Ontario must make group homes more accountable

Posted on March 15, 2016 in Child & Family Delivery System

TheStar.com – Opinion/Editorials – A study done by the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies found group home staff isn’t properly screened in what amounts to an almost secret system for warehousing children.
Mar 14 2016

Simon’s experience in Ontario’s group home system was traumatic.

Staff at the group homes he lived in regularly bullied the residents. In one case an employee tried to pick fights so he would have an excuse to physically restrain the kids. Says Simon: “He would bang their head up against the floor and they would be bleeding.”

How did such an aggressive person get hired to care for kids who are often already struggling with trauma or mental health issues?

Easily, according to a report from the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies obtained by the Star’s Sandro Contenta and Jim Rankin. At the moment, group home employees aren’t screened, as foster parents are, through an electronic database called Fast Track. It contains records of all children’s aid societies and flags people who have abused children or put their safety at risk. As a result, abusive employees can slip through the cracks.

That must change to protect kids in care, who are among the most defenseless in our society.

It’s not all that needs to change, according to the report, prepared for an expert panel reviewing group home policies for Ontario’s Ministry of Children and Youth Services.

The report describes a system so lacking in transparency that societies don’t even know which homes — never mind employees — are performing badly. Unbelievably, there isn’t even a public registry or website which notes whether homes are fully licensed by the ministry or operating under provisional permits, which indicate that standards have not been fully met.

Nor do local children’s aid societies have a system to share their findings about individual group homes with other societies.

The whole thing is a mess. As one unidentified senior counsel with Algoma children’s aid told the Star: “Why is it that I can check online for a rating on a restaurant but can’t check on a group home?”

The ministry need not wait until the expert panel reports at the end of April to make the group home system much more accountable, transparent and responsible for its wards. It can, and should, do it now.

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