A much-needed centralized computer system for Ontario’s Children’s Aid Societies won’t be operational until 2019-20 — more than three years later than the Jeffrey Baldwin inquest jury had hoped.
Only three — Halton, Simcoe and Renfrew — of the 46 societies across the province have gone online with the $122 million centralized computer system, known as CPIN, which is to track what happens to children in care. The system is being completed in two phases, with the second now out for tender.
The Toronto Star has learned that all of them are not expected to be online until the 2019-20 fiscal year, despite the urging of the Jeffrey Baldwin inquest jury back in February that the system be up and running by 2016.
“Two years just isn't a realistic time-frame for CPIN. I really can't emphasize enough the magnitude of this project. It's utterly massive,” a spokeswoman for Minister of Children and Youth Services Tracy MacCharles said in an email.
At the coroner’s inquest, which probed the circumstances leading to the 5-year-old being placed with his grandparents by the Catholic Children’s Aid Society and his subsequent death in 2002, CPIN was heralded as an essential link between Children’s Aid branches across the province.
Despite previous convictions for child abuse, the grandparents were granted custody of Jeffrey and his siblings because their arrest and conviction information wasn’t discovered by the Catholic Children’s Aid Society of Toronto in its own files until after Jeffrey’s death.
“Transferring millions of records from the old system to CPIN is a large, complex and delicate process, one that takes time and requires serious consideration. When it comes to the safety and well-being of our children, it is critical that we do this well and that we do it right,” MacCharles said in an email statement.
The average number of children in the care in the province at the end of each month was 16,434 in 2013-14.
Introduction of the system at the Toronto Children’s Aid Society and the Catholic Children’s Aid Society — which together handle about 40 per cent of the cases in the province — has been delayed several times so far. The latest goal is March 2016.
“I wouldn’t bet on it,” said Aubrey Gonsalves, president of local 2316, Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), noting that false starts have caused headaches for Toronto caseworkers.
David Rivard, chief executive officer of the Toronto Children’s Aid Society, said transferring information from one system to another is a major “undertaking . . . so that has been part of the delay for us.” At any given time the Toronto Children’s Aid Society has about 1,700 children in care and another 30,000 being visited in their homes.
“The deadline for us is the end of March (2016) but we want to go live well before then,” he said.
Gonsalves and another CUPE official, who asked not to be named, said the word coming out of Halton, is that the growing pains with the system have been marked, including having information simply disappearing, requiring it to be inputted again.
Derek Evans, director of finance for the Halton Children’s Aid Society, acknowledged there have been teething issues with the system. Halton was the first to go online about seven months ago.
“Certainly it was typical of any new system. We had some issues with things like connectivity and with general understanding. It is a totally different system to our existing system in Halton. It’s been a little up and down . . . (but) it is mostly working the way it is designed,” he said.
Reports of delays and possible problems with CPIN come hard on the heels of well-publicized problems with the province’s new Social Assistance Management System (SAMS) to administer the Ontario Works (welfare) and Ontario Disabilities.
Technical problems with the new $240 million computer system caused havoc late last month when numerous welfare recipients received no money or as little as $5, while another 17,000 individuals and families were initially assigned $20 million in overpayments by SAMS.
MacCharles’ ministry confirmed CPIN uses the same base application — Curam/IBM — as SAMS but was customized for different functions.
MacCharles said in her email, CPIN is about improving the safety and well-being of children in Ontario by modernizing how societies share information.
“Currently, the information systems being used by (Children’s Aid Societies) operate independently, are not interconnected and are not able to electronically share information. CPIN will replace the old, fragmented system with a single, province-wide system that will create a single record or file for a child or family that will travel with them no matter where they live or move to in Ontario,” she said.