Child advocate urging Ontario to overhaul ‘confused’ CAS system

The provincial government must grab control of a child protection system that is “at best fragmented and at worst confused” when caring for Ontario’s most vulnerable children, the province’s child advocate says.

“This is about the well-being of children,” says Irwin Elman. “And if we’re not going to take that seriously and be concerned about how we are doing that job, I don’t know what as a province we are going to consider seriously.”

Elman, Ontario’s provincial advocate for children and youth, was responding to an unprecedented analysis of data on the performance of children’s aid societies published a week ago. Conducted by Torstar News Service, the analysis found stark differences in how Ontario’s privately run, non-profit agencies treat children taken from parents due to abuse or neglect.

Whether children are placed with relatives or in group homes, how often they change foster or group homes, how likely they are to rejoin their families, and even whether they receive regular medical and dental checkups are all influenced by where they happen to live and which of the province’s 46 children’s aid societies takes them into care.

Irwin Elman, Ontario's Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth. Jim Rankin/Toronto Star

“No child who is in the care of our government should receive different services based on where they live,” says Irwin Elman, Ontario’s Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth.

The “stunning” differences are the result of the government’s “hands-off approach” to child protection, Elman argues. Yet the Ministry of Children and Youth Services is responsible for regulating societies, and thousands of children in care become wards of the government.

“No child who is in the care of our government should receive different services based on where they live. That’s a huge problem,” Elman says, “and it needs to be dealt with immediately.”

Torstar’s analysis comes from budget reports sent to the ministry — detailing how each society spends its portion of $1.5 billion a year in government funding — and from ministry case audits of children in care for two or more years.

Elman accuses the ministry and the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies, the agencies’ lobby group, of “passing the buck.” They each blame the other, he says, for a system that has no idea why the differences among regions exist, or which practices lead to the best results for children, youth and families.

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