Over the past five years, beginning with the work of the Commission to Promote Sustainable Child Welfare, the child welfare system has undergone significant change to improve accountability and transparency and to ensure it is sustainable. While there has been forward movement, there is more to be done particularly in the areas of building strong governance models, further developing the performance measurement system, strengthening human resource practices, ensuring a sound funding model and supporting and aligning social services for children and families.
Children’s Aid Society Boards of Directors are made up of volunteers from the community. This model of community governance puts the onus on the Board for the functioning and financial well-being of their agency. Currently, there is no legislation to protect community Board members from liability if a Children’s Aid runs into issues relating to the provision of mandated services. With the continued funding challenges being faced by Children’s Aid Societies, Boards are working to operate in an accountable and transparent manner within a tight funding envelope while delivering the quality and quantity of service needed by the community. The lack of legislative supports potentially discourages community members from stepping forward and limits the flexibility and adaptability of the Boards.
Based on recommendations from the Commission to Promote Sustainable Child Welfare, Children’s Aid Societies have been working with the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Servicess on developing and analysing a comprehensive set of performance indicators. These indicators, which over the next few years will be publically reported, provide data and will allow for further analysis, accountability, and transparency. Children’s Aid Societies, in partnership with the government, are moving forward with a performance management system that will allow for: effective organizational planning, governance oversight, improving services, and the public reporting of outcomes. While work is underway, for the indicators to be meaningful there needs to be support from the government to provide resources for individual Children’s Aid Societies to collect, analyze and report on these measures. This project is strategically linked to the provincial government’s implementation of the Child Protection Information Network (CPIN). CPIN will link data from all of Ontario’s Children’s Aid Societies and will allow for outcome analysis and management in numerous enhanced ways, both at a community and provincial level.
There are over 8,000 professionals who work in the child welfare sector. Their dedication and passion is an essential dimension to the sustainability of the sector. Over the last year, Children’s Aid Societies have been working with their labour unions on a comprehensive study of worker safety in the delivery of child welfare services. Significant issues of safety have been identified, and together, the parties have jointly analyzed practices and developed recommendations to ensure a strong and healthy work force. While some of the recommendations require action at a local level, the majority of the recommendations are at a system level and will require the support of government, along with adequate resourcing to ensure a high standard of safety for staff in the child welfare sector.
Appropriate Funding Model
A new funding model for Children’s Aid Societies was put in place in 2013. While this model addresses the funding needs of many communities, it has limitations in some communities that may affect the safety and well-being of children. The new funding model needs to be examined to ensure that it is having the intended effect and that it is enhancing the sustainability of the sector and not contributing to unintended negative impacts. Initial indications are that the model may not adequately address issues in northern agencies and communities. The more geographically dispersed and remote Children’s Aid Societies are working within communities that are more compromised, where the geography is huge, and a more extensive social services structure is needed to help support child and family well-being. There are also additional challenges, such as recruiting and retaining qualified staff and inflated transportation costs to serve children and families. More specialized populations such as Ontario’s Francophone population also may not be adequately served through the current funding model.
For child welfare to continue to operate effectively there must be community social services available to supplement the work of child protection. Lack of sufficient services results in major delays in the assistance needed to keep families healthy, safe, and whole, and increases the chances of children and families falling through the cracks. This could also mean that a family moves more deeply into the child welfare system. Long wait times for children’s mental health services, limited addiction services, access to support services for domestic violence, and a lack of public housing are examples of situations that affect the ability of communities as a whole to keep children and families thriving.
What needs to be done?
Strategic and timely investments need to be made in the areas identified. This will enable the sector to build an accountable, transparent, effective, and sustainable system that is supported by and helps support other social and children’s services. Without adequate legislative, financial, staffing, and community supports the child welfare system will not be able to meet the needs of its diverse populations. Short-term strategies and fragmented funding do not take Ontario’s demographics into consideration and do not provide a stable foundation for such an essential service.
- Continue support to Children’s Aid Boards through enhanced governance training and by providing Children’s Aid Society Board members with the liability protection afforded to Board members in other community based organizations.
- Correct the unintended consequences of the funding model, which may compromise the ability of agencies to provide necessary services and do sound, multi-year financial planning.
- Invest in the further development of performance indicators and the Child Protection Information Network (CPIN) and ensure Children’s Aid Societies have the resources necessary to collect and analyse the information.
- Support the child welfare system and local agencies to address the safety issues that are encountered by child protection staff in their daily work with children and families.
- Restructure the system to focus on supports for the northern and FNMI agencies, including a northern strategy and supports for the process of restoration of jurisdiction.
- Continue to build community-based resources in areas such as children’s mental health, addictions treatment and domestic violence prevention initiatives.