After much criticism, especially in recent months, it looks as if things will be changing for Ontario’s child protection agencies. With Bill 42 passing second reading on April 11, 2013 (a bill to allow the Ombudsman the powers to investigate the Children’s Aid), a new funding formula being implemented by the province, scathing reports of abuse of power, and endless stories of abuse of children and youth in care saturating the media, it looks as if Ontario’s Children’s Aid Societies (CAS) will be operating under greater scrutiny in the very near future.
This type of oversight has been long sought after as Ontario is the only province or territory in Canada that does not have independent oversight of these agencies which receive in excess of 1.5 billion dollars of taxpayers money each year. All of the investigative work is done internally, Board of Directors investigate complaints and the Child and Family Service Review Board is only able to investigate matters that are not before the courts.
There is virtually no recourse for families dealing with false allegations and evidently there are no proper investigations conducted. The Ministry of Child and Youth Services is governed by the province but the agencies themselves are private corporations, with no accountability or transparency, and an absence of proper checks and balances in place. In other words, we have the fox watching the chicken coup.
This year began with negative accounts of their inner workings, as Provincial Child Advocate, Irwin Elman, spoke to The Star in January about the systematic problems he is discovering within the system. Many children and youth die under the care of these agencies and little is being done to prevent these tragedies from reoccurring. During Elman’s interview it was also stated that, “Hundreds of key recommendations to prevent the deaths of children in custody have been ignored or rejected by government agencies.” Elman also cited that according to his office’s database,” Of the 1,635 recommendations made since 1995, only 17 per cent had been implemented. Another 24 per cent were listed as “had or will be implemented.”
In recent years there have been many reports of abuse, physical, sexual and even pedophiles going undetected. The agencies go to great lengths to protect those responsible for the abuse – not the children. Elman also referred to the privacy laws in the Child and Family Services Act as “bizarre.” It would seem as though these laws are in place to protect the agencies – not the vulnerable children and youth that they are charged with the responsibility to protect.
Past audits have raised concerns about misappropriated funds, lavish vacations, expensive SUV’s and the list goes on. There has been a recent investigation into the spending of a few agencies, among those chosen is Family and Children’s Services of the Waterloo Region and those results are due to be released soon. There are some agencies that receive even more funding annually than their municipal police forces, an organization that they have even more power over.
One prime example of the type of secrecy they maintain is the case of Donald Klasges, the 65-year-old foster parent that was sentenced to seven years in prison in 2010 for abusing a foster child and impregnating her. The Sudbury and Manitoulin District Children’s Aid Societies fought vigorously to have not only his name kept private, but all other reporting on the case as well. One can only imagine the tens of thousands of dollars that it must have cost the taxpayers for legal fees. Klasges sexually abused a young girl in his care from the time of her arrival at his home at age 11, until she was 14 and became pregnant as a result. Over the years he had 42 different foster children placed in his care, so this begs the question ….. Why would they want to keep his name, and the nature of his crimes secret with that many other children out there who potentially could have been victims of his abuse?
This case is not an isolated one, our province is plagued with these types of abuses, yet the Children’s Aid will continue to cry out to the public, pulling on their heartstrings for more money for the children they claim to protect. In the future we may very well see class action lawsuits against the province for damages by victims, and to remedy the problems it will be up to Ontario taxpayers once again. There are a slew of other social problems it will create that are very far reaching.
Recently we have seen scathing reports from Barbara Kay with the National Post, Katie Daubs from The Star, and many others in recent years alerting the public, despite the many limits and constraints due to privacy laws. The latest and most disturbing development was in March this year when Daubs reported on Peel Children’s Aid Society and the internal memo that was leaked to the media. The memo was urging staff to keep files open and begin as many new investigations as possible to secure funding. To date, the agencies funding is based on the number of children in care and files open. The implications of such a request are very serious, and if carried out would have profoundly negative effects on children and their families. As Daubs points out, it is a funding formula with “perverse incentives.”
Since 2006, several bills have been introduced calling for Ombudsman oversight. NDP leader, Andrea Horwath, was the first to introduce Bill 88 in 2006, which never made it past first reading, and two more bills were introduced since with no success. Finally, Monique Taylor of the NDP party introduced Bill 110 which made it through first and second reading to only be prorogued shortly afterwards due to Dalton McGuinty’s resignation. Undiscouraged by this, Taylor promptly introduced Bill 42 in late March of this year. It passed first and second reading with both the PC and NDP party voting unanimously in support of the bill along with one Liberal representative in agreement. The final vote was 55-34 in favour.
Provincial Ombudsman, Andre Marin, has been requesting the authority to investigate the Children’s Aid, but to date it has been staunchly opposed by the Liberal government. For advocates such as Neil Haskett and his wife Tabatha Haskett, they have been advocating for change since 2005. Founders of “The Ontario Coalition for Accountability,” they have worked tirelessly to get our politicians on board and have finally, along with many other advocates around the province, succeeded in getting two of three parties to agree that we have systematic problems that need urgent attention and the Ombudsman would be a good start.
Since Marin took office in April of 2005 there have been 3,537 complaints from that time until February 28, 2013, none of which he has been able to investigate. To allow him the power to investigate he would have the ability to look directly into their files, make recommendations and even lay criminal charges if that type of activity is uncovered.