The public supports the Children’s Aid Society’s (CAS) mandate to protect vulnerable children through the Child and Family Services Act (CFSA), and 1.4 Billion in tax dollars per year (2010). This money finances 53 Children’s Aid Societies across Ontario, including The Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies (OACAS), and agencies sensitive to the Catholic, Jewish and First Nations communities. The CAS’ core objective is to help thousands of children in crisis each year, while the OACAS exists to support the CAS through PR and marketing, education and advocacy.
To achieve this mandate, the law gives the CAS unbridled access to intervene and rescue a child from any situation where his or her life is in danger. Secrecy legislation protects the identities of these children, to ensure their vulnerability is not exploited and that they are not maliciously targeted for circumstances beyond their control. The law also protects Children’ Aid Society workers from prosecution if they don’t act maliciously, but with the intent to protect a child’s life.
The electorate has empowered the Children’s Aid Society with an authority that is par none to any governing body in the province, except the public itself, through its elected politicians.
Each of the 53 agencies is an Ontario non-share issuing corporation. This means they are a public non-profit organization, funded almost exclusively by Ontario tax dollars, including nominal funds raised through charitable events and private donors. They are not privately owned as there are no shareholders. Their properties and fixtures (assets), employee salaries, and so on, are financed by tax dollars, and each agency’s mandate is legislated by law through the CFSA. As such, their financial records are public information, as they would be for any publicly owned agency or Ministry.
Their finance model is based on a “per unit basis”, which means the number of files each agency opens per child determines how much money they receive. Mike Harris’ Conservative government implemented this funding formula in the year 2000. This construct makes the tax dollars each agency receives relative to how many children they manage a year. Fewer children and open investigation files means less money. More children, more files, more money. Based on a typical business model, budget forecasts are made on the previous years’ caseload. Thus, each agency is normally allotted a similar budget to the year before, unless the agency can demonstrate an increase in the number of files open and children in care. Annual reports do not include audited financial statements, which are also not a criteria for accountability.
Agencies function autonomously, with an Executive Director and a Board at its helm. Senior staff are accountable to the Executive Director, and the Executive Director is accountable to the Ontario public through their elected Minister. In Ontario, the Ministry of Children and Youth Services (MCYS) is the governing body for the Children’s Aid Societies. The Ministry of Children and Youth Services was formed by Dalton McGuinty’s Liberal Government in October, 2003. Prior to this, the Ministry of Community and Social Services oversaw the Children’s Aid Societies.
Through the CFSA, the public has given its elected Minister cart blanche authority to manage the society. The Minister is an elected politician who is accountable to the Premier, who is then accountable to the public for the 53 Children’s Aid Societies. The chain of accountability demonstrates that the public is ultimately accountable for the workings of the Children’s Aid Societies, through the politicians it chooses to elect.