We are re-imagining child welfare: An effective children's services system that supports all children, youth, families, and communities to thrive.
It has been an honour to be part of a provincial team working to effectively lead the child welfare sector, embrace innovation, and support change.
Chief Executive Officer, OACAS
The past year marked the first year of the OACAS Re-imagine Child Welfare 2018-2023 Strategic Plan. This plan lays out a strategic vision for a better system, one that focuses on the child and youth voice, paired with principles of equity, belonging, respect and empowerment, commitment to Reconciliation, and the delivery of consistent and excellent services.
Transforming the child welfare system requires strategic planning and thoughtful dialogue with sector leadership, committees, councils, and each member agency. It also requires engaging with the lived experience of the children, youth, and families that child welfare serves.
This annual report reflects the beginning of our journey towards a reimagined system. It gives us an opportunity to show how we have made a difference in the past year to the lives of those we serve and to demonstrate our commitment to continuous improvement, building towards an effective and responsive child welfare system.
Many positive system changes took place in 2018-19, such as the proclamation of the new Child, Youth and Family Services Act, and the onboarding of 90% of non-Indigenous Children’s Aid Societies onto a provincial information system. These are significant steps forward that will support child welfare to better respond to the needs of each family while working as a more unified system. The appointment of Nicole Bonnie as the new CEO of OACAS in January of 2019 also marks a turning point for child welfare in Ontario. Ms. Bonnie is the first African Canadian CEO in the history of OACAS and Children’s Aid Societies and brings with her a strong background in equity-centered leadership that will be vital to the success of the new five-year strategic plan.
A critical piece to becoming a better system is using evidence to inform and drive sector improvements. Current child welfare data tells us that many families involved in child welfare are the most marginalized, disadvantaged, and disenfranchised members of society, with serious over-representation and disparity of outcomes for Indigenous and African Canadian families. In response to this data, the child welfare sector has undertaken significant work to identify how various forms of social inequities, including anti-Black racism, anti-Indigenous racism, poverty, and lack of access to safe and affordable housing have contributed to these poor outcomes.
Thanks to our Reconciliation commitment with Indigenous communities and the work of One Vision One Voice: Changing the Child Welfare System for African Canadians, the child welfare sector has taken steps to address these systemic issues. This work included a follow-up Acknowledgement and Reconciliation Gathering where the child welfare sector reported back to Indigenous partners and communities on its progress on 9 Indigenous commitments, hosting two Indigenous youth leadership camps and organizing the first ever provincial gathering of African Canadian youth in care and a first ever symposium for Ontario Black child welfare staff. These events were historic, emotional, and impactful – because we engaged communities directly to initiate system change and heard their voices.
All the achievements highlighted in this annual report could not have happened without the expertise and hard work of our member OACAS Board leadership, member Children’s Aid Societies, OACAS staff, Strategic Councils, Project Steering Committees, Working and Network Groups, agency staff, communities of practice, and stakeholders. As we navigate transformative change, we must acknowledge the incredible work of agencies who continue to provide responsive, skilled, and caring work in an environment of increasing financial constraints.
It has been an honour to be part of a provincial team working to effectively lead the child welfare sector, embrace innovation, and support change in uncertain times. This work has been approached with courage and conviction, so that ALL children, youth, and families can thrive. We look forward to our continued collaboration on a reimagined child welfare system.
Chief Executive Office, OACAS
OACAS Board Chair
2018-2019 Achievements and Highlights
We must be mindful when we do child welfare work that equity is broad and individuals are never a single identity or single story.
Director, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, OACAS
I was asked by a senior leader, 'What do you want for this family, Chantal?' I simply answered, 'Don’t police them, walk with them.'
Child in Care Worker, Member of Anti-Oppression Round Table
Learn more about Chantal's anti-oppressive child welfare practice
Child welfare in Ontario is working toward a vision of a re-imagined child welfare system that is founded on equity and the delivery of equitable processes, services, and programs, a child welfare system where social justice is central to its work. Child welfare data shows that Children’s Aid Societies (CASs) are primarily providing services to families that are among the most vulnerable, disadvantaged, and marginalized in Ontario. Approximately 90% of children and youth receiving child welfare services live with caregivers who are struggling with mental health and addictions, social isolation, intimate partner violence, and extreme financial stress. These families are negatively impacted by social determinants of health as well as social inequities such as anti-Black racism and anti-Indigenous racism. Disaggregated data shows serious over-representation and disparity of outcomes in the child welfare system for those who are racialized, in particular First Nation, Inuit, and Métis (FNIM), and African-Canadian children, youth, and families.
