Safeguarding future generations ranks among government’s essential duties, and protecting vulnerable children is a matter of simple decency. That’s what makes the chronic bungling evident at Ontario’s 47 children’s aid societies so shocking. Young people who deserve to be shielded and sheltered have, instead, been left in serious risk.
It’s not clear which is more depressing: the litany of children’s aid failures revealed by Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk this past week, or the Liberal government’s inadequate response.
In a particularly egregious misstep, CAS officials failed to make mandatory checks of the Ontario Child Abuse Register to examine the prior history of individuals involved with the kids. The auditor found such inquiries weren’t conducted in more than half the cases where they were required. Some societies didn’t screen for the presence of domestic violence in a child’s family, or even examine their own records. This is, frankly, inexcusable.
As reported by the Toronto Star’s Jim Rankin and Sandro Contenta, the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies says some of its members rely on a different database, called Fast Track, to look into child abuse histories. And societies want discussions with the government on whether a check of Ontario’s registry should continue to be mandatory.
Lysyk’s report aptly describes the seriousness of what’s at stake: “Failure to conduct these crucial history checks puts children in serious risk of being placed or left in the care of individuals with a history of abusing children.”
Given that risk it makes no sense to ignore Ontario’s registry, regardless of what other databases may exist. The province’s response to the ignoring of its directive on this hardly inspires confidence. Children and Youth Services Minister Tracy MacCharles has vowed to issue a new directive “very soon.”
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath had it right in noting that, unless the government ensures these orders are obeyed, “they’re not worth the paper they’re written on.”
There are other hazards, too, including concern that child protection cases are being wrapped up prematurely. A survey of closed cases that had to be reopened found almost half involved the same risk factors that led to the CAS being summoned in the first place.
Some were closed by CAS workers “after only one telephone conversation and without any contact with the child.” One case, for example, involved a child in protection due to a mother’s drug abuse. The matter was resolved without verifying that the mother had gone clean, only to have the case re-opened when school officials expressed concern about the woman’s continued drug use.
Lysyk’s other findings include the following:
• CASs are failing to meet deadlines for starting an inquiry into abuse allegations, and not one (none!) of the child protection investigations reviewed by the auditor was completed within 30 days as required. On average, they took more than seven months.
• Forty per cent of inspections in group homes and foster care operations found the same problems recurring year after year.
• The government has introduced a new funding model for children’s aid, paying these agencies a total of $1.47 billion in the last fiscal year. But the auditor found the supposedly improved system “still does not allocate funding to societies based on their actual service needs.”
The deep-seated problems revealed by the auditor are evidence of profound dysfunction in Ontario children’s aid. This won’t be fixed with fresh batch of government “directives.” A thorough housecleaning is in order. For a start, CAS board members and managers who persist in these failures should no longer be entrusted with protecting society’s most precious resource — its children.