Tough questions for Boards of Directors of Children’s Aid Societies: Marilyn Dumaresq shares some parting words of wisdom after ten years of service on the OACAS Board of Directors

Introduction

While I have been on the Board of OACAS for 10 years it seems such a brief time compared to the history of Child Welfare in Canada. One of the most disturbing lessons I’ve learned is that the road to hell is truly paved with good intentions.

Right now I feel a little like my niece Kate who, at 3 years of age, came home from her first day in “classe d’acceil” (a pre-school in Quebec) and answered proudly her Mom’s question “What did you learn to do in school today?” with: “We learned to share, WITH ME!”

So how do I de-colonize my thinking, how do I get beyond my 3 year-old egocentric thinking?

How do I educate myself and open my heart so that I can shed my long-held belief that I really know what is best for children and begin walking together with people of other cultures and religions to improve the well-being of children? Even though I am leaving the Association, this is the question that I am taking with me as I depart. So, thank you all for this profound experience.

If I were to be continuing on the Board of Directors of OACAS, here are some of the questions I would recommend for the immediate future:

What does it mean to be committed to child well-being rather than child welfare?

During my time as the Chair of the Board one of the Opposition MPPs stopped me in my tracks with the following observation and question: “We’re putting all of this money into serving children; why are teenage suicides still going up?”

Answers from us at OACAS about what the Child Welfare system was accomplishing did not impress this politician as it fell far short of answering the real question. If the real question is: “How do we reduce child suicide?” we need to figure out how to measure the cumulative impact of our work with the work of  school boards, children’s metal health agencies, the police and legal system and so on, not just the impact of our own work.

I experienced a small but powerful example of collective impact when I was surveying a children’s mental health centre in another province. The use of performance indicators was new to the accreditation system I was representing. During the on-site survey I was meeting with leaders of a new residential and outpatient program designed to reduce street prostitution among young people. They had wheeled a very large trolley into the room containing volumes of graphs and charts to show me how they were measuring performance. They were looking very anxious.

I asked them whether their program was a success. To a person, they responded immediately and firmly, “YES!” When I asked, “How do you know?” here is what they said:

  • The police statistics for the last three years (the time during which the program had been in place) show a consistent decrease, for the first time in years, in the number of youth arrests for prostitution.
  • We had a long waiting list for our beds in the beginning and a very small outreach program.
  • We now have empty beds and a large outreach program.
  • The police statistics continue to show improvement.
  • We are now serving many more youth with the same dollars.

No add-on research work, just using the information already collected by a community partner to measure outcomes – very powerful indeed.

There are models and tools out there that can help us measure collective impact.

Are we measuring important outcomes, or processes and outcomes that are trivial but easy to measure? Who should be deciding what we measure?

  • How will we know if the well-being of Indigenous children going forward is improving?
  • How will we know if the well-being of French children across Ontario is improving?
  • How will we know if the outcomes in Ontario for Jewish children are improving?
  • For Black Canadian children?
  • For Vietnamese children, Syrian children, and so on.

Who should decide what “well-being” is for each child?

  • The child?
  • The child’s family?
  • The cultural community to which the child belongs?
  • Service providers?
  • Government?
  • Others?
  • Some combination of these?

What, if anything, is the value-added of a Board of Directors?

We have been measuring our own progress through our Board self-evaluation process. This is a beginning but it is not enough. How would our community partners answer the question: Do CAS Boards add value? Community members such as:

  • First Nations Councils
  • Local school boards
  • Mental health service providers
  • Child advocate
  • MPPs
  • Civil servants

Legal liability: Which side do you want to be on when you end up in court?

There will always be conflicts between policies and the reality of meeting each child’s unique needs in all the different environments.

Do you want your staff to do what will likely be best for a particular child or follow an approved policy if these are in conflict? As a Board of Directors, what is your role in leading your agency in answering this question and implementing appropriate values, practices and supports for the staff?

In closing:

“Bonne chance” means “good luck”, recognizing that the outcome of any event may be success or failure depending upon factors beyond one’s control.

“Bon courage” means wishing a person some real strength of heart to go through any ordeal or situation, to tackle difficult tasks in order to achieve whatever he/she is determined to achieve.

So: Bon courage et bonne chance. Thank you for the last 10 years.

Au revoir,

Marilyn Dumaresq, Retiring Past Chair, OACAS Board of Directors

OACAS, Annual General Meeting 2017 Remarks

 

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