Permanency

Every child and youth needs long-lasting relationships to flourish. Research indicates that children raised in stable, nurturing environments that allow for the development of lifelong relationships with at least one healthy adult have better outcomes as adults.

The primary goal of Children’s Aid Societies (CASs) is to support children to live safely with their family of origin. When that is not possible, CASs look for another family to provide safety, security, and support. This can be temporary while the parents are working to address the circumstances preventing the child from living at home. It can also be longer term, requiring the young person to come into care until other lifelong connections can be found.

The importance of lifelong connections with adults who can offer emotional support over the long term is critical. For many youth in care, leaving care is when they struggle the most — and are therefore in the greatest need of consistency, stability, love, and guidance.

In child welfare the kinds of relationships that provide this care are described by the term “permanency.”

The formal definition of permanency is “an enduring family relationship that is safe and meant to last a lifetime; offers the legal rights and social status of full family membership; the child or youth has a sense of belonging and affiliation to a family/extended family with significant community connections and provides for physical, emotional, social, cognitive, and spiritual well-being.”

Permanency options

Child welfare recognizes that children and youth can work towards permanency through a variety of situations. In 2005 this recognition was expressed in the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services’s Child Welfare Transformation strategic plan. The Transformation plan focused on expanding and enhancing the range of permanency options available to children and youth in care. This perspective was also endorsed by the Commission to Promote Sustainable Child Welfare in 2012 when it stated, “We need to recognize that the best setting for a child or youth should be based on his/her needs, not on an ideological framework that promotes one level of care as “better” than another.

CASs currently consider a continuum of permanency options for children and youth in their care. The vast majority of children receiving services from CASs remain with their families of origin (admission prevention). When children and youth are not able to find permanency with their families of origin because of ongoing protection concerns, CASs will consider the following other permanency options: kinship service, kinship care, customary care, legal custody, adoption, and transition to adulthood.

In some instances, permanency also includes long-term foster care. Not all children who are in the care of a CAS are suited for or interested in adoption, kinship care, or legal custody. For many of these children, permanency and a sense of belonging are found with their long-term foster families. These permanency options are based on the recognition that there are many paths to long-lasting relationships, and that there is no one right answer for every child.

Permanency and the Performance Indicators Project

CASs currently collect data on permanency through the Performance Indicators Project. The PI Project measures permanency at the point of discharge from care and includes transition to adulthood, kin service, customary care, legal custody, and adoption.

What is admission prevention?

The primary goal of Ontario’s Children’s Aid Societies (CAS) is to support children and youth to live safely with their families of origin. The majority of work that CASs undertake involves strengthening these families to achieve the goal of keeping them intact. As a result of this work, the vast majority of children and youth in Ontario who receive services from a CAS remain at home with their family or are ultimately reunified with their families of origin.

How does admission prevention work?

When parents struggle to provide a safe and nurturing home, CASs work with them to strengthen their parenting skills and address their challenges so the families can stay intact.

To achieve this goal, CASs work to engage and help families before their problems escalate and impact the safety and well-being of the children. Earlier identification, tailored responses, stronger community/agency partnerships, ongoing supervision, and intensified, specialized counselling and coaching are all tools used to enhance parents’ capacity to care for their children.

In some cases children will need to come into care for a short period of time while parents address the issues they are facing that are preventing them from providing a safe home. The CAS continues to support the family and child or youth so that they can be reunited safely as soon as possible.

2013 data on admission prevention

The Ontario Incidence Study on Reported Child Abuse and Neglect is in the longest running provincial study that examines child maltreatment investigations at Children’s Aid Societies. The latest cycle of the study found that in 2013 children remained at home in 97 percent of all child welfare investigations in Ontario.

What is kinship service?

Kin are individuals who have a relationship with a child or youth and may include biologically related kin or individuals without a biological connection but with a significant social connection. Examples include a stepparent, godparent, friend, teacher, coach and neighbour.

Kinship service occurs when a child or youth is placed in the home of an approved kin but the child does not have “in-care” status.

