Former Child and Youth Minister, Laurel Broten, would have had the general public believe that those fighting for C.A.S oversight are chasing something that already exists, that it is simply a misunderstanding or lack of information which has led to the introduction of multiple Bills asking for Ombudsman oversight, however the reality is much different.
The child welfare report is a complete report released by the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies. Detailed within the report is information regarding current and future suggestions for strategies regarding how best to assist children in care, working within the community, their mandate, and their future plans. According to the 2011 Child welfare report there are currently nine existing entities with oversight over the Children’s Aid Society. The powers of oversight possessed by these entities regarding the C.A.S is limited to only small pieces of the puzzle which, unfortunately, cannot provide us with a clear picture of what is really going on behind closed doors. The limiting of information is intentional as it allows the C.A.S the benefit of creating an illusion of oversight in different areas of operations and still allows them to remain clear of any accountability while they hide behind the guise of “protecting the best interest of the children by maintaining confidentiality.”
Currently there are groups fighting for ombudsman oversight over the C.A.S. along with a push from the ombudsman himself, something that has been going on for over 30 years and something that C.A.S., along with the liberal government, have been fighting to avoid. Bill 110 was an act meant to amend the Ombudsman Act that would have allowed for this oversight. The contents of this Bill have been presented several times since 2005. While examining the type of oversight that currently exists and the issues with it, suddenly it becomes clear that what they are trying to avoid, on the part of the ombudsman, is a complete exposure of their practices as a whole; something that may obliterate the pretty picture they have tried so hard to maintain of themselves.
When Bill 110 was up for second reading it was Hon. Tracy MacCharles who stood against the Bill arguing that Ontario’s Children’s Aid Society was the only province without Ombudsman oversight because, in her opinion, it is unnecessary. Her reasoning for such a stance was that Ontario’s child protection system had a unique set up to that of the other provinces and that it already maintained a number of checks and balances. She presented a number of those reasons in her statement at the legislative assembly, some of which were listed in the Child Welfare report. In order to further understand the current oversight it seemed prudent to explore the capabilities of the existing bodies when dealing with the Children’s Aid Society of Ontario. The following list of overseeing bodies is taken, in order, from the Child Welfare Report 2011.
The family court – A lengthy, and demanding process, requiring levels of financial, emotional, and mental challenges that are often beyond the ability of many people to cope with for a variety of reasons. Faced with the limitless power of the C.A.S. achieving justice can become nothing more then a hoop dream for many. Even if the court rules in the families favour, it is not uncommon for C.A.S. to disobey court orders.
The Ministry of Child and Youth Services – Only overlooks procedural issues and makes recommendations to the C.A.S. It leaves the choice to act upon those recommendations up to the C.A.S. It does not deal with threats against parents that have been made by social workers (which is a reality) or serious child abuse allegations within the system. The ministry will also only receive complaints from families who are seeking or receiving services by a C.A.S.
The Child and Family Services Review Board – Has no power to investigate complaints about the services families have sought out or received from C.A.S. It simply hears complaints and may make orders to the C.A.S. but does not require the society to report on it’s compliance. Again, this agency also leaves the course of action up to the C.A.S. and will not review cases currently before the court.
The Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth – Was established as a means for children and youth in care to seek assistance. Unfortunately youth are not often notified of their rights in this regard or are to young to fully act upon them. Creating a further barrier to accessing the assistance of the Child and Youth Advocate, children in care are often dependent on the assistance of their foster parents or C.A.S. workers themselves to make that contact. If they chooses to smooth over any complaints made by the child this can quickly become a resource out of the child’s reach.
The Auditor General – Deals only with matters related to the budgets of C.A.S. Has zero input in regards to any issues involving the families and children C.A.S. is serving.
The Office of the Chief Coroner of Ontario and the Pediatric Death Review Committee – Only step in and investigate after a child dies. Clearly not the option families want to have to resort to!
Children’s Aid Society Local Board of Directors– A community based board run by each individual C.A.S. These boards are beyond difficult to get onto and they purposely go to great efforts to exclude anyone with viewpoints that aren’t in the best interest of the C.A.S. as a business.
Competency Based Training System – It is unclear why the training systems which are run by each C.A.S. are on the list of oversight. This is a method of training for anyone who works for C.A.S. and is not a method of oversight any more than it is somewhere for families to turn to for help.
After reviewing the abilities and limitations of the “rigorous oversight” which is currently in place, it becomes clear why families are fighting for Ombudsman oversight. With nowhere to turn to in regards to abuses of power or other questionable actions on the part of C.A.S. the continued resistance against oversight on the part of C.A.S. seems shady, unethical, and irresponsible. The fox is indeed the one who has been left to watch the hen house. Unfortunately Bill 110 died on the order paper when legislature was prorogued. Bill 42 was introduced on March 27th 2013 and has currently passed first and second reading. In order to voice your support of the Bill please go to the website of Monique Taylor MPP.