The reimagined child welfare system is one that supports children, youth, and families to reach a better place where they can fulfill their potential, not one that penalizes them for their identities and vulnerabilities. OACAS and Children’s Aid Societies have begun the difficult and necessary work to undo the policies, procedures, and practices that lead to overrepresentation and disparity of outcomes, recognizing that this courageous work will help lay the foundation for a child welfare system that provides equitable services to everyone it serves. In 2018-19 OACAS hired the first Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the organization’s history to lead this work, which includes providing foundational support, knowledge resources, transformational and instructional leadership to sector employees, equity practice learning resources, and tools to help agencies assess, evaluate, and measure outcomes in the areas of disparity and disproportionality.
The reimagined child welfare system is one that supports First Nation, Inuit, and Métis communities to lead in the protection and well-being of their children.
Credit: 7th Generation Image Makers Isaac Weber
Child Welfare Reconciliation With Indigenous People
The reimagined child welfare system is one that supports FNIM communities to lead in the protection and well-being of their children. “Learning Together to Bring Indigenous Children Home,” the title of the provincial gathering with FNIM communities in September 2018, is key to fulfilling this vision and lies at the core of the nine Indigenous commitments made by the child welfare sector in 2017. In 2018-19 OACAS developed reporting tools to assist Children’s Aid Societies to track their progress on the nine Indigenous commitments, including a provincial dashboard and synopsis of data that was presented at the September gathering. All non-Indigenous agencies participated in the quarterly reporting of their progress and the majority of agencies completed a qualitative reflection tool to reflect on their progress and learnings. The September gathering of OACAS, CASs, and FNIM leaders, elders, and community members provided an important space to discuss the challenges being faced as well as progress made. There was recognition that though the sector still has a long way to go in the journey towards Reconciliation, it has taken some important first steps.
In September 2018, the “Learning Together to Bring Indigenous Children Home” Gathering at Rama First Nation and Geneva Park brought CASs and Indigenous leaders, elders, and community members together to share updates and reflections on the learnings and progress over the past year on the path to reconciliation. OACAS provided an update on the progress on the 9 Indigenous commitments to support the child welfare sector’s commitment to accountability and transparency.
OACAS reporting tools support Children’s Aid Societies to transparently track their work on 9 Indigenous commitments and provide a provincial picture of progress towards reconciliation
The workshop was the first time I didn’t feel alone in the pain that I have felt in child welfare. When you look at your team and you are the only Black person and jokes are made, it’s hard to know what to do with those feelings.
Participant at All-In African Canadian Child Welfare Staff Symposium
Watch the “All-In” video
ONE VISION ONE VOICE: Changing the Child Welfare System for African Canadians
Child welfare in Ontario is re-imagining a system where policies and practices do not discriminate against families based on their identities and all families and communities are supported to take care of their children. Child welfare data shows gross over-representation and disparity of outcomes for African Canadian children, youth, and families. The journey towards undoing the discriminatory policies and practices leading to these poor outcomes started in 2016 with the launch of the One Vision One Voice Project, which is led by the African Canadian community, with funding from the Ministry of Children and Youth Services through OACAS. In 2018-19, Phase Two of the One Vision One Voice Project began the detailed, in-depth work of laying a solid foundation on which disproportionality and disparity of outcomes for African Canadian families can be identified and addressed. A sector wide Anti-Black Organizational Self-assessment of policies and practices leading to over-representation and steps being taken to address these barriers was a key foundational piece to the Phase II work. To support member agencies in moving forward, the OVOV project team completed individual agency reports for agencies to develop work plans to begin to implement change. Overall, child welfare in Ontario is at the beginning stages of implementing the eleven Race Equity Practices that will improve outcomes for African Canadians, but the willingness of the sector to engage in this essential piece of work and the rate of completion of this assessment is a testament to the recognition of provincial leaders regarding the urgency to engage in anti-Black racism work within the sector.
Based on agency responses to the provincial report tool, the OVOV team tailored individual assessments and implementation plans to support Children’s Aid Societies to address disproportionality and disparity in outcomes for African-Canadian families
Black youth in care came together for the first time, in one location, to learn about their culture, to share their experiences with the child welfare system, and to experience pride in their heritage. The youth spoke about the pain they experienced when they were taken from their homes and separated from their siblings, and the anti-Black racism that they face in their foster or group homes.
The two-day symposium was the first time Black staff from CASs across the province have gathered in one place to share their thoughts and experiences working in the child welfare system. The event helped to highlight challenges of systemic and structural racism for Black child welfare professionals, as well as for the children, youth and families who are African Canadian
Human trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation is prevalent in Ontario and significantly impacts the safety and well-being of children and youth. Because children and youth involved with child welfare are at increased risk for recruitment into sex trafficking it is critical that the reimagined child welfare system is adequately prepared to recognize and respond to victims of trafficking through the right training, policies, protocols, case management, and placement options. The need for a provincially consistent response to this emerging area of concern led to the formation of an OACAS Human Trafficking Work Group to develop a provincial strategy for Children’s Aid Societies and Indigenous Child Well-Being Agencies.