What are the benefits of kinship service?

Kinship service permits the child to remain connected with their family, extended family, heritage, culture, and traditions. This helps build a sense of belonging, safety, and security for children.

There is considerable support in the literature and in the policy of other jurisdictions for increasing the focus on kin as a placement option for children and youth who require out-of-home placements.

Learn about Annabelle’s experience with kinship service through Family and Children’s Services of Lanark, Leeds and Grenville.

How is kinship service different from kinship care?

Both kinship service and kinship care are programs that allow children and youth to be placed in the care of people they know, usually members of their extended family or community support group. The decision to pursue a kinship service rather than kinship care placement is typically driven by the protection needs of the child. The key difference between these two programs is that a child or youth cared for by a kinship service caregiver is not deemed to be in the care of the CAS. A kinship service family participates in a screening assessment that explores the family’s ability to meet the safety and well-being needs of the child. A kinship service family is eligible for financial support from various Ontario government support programs. A kinship care provider is a caregiver who like a licensed foster caregiver is required to attend a provincially mandated pre-service training program and participate in a home study. Kinship care families receive the same financial and emotional support from a CAS as foster families.

How does kinship service work?

Child welfare agencies thoroughly screen and assess prospective extended family or community caregivers to evaluate the capacity of the family or community member to care for the child in a safe home environment. Assessment includes completing criminal record and child welfare records checks on any person over the age of 18 living in the home, a personal interview with the proposed caregiver, a private interview with the child (depending on the child’s age and developmental capacity), and a thorough assessment of the home environment.

While child welfare agencies don’t provide ongoing financial support in kinship services situations, the extended family or community member may be eligible for Temporary Care Assistance through Ontario Works, which may include prescription drugs, dental and vision care, back-to-school and winter clothing allowance, and episodic support from the child welfare agency.

2016–2017 data on kinship service

In 2016–2017 there was a monthly average of 2,927 children in kinship service arrangements.

Need more information?

CANGRANDS – An independent, not-for-profit organization to support kin caregiver families who raise grandchildren.

What is kinship care?

Kinship care refers to the day-to-day care and nurturing of children by relatives or others described as family by a child’s immediate family members for children who are in need of protection. It can include an approved family member, godparent, stepparent, familiar friend, or community member who has a blood or existing relationship with a child or youth in care.

Kinship options are always explored for children who are in need of protection prior to having a child placed in foster care or a group home. Sometimes children need to be placed in temporary foster care while the Children’s Aid Society (CAS) seeks kin.

What are the benefits of kinship care?

Kinship care permits the child to remain connected with their family, extended family, heritage, culture, and traditions. This helps build a sense of belonging, safety, and security for children.

There is considerable support in the literature and in the policy of other jurisdictions for increasing the focus on kin as a placement option for children and youth who require out-of-home placements.

Some findings about kinship care include

  • Children cared for by kin are 2.2 times less likely to have a mental health issue than foster children
  • Children cared for by kin are less likely to need mental health services than foster children
  • Children cared for by kin are 1.9 times more likely to report positive emotional health compared to foster children
  • Children cared for by kin are 2.6 times less likely to experience three or more placements than foster children

(From the Commission to Promote Sustainable Child Welfare, “Strengthening Family Based Care in a Sustainable Child Welfare System,” Final Report and Recommendations, June 29, 2012.)

Kin team w title

READ: Friends and family first: How Children’s Aid keeps children out of care

How is kinship care different from kinship service?

Both kinship care and kinship service are programs that allow children and youth to be placed in the care of people they know, usually members of their extended family or community support group. The decision to pursue a kinship care placement rather than kinship service is typically driven by the protection needs of the child. The key difference between these two programs is that a child or youth cared for by a kinship service caregiver is not deemed to be in the care of Children’s Aid. A kinship service family participates in a screening assessment that explores the family’s ability to meet the safety and well-being needs of the child. A kinship service family is eligible for financial support from various Ontario government support programs. A kinship care provider is a caregiver who, like a licensed foster caregiver, is required to attend a provincially mandated pre-service training program and participate in a home study. Kinship care families receive the same financial and emotional support from a CAS as foster families.

