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Kids put at risk by government's lack of funding to agencies

TORONTO – Ontario’s most vulnerable children and families, served by their local Children’s Aid Societies (CASs), will experience the impact of funding cuts this fiscal year, unless the government honours its commitment to fund mandated services.
Under the Child and Family Services Act, Ontario’s Children’s Aid Societies have a unique mandate to protect children; investigate allegations of child abuse and neglect; provide guidance, care, prevention and adoption services.
Forty-nine CASs face overall funding shortfalls of $67 million, greatly affecting their capacity to deliver the services required by legislation. In addition to historic shortfalls not fully covered by the province, child protection services are receiving $23 million less than last year but are expected to deliver the same level of mandated service. CASs have a statutory obligation to protect children and cannot waitlist or ration services when the government does not fulfill its statutory obligations.
CASs face shortfalls of up to 30% of costs. The agencies most severely affected include:
York Region Children’s Aid Society $7.3 million (16.2%)
Children’s Aid Society of Simcoe County $5.2 million (13%)
London-Middlesex Children’s Aid Society $3.9 million (6%)
Durham Children’s Aid Society $3.9 million (5.2%)
Tikinagan Children & Family Services $3.9 million (9.2%)
Payukotayno James & Hudson Bay Family Services $3.7 million (30.4%)
Niagara Family and Children’s Services $2.9 million (7.3%)
Dilico Anishinabek Family Care $2.7 million (10%)
Algoma Children’s Aid Society $2.6 million (11.5%)
Family & Children’s Services of Guelph and Wellington County $2.1 million (10%)
Native Child and Family Services of Toronto $1.5 million (9.5%)
Agencies in northern Ontario have received some of the largest cutbacks and are facing a collective shortfall of $16.9 million. Three agencies serving First Nations and Aboriginal communities in the north (Tikinagan, Dilico and Payukotano) face shortfalls of 9 to 30% of their budget. These agencies work with the most high-risk, challenged communities in Ontario and are being forced to limit services due to funding cut-backs.
In all areas of the province, agencies are contemplating cuts to core services including abuse prevention programs; programs to strengthen families; counselling services for families in crisis; court-ordered visits to children in foster and residential care; and collaborative programs with community partners to help families before they are in crisis.
Without sufficient funding, government is forcing CASs to break the rules for child abuse investigation and protection. For example, CASs will have difficulty responding to high-risk child abuse allegations within the mandated timelines; CASs will not be able to meet minimum mandatory standards of seeing children every month; case workers will be assessing the safety and well-being of children less frequently; children will not be able to visit their biological families as often since CASs will not be able to afford costs of court-ordered access visits.
“The government has said there is no more money for child welfare but services to protect children
from abuse are not optional or subject to arbitrary reductions,” said Jeanette Lewis, Executive Director of the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies (OACAS). “According to the Child and Family Services Act, CASs must deliver child protection services, on behalf of the Government of Ontario, to vulnerable children and their families. Many agencies have gone into debt to pay for investigations, residential care, support and counselling for children. Boards should not have to use credit to deliver the government’s services.”
This year, many child welfare agencies have experienced increased child protection caseloads as families struggle with the current economic crisis, high levels of unemployment and increased reliance on Ontario Works. Child welfare agencies are required to provide services to children in need 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Some agencies report that by November they will not have the funds necessary to provide services to investigate abuse and neglect to children. Other agencies will run out of money in January 2010.
“The government has made a choice to put vulnerable children at risk during a recession. People are losing jobs, and this means families are losing their homes and parents in high stress situations are unable to provide for their children, yet child protection services are cut,” said Lewis.
The issue here is two-fold; there is insufficient funding for child protection services, and the complex funding model, used by the government to fund CASs, does not work equally across all parts of the province.
“The funding cut-backs threaten to destabilize the improvements we have made to child protection services and better outcomes for children and families we have achieved over the last few years,” said Lewis. “Boards of Directors and management are put in the position of having to compromise service to meet budget requirements. As the voice of child welfare, OACAS takes the position that the safety of children is not negotiable.”