Children's Aid Society now subject to third party oversight with no accountability for their actions
As of the beginning of March, the province’s children’s aid societies are no longer immune from investigation by the province. Starting March 1, the provisions of Bill 8, the Public Sector and MPP Accountability and Transparency Act, 2014, which amended the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth Act, 2007, placed authority to investigate children’s aid societies, including Native children, under the Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth. That agency now has the authority to investigate matters concerning a child or a group of children receiving services from a children’s aid society (CAS) or a residential licensee where a CAS is the placing agency.
In a press release Irwin Elman, the provincial advocate for children and youth, said the goal of the legislation is to strengthen the child welfare system in Ontario.
“My office is committed to carrying out fair, thorough and transparent investigations with the goal of ensuring young people feel heard, empowered and protected in the child welfare system,” said Mr. Elman in the news release. “We will also look for ways to support those who have been entrusted to care for the province’s children and youth so we can strengthen the child welfare system and help young people reach their full potential.”
“The announcement that the CAS will now come under the eye of an ombudsman of sorts is about as exciting to me as being told I have won the lottery,” responded Larry Killens in an email from his winter home in Florida. Mr. Killens, a former Sudbury-Manitoulin CAS board member, has had a long running critique of the CAS and has long called for independent oversight of those agencies. “As is public knowledge, the CAS agencies across Ontario are private organizations and not government,” he said. “They, all of them, are contracted.”
“It is well known as well that children’s aid agencies are required by law, as social service workers, to be registered with the College of Social Service Workers, making them accountable to the public. There are few who meet that level of need, but very few,” he continued. “They instead do the same job as a social service worker but call themselves child protection workers to escape the legal requirements and Ontarians suffer as a result.”
Mr. Killens noted the litany of issues surfacing daily about the CAS, noting that even the provincial Liberals, who he claims are noted for delaying decisions with studies and other tactics in dealing with issues such as Hydro One cost increases and the gas plant scandal, pointed to a quote from the premier of Ontario in which she declared herself “ready to do whatever it takes to fix the mess, including blowing up the existing system if necessary. I repeat ‘blowing up,’ she did not say correct, not study, not repair, but blow up. That says it all.”
“There is a litany of stories where families have been destroyed and harmed by well meaning, on the ground workers,” continued Mr. Killens. “This may now force the private entities to not only have their people registered as required but to offer them training. CAS workers are not even authorized to lay charges and police officers must consider and do so on the say of the those who are unregistered, untrained individuals.”
As of March 1, anyone who has a concern may now request an investigation from the Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth, but they must have first exhausted all other available complaint processes. For CAS, this will include the local CAS’s internal complaints process or the Child and Family Services Review Board. As for children’s residences, this will include the internal complaints process at the children’s residence or the Ministry of Children and Youth Services.
The new investigative power also extends to First Nations children, but does not extend to those in youth justice facilities or children in mental health facilities. The Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth investigative powers only cover children’s aid societies or a residential licensee where a CAS is the placing agency.
The advocate’s office can be reached at 800-263-2841 and for more information on the Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth’s new investigative unit, visit their website at rovincialadvocate.on.ca/main/en/about/investigations.html.