How does kinship care work?

Kinship care options are always explored for a child in need of protection before the child is placed in foster care.

Kinship care occurs when the child or youth is officially a “child in care”. Bringing a child into the care of a society is a more intrusive measure and provides a different level of service for the child. It also requires a more intensive assessment phase and training of the kin caregiver or family.

Kinship care families receive the same financial and service supports as Children’s Aid Societies provide to foster families.

Ontario kinship care applicants must complete the following requirements to provide kinship care:

  1. Complete a SAFE (Structured Analysis, Family Evaluation) home study.
  2. Complete PRIDE (Parent Resources for Information, Development, and Education) pre-service

SAFE Home Study

SAFE (Structured Analysis, Family Evaluation) is a standardized assessment model for all Ontarians interested in expanding their family through kinship care, fostering, and adoption. A SAFE home study includes

  • Application
  • Home safety checklist and questionnaires
  • Medical report, police and child welfare clearances, and references

A SAFE home study may only be completed by a Children’s Aid worker or a Ministry-approved practitioner. A SAFE home study can take 4–6 months to complete and is generally valid for up to 2 years.

Parent Resources for Information, Development, and Education (PRIDE) Training

PRIDE pre-service is a nine-module (27-hour) training program used to prepare and educate families interested in kinship care, fostering, and adoption. PRIDE curriculum includes information about the following:

  • Adoption and child welfare systems, processes, and laws
  • Attachment and loss
  • Child development and issues specific to the needs of adopted children
  • The effects of neglect, lack of stimulation, abuse, and institutionalization on children
  • Identity formation and the importance of cultural and racial awareness
  • The importance of connections and continuity for children

PRIDE pre-service training can be completed through a Children’s Aid Society at no cost or through a private PRIDE trainer for a fee. Please contact your local Children’s Aid Society to enquire about PRIDE or view a schedule of private PRIDE pre-service training sessions at https://secure.adoptontario.ca/pride.main.aspx.

Kinship Care for First Nations, Métis, and Inuit (FNMI) Children and Youth

For children and youth of Indigenous descent, kinship care can be arranged once the First Nation Band Council declares the child is being cared for under customary care.

Children’s Aid Societies are actively looking for more families to provide kinship care. The number of children needing these kinds of placements exceeds the number of families available.

2016–2017 data on kinship care

In 2016–2017 there was a monthly average of 799 children and youth in kinship care in Ontario.

Need more information?

CANGRANDS – An independent, not-for-profit organization to support kin caregiver families who raise grandchildren.

What is customary care in Ontario?

First Nation, Métis, and Inuit (FNMI) family structures differ from the typical nuclear family in Western culture. FNMI families have strong family values, are often extended, and share collective responsibility towards children. FNMI families may be related by blood, but can also be tied by clan or other social structures. This collective responsibility for raising children is known as customary care.

In 1985 customary care was recognized by Ontario’s Child, Youth and Family Services Act (CYFSA) and is recognized in the current Child, Youth, and Family Services Act (CYFSA). In child welfare, the term customary care refers to the care and supervision of a child or youth of Indigenous descent by somebody who is not the child’s parent in accordance with the custom of the child’s band or native community.

Given the effects of colonization, many Indigenous communities struggle to identify appropriate placements in their communities. Some communities have expanded the definition of customary care to include a broader variety of placements.

What are the benefits of customary care?

Customary care can help preserve a child’s heritage, cultural traditions, and cultural identity, which are essential to healthy identify formation and the development of lifelong relationships. Indigenous peoples believe that raising their children with a strong sense of community and cultural identity is key to healing the historical wounds in their communities.

Customary care within child welfare is also seen as less adversarial and more focused on building community strength. Children placed in formal customary care arrangements are not subject to the same time constraints as they would be in other forms of care. This absence of time constraints allows for children to remain connected to their parents while the parents heal.

Customary care families receive the same financial supports as Children’s Aid Societies provide to foster families.

