Hot! Ontario vows to overhaul child protection system

TheStar.com – Children’s minister Tracy MacCharles vows to act on experts’ report that criticizes major gaps in ensuring safety of children in care
May 20, 2016.   By SANDRO CONTENTA News, Insight, and LAURIE MONSEBRAATEN Social justice reporter, and JIM RANKIN Feature reporter, Staff Reporters

Queen’s Park is promising a major overhaul of Ontario’s child protection system after a long-awaited report sharply criticized the government for failing to ensure that vulnerable children are getting quality care.

The government’s promised action — and the report it released Thursday — comes after an ongoing Star investigation found a child protection system that is often unaccountable and secretive, and group homes where high numbers of kids are being physically restrained.

The new report, written by three government-appointed experts, describes a muddled system where the government loses track of children taken into care, has no minimum qualifications for caregivers and allows a growing number of kids “with complex special needs” to be placed in unlicensed programs.

Citing a case first publicized by the Star, the report notes that “a young person died in one such (unlicensed) program in the Spring of 2015 during a physical restraint” by staff. Justin Sangiuliano, a 17-year-old with developmental disabilities, was a resident of an Oshawa group home when he died < https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2015/12/10/teens-death-raises-questions-about-secrecy-surrounding-kids-in-care.html >.

The report, called Because Young People Matter, lays responsibility for the troubled system squarely at the doorstep of the Ministry of Children and Youth Services, noting it failed to put province-wide standards and mechanisms in place to ensure children receive high-quality care.

In a statement, children’s minister Tracy MacCharles said her ministry “values each of the (33) recommendations outlined by the panel.”

“In the coming months,” MacCharles added, “we will build a blueprint for reform that focuses on improving the quality of care for children and youth, enhancing oversight of licensed residential settings and using data and analytics to inform decision-making at all levels.”

MacCharles, who was not available for an interview, said she will form two panels to help guide reforms: one made up of key players in the sector, another for youths.

The report was embraced by the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies and by Ontario’s Advocate for Children and Youth Irwin Elman, who hailed it as a watershed moment for child protection.

“If you see the system as a home, the whole home is in disarray and in need of renovation,” he said, calling the report a “damning” indictment of a ministry with no ability to understand how children in care are doing.

The panel of experts — Ryerson University’s Kiaras Gharabaghi, McGill’s Nico Trocmé and former deputy minister Deborah Newman — was appointed in July 2015. It consulted almost 900 people, including 264 young people.

It describes a system that has been “very slow” to change despite years of commissioned reports. “It is time to shift gears,” the report says.

“There is not room for complacency and mediocrity in the provision of residential care to some of the most vulnerable members of our society,” it adds.

“The current service system has evolved without much oversight, accountability or incentives to consistently focus on quality of care considerations and the everyday experiences of young people living in out-of-home care.”

At stake are the lives of 15,625 children, on average, who were in foster or group home care in 2014-15, and the well-being of thousands more investigated for possible abuse. Children’s aid societies received about $1.5 billion in government funding last year.

The report calls for children and youth to be given a central voice in reforming the system and in the care they receive. They are often forced to change foster homes or group homes several times, with no continuity of care from one move to another. And in group homes, the focus is on getting them to comply with rules and routines.

“In many ways, the experience of living in a residential setting erodes the very skills needed for healthy and successful independence,” the report notes.

The report expressed concern about the number of youth in care ending up in the justice system due to the criminalization of kids affected by autism and other developmental challenges < https://www.thestar.com/news/insight/2015/07/03/toronto-group-homes-turning-outbursts-from-kids-into-matters-for-police.html >.

The panel flagged the disproportionate number of black and aboriginal kids in care, and the lack of services and supports for LGBTQ youth.

The experts want the ministry to restructure so it can properly govern a system with 47 privately run children’s aid societies and some 600 agencies providing services, from group homes to mental health programs.

They call on the ministry to create four new units: one of inspectors who conduct spot checks to ensure new quality standards are met, another to collect and analyze province-wide data about the system’s performance, a third that monitors the care individual children receive as they move throughout the system, and an advisory council that gives voice to the experiences of youth, families and caregivers.

“Young people identified as having complex special needs are particularly voiceless and clearly vulnerable in Ontario’s residential service system,” the report says.

Mary Ballantyne, CEO of the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies, applauded recommendations for a public, web-based list of the quality of services available.

“CASs have struggled for some time in trying to find the best possible placements for the children,” she said. “The co-ordination of the system is really lacking.”

Ballantyne said she has met MacCharles about the report and urged her to also focus on the need for more resources to support families so that children don’t have to be taken into care.

Recommendations

– Create a single oversight structure in the children and youth services ministry to monitor all residential services in Ontario.

– Replace the current inadequate licensing procedure with inspectors who would license and inspect all group homes, youth justice facilities and children’s mental health residences under new quality performance indicators.

– Collect and analyze all data including serious occurrence reports, quality assessments from licensing inspectors, and race-based data regarding overrepresentation of black and aboriginal youths in care.

– Track and monitor placement changes of children and youth. The ministry would be notified every time a child or youth is moved, including to mental health or youth justice detention.

– Set up an advisory council of children, youth, families and caregivers to help guide ministry reform and offer ongoing advice.

– Create a publicly accessible web-based directory of more than 600 service providers, including group homes. It would outline the strengths and capabilities of each provider, state the status of their licence, and be updated annually by the ministry.

– The ministry should conduct annual reviews on quality of care and accountability. An independent review tabled in the legislature should also be conducted every five years.

< https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2016/05/20/ontario-vows-to-overhaul-child-protection-system.html >

1 Comment

  1. This article is a typical example of the “pie in sky” solutions being put forward without any regard to reality. Seven recommendations are presented and yet none of them address the fiscal requirements for implementing any of them. The gross lack of funding has resulted in an inadequate number of facilities and trained professionals. Because of this, children and youth are forced into unlicensed homes and cared for by unqualified caregivers, which can lead to substandard care at best and tragedy at worst. Without the money in place to effectively implement change this is an exercise in futility.

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