Realizing a Sustainable Child Welfare System in Ontario

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The Commission to Promote Sustainable Child Welfare, Ontario

Children hold a special place in our society. They evoke in us our most basic instincts to nurture and protect. We want them to grow up healthy, happy and safe and emerge from childhood as confident young adults who will, in turn, nurture their own children. Our society takes seriously the need to have systems and institutions in place that will promote the development and well‐being of children. At the heart of these structures lie the family and the community. Families are supported by more formal systems and structures – schools, health care and recreation. Organizations that safeguard children from abuse and neglect are at the outermost edge of the spectrum.    

For more than 100 years in Ontario, Children’s Aid Societies (CASs) have played an important role in protecting children – intervening and providing supports when children’s needs and safety are not met by their family or community. It is important work – and often very difficult. It is sometimes invasive and it is not always welcome. Families receiving child welfare services often face a complex array of issues that may include poverty, addiction, racism, poor health, inadequate housing, unemployment and social isolation.

Over the years, child welfare policy has taken different forms in response to changing societal values, knowledge and the success and failures of the system.  Child welfare policy has tended to swing from highly interventionist and risk‐focused on protecting children, to less intrusive and focused on preserving and strengthening families.  These shifts in policy orientation result in different spending levels, differing numbers of children and families involved in child welfare and varying opinions on where the optimal balance lies in protecting children and supporting families.

A Commission to Ensure Sustainable Child Welfare

In 2009, the Ontario government found itself with more questions than answers regarding the current status and future sustainability of child welfare. Major policy changes had been introduced through the 2006 “Transformation Agenda” but their impact was still unclear. Activity levels in all areas ― new investigations, children in care, open protection cases ― had declined for the first time in many years, but there was limited information on whether outcomes were improving.  Fiscally, although the rate of growth of provincial spending on CASs had moderated in recent years, overall child welfare funding had doubled in less than ten years.  Finally, recent reports by the Auditor General (2006) and the Ontario Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth (2009) had raised questions about child welfare management and service delivery.    

It was in this context that the government established the Commission to Promote Sustainable Child Welfare (CPSCW or Commission).  The three‐member Commission was given a mandate through to September 2012 to develop and implement solutions to ensure the long‐term sustainability of the child welfare system.  The Commission was created as an independent, arms‐length body to bring expertise and an objective perspective to examine the system and to set it on a path to long‐term sustainability.

The three Commissioners brought to this task extensive experience in child welfare, public service reform, health care, system restructuring and accountability and systems performance. The Commission’s ranks included a former CAS board member, a former front‐line child welfare worker and various other connections to the work of child welfare. This professional expertise was complemented by first‐hand personal experiences that have contributed to a deep commitment to child welfare.  

The Commission committed to taking a child‐focused approach and to pursue bold, action‐oriented solutions. The Commission’s approach drew on both empirical evidence and lived experience and was undertaken in a spirit of partnership with government and the many organizations that work together in child welfare.  

This document is the Final Report of the Commission and has been prepared for the Minister for Children and Youth Services in fulfillment of the Commission’s Terms of Reference.

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Canadian CW report