How does customary care work?

Each FNMI community defines and practises customary care in a way that is uniquely its own and according to its traditional values, principles, and customs. Please note that not all FNMI communities practice “formal” customary care, so you will have to inquire as to the practice with each community.

Customary care is facilitated through a Formal Customary Care Agreement. Signatories to the agreement include:

  • A representative of the FNMI community in which the child is registered or eligible for membership
  • The child’s biological parents
  • The caregivers with whom the child will reside
  • A representative of the CAS that will be providing a subsidy to the caregiver
  • The child, where the child is older than 12 years of age

In customary care the FNMI community’s Band Council Resolution declares that a child is to be cared for according to the customs of the First Nation either within the child’s extended family system in the child’s home community or off-reserve.

In some cases, a customary care arrangement may involve a non-Indigenous family that is deemed by the band to be capable of caring for the child according to their customs.

Caregivers must complete the following requirements to provide customary care:

  1. Complete a SAFE (Structured Analysis, Family Evaluation) home study.
  2. Complete PRIDE (Parent Resources for Information, Development and Education) pre-service.

SAFE Home Study

SAFE (Structured Analysis, Family Evaluation) is a home study methodology used for all Ontario applicants interested in expanding their family through customary care, kinship care, fostering, and adoption. A SAFE home study includes

  • Application
  • Home safety checklist and questionnaires
  • Medical report, police and child welfare clearances, and references

A SAFE home study may only be completed by a Children’s Aid worker or a Ministry-approved practitioner. A SAFE home study can take 4–6 months to complete and is generally valid for up to 2 years.

Parent Resources for Information, Development, and Education (PRIDE) Training

PRIDE pre-service is a nine-module (27-hour) training program used to prepare and educate families interested in customary care, kinship care, fostering, and adoption. PRIDE curriculum includes information about the following:

  • Adoption and child welfare systems, processes, and laws
  • Attachment and loss
  • Child development and issues specific to the needs of adopted children
  • The effects of neglect, lack of stimulation, abuse, and institutionalization on children
  • Identity formation and the importance of cultural and racial awareness
  • The importance of connections and continuity for children

PRIDE pre-service training can be completed through a Children’s Aid Society at no cost or through a private PRIDE trainer for a fee. Please contact your local Children’s Aid Society to enquire about PRIDE or view a schedule of private PRIDE pre-service training sessions at https://secure.adoptontario.ca/pride.main.aspx.

2016–2017 data on customary care

In 2016–2017 there was a monthly average of 696 children and youth in customary care in Ontario.

The number of children of Indigenous descent requiring placement with alternative caregivers due to child protection concerns far exceeds the number of approved Indigenous-based alternative care homes.

As a consequence, Children’s Aid Societies often have to use non-Indigenous foster homes and group care facilities situated in non-Indigenous communities to provide foster care for children of Indigenous descent.

What is legal custody?

Ontario’s Child, Youth and Family Services Act (CYFSA) includes provisions that make it possible for the court to place a child in need of protection in the custody of a relative or community member. This provision, known as legal custody, involves an extended family member, community member, or foster parent legally gaining guardianship of a child. A distinguishing feature of legal custody is that the child is cared for by a relative or someone else close to them while maintaining their name, contact with family, and rights of inheritance.

What are the benefits of legal custody?

Child welfare legal custody can be a useful approach to permanency when adoption and reunification are not viable. The benefits of legal custody include

  • Preventing children from entering care
  • Providing a permanency plan when adoption is not considered appropriate for cultural, familial, or other reasons
  • Helping to keep larger sibling groups together
  • Supporting maintenance of the child’s bonds with the family of origin
  • Respecting the unique wishes and needs of older children, in particular those leaving care
  • Supporting children to develop long-term relationships that will go beyond their time of leaving care
  • Providing caregivers certain privileges (i.e., authority to consent to services for the child)

How does legal custody work?