The most significant step toward a re-imagined child welfare system in 2018-19 was the proclamation of the new Child, Youth and Family Services Act. The new act includes long awaited updates that put the child at the centre of decision-making, establish a new regime for privacy and the collection, use, and disclosure of personal information, provide services to 16 and 17-year olds, and set the groundwork for delivering culturally appropriate services.
Supporting System Change
2018-19 was a pivotal year in child welfare’s journey towards a re-imagined child welfare system. The most significant step towards this new vision was the proclamation of the new Child, Youth and Family Services Act (CYFSA), with long-awaited updates that put the child at the centre of decision-making, establish a new regime for privacy and the collection, use, and disclosure of personal information, provide services to 16 and 17-year-olds, and set the groundwork for delivering culturally appropriate services. System change also made significant progress in 2019 with the onboarding of 90% of non-Indigenous Children’s Aid Societies and one Indigenous Child Well-Being Agency onto a provincial information network, the fruit of five years of intensive work, which included overcoming the challenges presented by inadequate funding and functionality issues. The Shared Services project launched seven new provincial shared services that support member agencies with service delivery excellence through cost savings, system leadership, and consistent business processes and service standards. Finally, OACAS and Children’s Aid Societies demonstrated the power of collective action with a strategic response to drive immediate system improvements to residential services, in response to our analysis of critical issues related to the tragic deaths of young people subsequently described in the Chief Coroner of Ontario’s Report “Safe with Intervention.”
These transformational initiatives require intensive change management, which OACAS leads in close collaboration with member agencies. Through strategic councils, committees, and work groups OACAS fosters opportunities for member agency engagement and input to develop the strategies and tools to respond to change in child welfare in a provincially consistent way.
Part X of the CYFSA enshrines the right for individuals to access their personal information and establishes rules for service providers regarding the collection, use, and disclosure of personal information. It also invests the Information and Privacy Commissioner (IPC) with oversight for the new regime, including resolving individual’s complaints about privacy. The Part X Project Team, composed of senior CAS legal and service staff, with help from OACAS, dedicated hundreds of hours to develop the strategies and tools to support Children’s Aid Societies to embrace the core service elements of Part X and to promote a consistent provincial approach to its application.
In response to the tragic deaths of youth living in residential services in 2016 and 2017, the child welfare sector recognized the importance of collective action to drive system improvement in the areas over which it has control. The Residential Services Critical Issues Working Group, made up of representatives from OACAS, the Association of Native Child and Family Services Agencies of Ontario (ANCFSAO), and Children’s Aid Societies and Indigenous Well-being Societies, developed recommendations for change in six critical areas, including the FNIM Service Model, special rate agreements, information sharing, out of jurisdiction placements, investigation best practices, as well as a Shared Services OPR Data Base. The OACAS and ANCFSAO Boards jointly approved the recommendations for immediate sector implementation, the first time that these Boards have approved a provincial level policy for implementation by all CASs and Indigenous Child Well-Being Agencies.
The biannual Quality Improvement Plan dashboards are prepared by OACAS with agency data in response to the Auditor General’s 2017 report on agency compliance to the Child Protection Standards. The provincial monitoring of data and the development of strategies to improve compliance rates by sector volunteers and OACAS staff has helped the sector move towards standardizing how Child Protection Standards are interpreted. (It is important to note that compliance does not necessarily have a straight-line relationship to quality of service and in some circumstances can impede it.)
The Child Protection Information Network (CPIN) modernizes information management of the child welfare system in Ontario. OACAS has actively supported the move to one information management system by working with member agencies continuously from pre-deployment to sustainment. OACAS also works closely with member agencies to standardize definitions of data, data entry, business rules and practices, and report design so they are consistent across the sector.
The Shared Services Program pools agency resources, establishes consistent business standards, and support value across multiple business streams. OACAS has developed the Shared Services Program in partnership with two Ministry funders.
OACAS’ transformational approach to learning includes inviting individuals with lived experience to design, review, and deliver the curriculum.
Education And Training
To support the transformation of the child welfare system, OACAS Learning is developing a training system using an anti-oppression framework that equips the child welfare workforce with the knowledge and skills to deliver excellent services that are sensitive to identity and culture no matter where in the province children and families live. In 2018-19, OACAS Learning continued to build on its recent education redesign and provincial authorization process with new course content based on the principles of equity and inclusion, respect and empowerment, Reconciliation, and consistent and excellent services. This transformational learning approach that promotes critical thinking included inviting individuals with lived experience to design, review, and deliver the curriculum. Over the past year OACAS Learning has also continued to leverage technological solutions so that high quality staff training is accessible and cost effective for agencies across the province.
Re-imagining the child welfare system requires proactive and positive relationships, clear two-way communication, and partnership on key initiatives with the provincial government and key provincial stakeholders.
