Who oversees children’s aid societies?

By  | June 21, 2011 | 6 Comments | Filed under: Children's Aid Advocates

This ran in the Toronto Star …………. comments invited below

André Marin

Just over five years ago, I was granted the opportunity in these very pages in the Star to argue for something I care strongly about: the need for independent oversight of Ontario’s children’s aid societies. Specifically, the need for that oversight to be conducted by my office, the Office of the Ombudsman of Ontario.

As I prepare to release my sixth report as ombudsman Tuesday — the first of my second five-year term — I’m glad to be back, but for a regrettable reason: children’s aid societies are still immune from scrutiny. They are still shielded from independent investigation of serious complaints about their treatment of children or conduct of their staff — either by my office, or any other.

Every year, my office is forced to turn away hundreds of people complaining about children’s aid societies. We are powerless to investigate these cases, but we keep a record of them and refer people elsewhere for help if we can. Since I first raised the issue in the spring of 2006, and counting the cases I’ll be reporting on today, we have received a total of 2,587 complaints about children’s aid societies. That’s more than 2,500 people we have been unable to help.

It is, of course, up to the government to change this situation — and since the first ombudsman, Arthur Maloney, made this same argument in 1975, Ontario governments have said no. This, despite the fact that every other province in Canada allows its ombudsman to oversee child protection.

Let me be clear — this is the government’s choice to make, and if its choice is to shield children’s aid societies from independent oversight, so be it. However, in the interest of openness and transparency, it should clarify the somewhat murky status quo.

Just last month, Child and Youth Services Minister Laurel Broten stated in the Legislature, as others have before her, that children’s aid societies are already subject to “rigorous oversight.”

“I think it’s important for families right across the province that might be watching to understand that we have a very rigorous variety of oversights that allow you, as an individual, to come forward with a complaint if you do have one with respect to a children’s aid society,” she said.

A comforting statement, but sadly one that does not reflect the reality confronted by the thousands of parents who have complained to my office — precisely because they found their efforts to “come forward” thwarted.

The problem lies in the details of the various oversight mechanisms cited by Broten. She named the family courts, the auditor general, the office of the chief coroner, the pediatric death review committee, and the Child and Family Services Review Board.

Consider those first four. The courts are an adversarial and usually costly option. The auditor general follows the money. And the coroner and pediatric death review committee? To suggest these as oversight options is chilling — after all, they cannot become involved until after a child is dead.

That leaves the Child and Family Services Review Board, which my office does oversee. But the board can only look at procedural issues. It does not investigate the kind of concerns parents bring to us — serious allegations of abuse and neglect of children, and even of threats against parents by CAS staff. Rather, it dismisses complaints or orders the CAS in question to respond to them. And only those actually “seeking and receiving service” from a CAS (not concerned family members or others) can complain.

At a time when the public increasingly expects openness and transparency from government, children’s aid societies — recipients of $1.4 billion in government funds each year — remain cloaked in secrecy and subject only to limited oversight, even from the government itself.

Successive private member’s bills proposing to expand ombudsman oversight in this area, including one just last month, have failed over the past 35 years. But I’m confident that one day this will change. One ray of hope lies with the province’s Commission to Promote Sustainable Child Welfare, established in 2009 and expected to issue its recommendations in the fall of next year.

Any comprehensive review of options to improve Ontario’s child welfare system must surely look at how every other province allows ombudsman oversight. It’s high time Ontario joined them.

André Marin is Ontario’s ombudsman. His annual report will be posted Tuesday at www.ombudsman.on.ca




6 Responses to Who oversees children’s aid societies?

  1. cwalsh@assisting4u.net'
    Debbie Vitez June 21, 2011 at 7:20 am

    Just last month, Child and Youth Services Minister Laurel Broten stated in the Legislature, as others have before her, that children’s aid societies are already subject to “rigorous oversight.”

    Trust me when I tell you Laurel Broten, does what she is told.. She was the Minister of Environment when the northstar nightmare started.
    She was the one who allowed Northstar’s hired guns to set the levels of TCE that could enter a home without harming a body.
    Turns out she was wrong as were northstar’s hired guns.
    Today we have set levels.. She approved 2.3 today they are 0.05
    She is also the same person who handed over petitions we the neighbourhood had signed. Begging her to help us
    Petitions we promised the people signing that they would be kept anonymous.. Northstar asked for them she handed them over..

  2. cwalsh@assisting4u.net'
    Debbie Vitez June 21, 2011 at 7:22 am

    I think it’s time for a new petition..
    If McGuinty wants in, he has to put the Ombudsman in charge of Children’s Aid
    and back in charge of Municipal Governments

  3. bemcdowell@sympatico.ca'
    Bev McDowell June 21, 2011 at 7:53 am

    The only power that the provincial ombudsman has over municipalities is the power to investigate “closed door meetings”……UNLESS THE MUNICIPALITY DECIDES TO HIRE IT’S OWN OMBUDSMAN…..which in Cambridge is what they have decided to do.

    The provincial ombudsman should be given authority to investigate all of the mush sectors, childrens aid’s , hospitals and municipalities. We should be making this an election issue in the upcoming Provincial election if we want real “transparancy and accountability”

    If the Ombudsman had this power he could have investigated our last municiple election and saved you and Thomas from taking your concerns to court. This would have also avoided the court ordered $2,500 cost asked for by the city that you and Thomas have to pay, as the ombudsman services are free to the taxpayers of Ontario.

  4. m.clairmont@gmail.ca'
    m. clairmont June 21, 2011 at 4:12 pm

    When they move Cabinet Posts in Government, it seems that they are handed a folder full of the last person’s mistakes,and the NEW job title. How the hell can you go from Minister of Environment and now become the Child and Youth Services Division, when you can’t even give a damn about people’s health and well being, in your last job ?? Are our children being railroaded against what is right, and respectable, for the interest of someone many miles away from their small decreped room in some grouphome, munching down on expensive meals, while children have their bread and maybe a glass of water…This is not acceptable now or in the future, and how can we stop this terrible injustice??? Because no matter who we elect, it will never change, UNLESS we get Debbie and Tommy in there !!!!!

  5. cwalsh@assisting4u.net'
    Debbie Vitez June 21, 2011 at 10:41 pm

    Thx M.Clairmont..
    Me and Tommy is building quite the reputation… lol

  6. m_boilard@sympatico.ca'
    m. boilard June 22, 2011 at 7:59 am

    Bev, you are so right! The municipalities that have chosen their own ombudsman/integrity commissioner do not do the citizens of their municipality justice. In fact, they are making residents pay to have their concerns investigated at the municipal level by an individual whose job depends on the Council that approved his hire.
    …Conflict of interest????

    There are also municipal fees involved in paying for this municipal process that the complainant must bear.

    The Provincial Ombudsman is paid through provincial taxes and that is the extent of the costs to the complainant. The municipality would have you first pay twice for the same service and then they would charge you fees to process your complaint.

    I believe you are right in saying that the Ombudsman would have made short work of Deb and Thomas’ case. But then think about all the undesirable information that would come forward at the provincial level….a good reason for a Council to hire that municipal puppet to sit on that municipal box to keep those complaining residents from going any higher.

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