Caregivers who are considering providing a legal custody option for a child or youth should first discuss this option with the Children’s Aid Society involved with the young person. The Children’s Aid Society may suggest a family meeting or case conference, and an assessment will be required for the caregivers. The caregiver is encouraged to seek independent legal advice to understand the implications of legal custody. There may be short-term subsidies available or other financial supports to assist in providing care. A court order is then made that formalizes the legal custody order.

What is adoption in Ontario?

Adoption is the legal process that gives children a permanent, loving relationship with a new family when their birth families are unable to care for them. Adoption is intended to provide children with the stability and lifelong security that comes from a permanent home.

What is “transition to adulthood”?

In Ontario’s child welfare system, youth formally leave care at the age of 18. Every attempt is made to find a permanent, life-long family for youth in care prior to their 18th birthday, but for a variety of reasons this is not always possible, or desired by some youth. Children’s Aid Society staff and the youth make decisions together about the best plans to meet the youth’s needs, which include considering a range of CAS supports described below.

Youth who transition out of care can follow a variety of paths including:

  1. Transition to independence

Like a good parent, Children’s Aid Societies begin supporting youth to acquire life skills during their early adolescence. Children’s Aid Societies staff meet regularly with youth and their caregivers to develop goals and connect them to the resources required to achieve those goals. Long before it is actually time for youth to transition out of care, Children’s Aid Societies help prepare them to live independently, either on their own or with others.

Children’s Aid Societies, in partnership with other community organizations, employ Youth in Transition Workers whose role is to assist young people who are leaving care. The MCCSS funded Transition Workers assist young people with their housing needs, provide skills training such as budgeting and cooking, and support their access to post-secondary education opportunities.

Children’s Aid Societies will also help youth transitioning to independence to create lifelong relationships, including, wherever possible, a one-on-one relationship with at least one mentor. The permanent relationship provides a home for the holidays, a place to call in an emergency, and a feeling of belonging. The importance of lifelong connections with adults who can offer emotional support over the long term is critical. For many youth in care, leaving care is when they struggle the most — and are therefore in the greatest need of consistency, stability, love, and guidance.

One of the most important supports that CASs offer to support transition to independence is the Continued Care and Support for Youth policy (CCSY). The CCYS provides youth who have left care with ongoing financial, emotional, and others supports until the age of 21. The Ministry of Children, Community and Social Servicess has recently announced a further option within the CCSY policy called the Stay Home for School Agreement. This policy supports youth to continue living with their foster families after they turn 18 until they finish their schooling.

Youth who transition to independence also have access to counselling and health benefits through the Aftercare Benefits Initiative.

  1. Transition to another care system

There are many children and youth in care with exceptional needs. For youth with exceptional needs, such as intellectual and/or significant medical disabilities, the exit from care involves a transition to another care system.

  1. Return to Family

For many Crown Wards, reunification with their family of origin is their desired permanency option, and Children’s Aid Societies (CAS) will support this option wherever appropriate and/or possible. Today, CASs are placing greater focus on helping children who needed to leave their family of origin to maintain relationships with them.

Youth in care who do not have an established relationship with their family of origin also often seek to re-establish their relationship with parents and siblings as soon as they leave care.

CASs are working toward the goal of helping Crown wards maintain relationships with their family of origin when safe and beneficial to do so and the possibility of eventual reunification can be supported in a number of ways:

  • Placing children and youth in care close to their home
  • Providing children and youth with support to maintain key relationships
  • Searching for extended family members
  • Supporting youth in re-establishing relationships with their birth family

Foster families are increasingly assuming key roles in supporting the efforts of children and youth to maintain their relationships with their family of origin. In these situations, planned long-term foster care, with the intention of enhancing relationships and connections to birth families, is considered a meaningful permanency option.

When youth do not have established relationships with their family of origin, CASs also help youth to plan for reunification and deal with the outcomes of reunification.

2013–2014 data on Transition to Adulthood

In 2016-17, the monthly average number of youth transitioning to adulthood and receiving CAS supports through the Continued Care and Support for Youth policy was 3,101.

In 2013-14, 1,016 youth transitioned from the child welfare system to adulthood and did not pursue further support.