History of Child Welfare
Prior to 1874, Ontario children requiring service could receive help through two avenues, neither of them very appropriate by today's standards. A criminal conviction was the route to service for most children. The criminal system was funded by the government but other services for the poor or the neglected relied on private contributions and volunteer assistance. Apprenticeship (in exchange for the child's labour) was the other service alternative for children who were deserted or orphaned.
In 1874, charitable institutions were permitted by legislation to intervene to prevent the maltreatment of apprenticed children, and a cost-sharing relationship was established between charitable organizations and the province. In 1888, An Act for the Protection and Reformation of Neglected Children allowed the courts to make children wards of institutions and charitable organizations, with local Government assuming the maintenance costs of wards. Foster homes were now encouraged as alternatives to institutions.
With this new legislation in place, the famous reformer J.J. Kelso helped found the Children's Aid Society of Toronto in 1891, and went on to advocate for the passage of a new Act for the Prevention of Cruelty to and Better Protection of Children in 1893. With this legislation, children's aid societies became, in 1893, semi-public agencies with the legal power to remove children from their homes, supervise and manage children in municipal "shelters" and collect monies from municipalities to cover the maintenance costs for wards. Societies at this time gained the status and prerogatives of legal guardians.
Between 1891 and 1912, sixty Children's Aid Societies sprung up across Ontario, and in 1912 they joined together as the Associated Children's Aid Societies of Ontario - now the Ontario Association of Children's Aid Societies (OACAS). The OACAS was established to promote the welfare of children and co-ordinate the work of all the societies. It requested and received the opportunity to review all child welfare legislation before its introduction to the legislature.
Over the years, several new Child Welfare Acts have been passed - in 1921, 1954, 1965 and finally in 1984 the current The Child and Family Services Act (CFSA). Several trends have emerged with these legislative developments -- there was a shift from a volunteer to a professional service system; the province government's acceptance of direct responsibility for the delivery of child welfare services through public financing, agency reporting and provincial supervision; and a shift from institutional and protection-oriented services to non-institutional and prevention-oriented services.
In April, 2000, as part of the Child and Welfare Reform initiative, significant amendments to the Child and Family Service Act were proclaimed. The amendments underscored the paramount purpose of the Act as promoting the protection, best interest and well-being of the child and were intended to enhance the protection of children at risk of neglect and abuse. Changes to the Act included the introduction of neglect and emotional harm as grounds for protection, more clearly defining the legal obligation of the public’s duty to report and changing the maximum time a child could remain in care before the court made a decision regarding permanency for the child.
In 2006, Bill 210 introduced a number of improvements for children and families. These included greater emphasis on placing children with kith and kin in an effort to prevent them from entering care. As well, the Act allowed for a greater role for permanency options for children in care, including customary care, adoption and kinship care. During the same period, the Child Welfare Transformation Agenda was introduced, which included a new focus on Differential Response, allowing for alternative, clinically-based options for children and families, at the referral stage.
In July, 2007, the Supreme Court of Canada re-affirmed the mandate of Children’s Aid Societies under the Child and Family Services Act to act in the best interests of the child, protect children and youth from abuse and neglect and ensure their well-being.