the budget they have.”

“You can’t solve these issues in the 11th month of the fiscal year,” Children’s Minister Laurel Broten belatedly acknowledged. “We’ve assessed these funds are needed.”

Why didn’t the government reach this conclusion months ago when the societies’ problems first arose? While the societies are ostensibly arm’s-length, the government mandates the services they must deliver and the standards they must meet. Their problems are the government’s problems.

This week’s bailout affects 26 of Ontario’s 53 child protection agencies that are in the worst financial position due to provincial rule changes. Included is additional funding for native child protection agencies operating in Ontario’s far north, where planes have to be chartered just to gain access to children in need.

While the bailout is by no means a permanent fix, it should give time to the expert panel currently reviewing the societies’ operations and the funding model.

Funding for children’s aid societies has nearly tripled over the last decade to $1.4 billion, yet the societies say they still have trouble making ends meet.

The challenge for the panel is not just to recommend ways to save money but also to take a hard look at what is driving up costs: government regulations, rising demands or inefficient operations.

The panel also ought not to lose sight of something even more important – improved outcomes for children. Despite all the reforms mandated by government and the accompanying increases in funding, crown wards are less likely than other children to graduate from high school and more likely to rely on welfare when they grow up.

Whatever changes are ultimately made to children’s aid funding, foremost should be ensuring that the money spent is focused on improving the lives of vulnerable children.

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