In 2006, a series of strategies were developed in three key service delivery areas by the Ministry of Children and Youth Services’ Child Welfare Secretariat to achieve better outcomes for children and youth who need help:
- More flexible services when families and children need help from child welfare agencies
- A strategy to reduce court delays and encourage alternatives to court
- A broader range of care options for children and youth, which support long-term and permanent homes
Collectively, these strategies are referred to as the Transformation Agenda and they represent a significant shift in the delivery of child welfare services in Ontario. Almost a decade later, these strategies continue to influence child welfare practice.
Based on these strategies, the Child Welfare Secretariat identified key priorities aimed at improving outcomes and interactions with children and families involved with child welfare agencies across the province. These include:
A more flexible intake and assessment model. In the past, families across Ontario received a standardized/forensic investigation and assessment when referred to child welfare agencies, as prescribed by the Ontario Risk Assessment Model. The new assessment approach is more flexible and allows for a differential response which combines the use of a risk assessment tool known as the Eligibility Spectrum and other supplementary tools to assess a family’s strengths and needs and determine what level of intervention is needed. If intervention is not required, families are linked with community supports and services when appropriate. Forensic investigations are reserved for the most serious cases of child maltreatment.
A strategy to reduce court delays and encourage alternatives to court. The Child and Family Services Act was amended to streamline court processes and encourage alternatives to court using alternative dispute resolution strategies (ADR). The focus is on more strengths-based, inclusive and collaborative approaches to help resolve child protection disputes and encourage greater and wider family involvement in decision making and planning for children. ADR processes are managed by trained, external facilitators and mediators.
A broader range of placement options to support more permanent homes for children. Good permanency-focused planning provides children and youth with emotional and legal stability, and the range of family-based care options has expanded. Preventing admission and working with families to enable children to remain at home is always first and foremost. When this is not possible, however, placing children with extended family members, known as kinship resources, or in the case of placing Aboriginal children within their cultural community, known as customary care, are the preferred options. For children with different needs and limited family options, traditional foster care and adoption with varied levels of openness between the birth and adoptive families are also available.
A streamlined and rationalized accountability framework. In the decade previous to the Transformation Agenda, the number of accountability and review mechanisms increased, but the ability to document the effectiveness of child welfare service remained limited. The focus used to be on monitoring service delivery and compliance versus measuring and evaluating service effectiveness and outcomes. There is now greater emphasis on establishing sound strategic prioritizing, governance and measurable service deliverables in order to shape child welfare policy and improve performance and service.