Watch the OACAS “Understanding Child Welfare: It Might Surprise You” video
Government & Stakeholder Relations
Reimagining the child welfare system depends on proactive and positive relationships, clear two-way communication, and partnership on key initiatives with the provincial government. The 2018 provincial election offered child welfare an important opportunity to educate and build strategic relationships with policy makers and individuals running for office. OACAS supported member agencies with a provincial election strategy and advocacy materials to facilitate relationship building with politicians in their riding. Since the election OACAS has been engaged in non-partisan dialogue with the Minister and the Minister’s office, Ministry corporate staff, as well as members of the government and the opposition to build relationships and provide materials and briefings that outline child welfare’s current successes, pressure points, and dependencies on other social programs. OACAS government relations activities also have focused on preparing for anticipated announcements from the government regarding the transformation of the child welfare program in Ontario, including seeking clarity and emphasizing the importance of a consultation process with the child welfare sector.
In 2018-19, OACAS continued to broaden and deepen its relationships with provincial stakeholders to achieve its vision of a reimagined child welfare system that works seamlessly with the broader children’s services system and develops positive and proactive relationships with Indigenous communities. The tragic deaths of youth in Ontario described in the Office of the Chief Coroner’s “Safe with Intervention” report revealed the importance of community services working closely together to provide children and youth the wide range of unique services they may need. To help enhance relationships between Children’s Aid Societies and their key local partners OACAS has engaged with Children’s Mental Health Ontario, Empowered Kids Ontario (the publicly funded child development and rehabilitation sector) and Autism Ontario. In 2018-19, OACAS also actively developed new relationships with the Office of the Privacy Commissioner and the Ombudsman, to support agencies in their transition to significant new pieces of legislation. OACAS has also continued to build its relationship with its key Indigenous partner, the Association of Native Child and Family Service Agencies of Ontario (ANCFSAO).
I felt validated and honoured in my experiences as a youth in care and grew my passion and concern for the experiences of other kids and youth in care.
Youth Steering Committee member
Youth at the Centre
Ontario’s reimagined child welfare system places children and youth in and from care at the centre of decision-making and commits to helping them play an active role in planning their own lives and designing the services they receive. At the provincial level OACAS supports these goals through a provincial youth advocacy committee, YouthCAN, youth-focused services such as the Aftercare Benefits Initiative (ABI), and youth advisories that use their lived experience and expertise to inform child welfare decision making.
The new Child, Youth and Family Services Act and its emphasis on child and youth rights, including their right to express views freely and safely about matters that affect them, means that OACAS-supported youth-led programs are more relevant than ever. The closure of the Ontario Child Advocate Office in April 2019 also heightens the importance of provincial supports for the youth voice.
OACAS delivers child welfare’s flagship provincial youth initiative, YouthCan in partnership with young people and staff at Children’s Aid Societies. The goal of YouthCAN is to provide a forum for youth in care to have their voices heard by decision-makers, to help shape new and existing child welfare policies and programs, and to connect and share experiences with each other at both the zone and provincial levels.
The AfterCare Benefits Initiative offers health, dental, vision care, counselling, and life skills support services to former youth in care between the ages of 21 and 25, as well as their dependent children. The program, which is funded by the Ministry, was developed by OACAS following years of advocacy by and input from youth in and from care. The program is unique in offering benefit coverage to youth without requiring upfront payments for service.
In 2018, OACAS established the Strategic Committee on Educational Outcomes for Children and Youth in Care. The goal of the committee is to address the widening academic achievement gap between young people in care and the general student population through strategic collaboration between the child welfare sector, Ministry, and external stakeholder partners.
Community engagement is always most successful when we listen as a collective and speak with one voice. Under the leadership and support of OACAS, the annual Ontario Dress Purple Day campaign has and continues to be a powerful community engagement initiative throughout the province.
Communications Manager, Durham CAS
Learn more about the Ontario Dress Purple Day campaign
A Unified Voice
Ontario’s child welfare system is unique in Canada for its community governance model that enables Children’s Aid Societies to be responsive to the specific needs of their local community. At the same time OACAS and member agencies are collaborating closely to ensure that child welfare also works as a provincial system that delivers consistent excellence to children, youth, and families no matter where they live in Ontario. Building a reimagined system made up of interdependent agencies prioritizes deep membership engagement and relationship building. OACAS works with its members to enable child welfare to work collectively and to speak with a unified voice on major issues affecting the membership and children, youth, and families. The Communications and Public Engagement Department at OACAS also supports a unified voice for the child welfare sector by hosting events such as the Child Welfare Leadership Meetings and informational webinars, by responding to the media on provincial media issues, and by providing the membership with detailed information about media issues that have a provincial scope. The sector’s flagship October awareness campaign has also helped to shape a provincial public profile for the child welfare sector.