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.


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7 Responses to CAS PRIMER

  1. An Old Social Worker says:

    I have worked for the CAS, both in the UK and in Ontario and in my experience, the biggest influence on how workers do their jobs is the media.Individual workers have government standards to follow in the CAS, which identify what risk of harm is and how they are supposed to respond to each type. Just like a policeman cannot make up the law, who to arrest and how many to arrest, a CAS worker cannot make up rules for what counts as risk, who to apprehend and how many. The only individuality they can have is in the manner they do their job; like a policeman, they can be kind and respectful, cold and detached or whichever personality style feels most comfortable to them and the people they work with. The only time there is significant change in how CAS workers do their job is when the government guidelines change and such changes usually only occur in response to media reports. When the media reports that a child suffered serious abuse, neglect and died in the family home, the public goes mad pointing fingers ‘Where were the social workers, the teachers, the neighbours, etc.?’ and eventually blame the government. The government then responds to public pressure by changing CAS guidelines. An exaggerated version of such changes would be: Be much more strict, apprehend at the first sign of risk, then do mountains of paperwork assessing every possible risk of everyone involved before even allowing them access visits, etc. Then several years later, a child is abused, neglected and dies in foster care. the public goes mad pointing fingers again, the government responds to public pressure by changing guidelines once again: An exaggerated version of such guideline changes would be: Keep children at home for as long as possible, even if there is some risk of harm, don’t apprehend until risk is so high, reported by so many people, that the chances of the child being alive when you get there is low. This pattern repeats itself over time, again and again, swinging side to side, from one extreme to the next with very little upward growth or overall progression in between. I suspect that this film is another part in that overall pattern and will lead to guideline changes keeping kids at risk of harm at home for as long as possible until the inevitable media report of some poor child dying of abuse/neglect in the family home comes along.

    • director says:

      The cycle you describe was taken into serious consideration during the research and filming of the work. A resolution emerged after consultation with seasoned child welfare experts in the First Nations community. The First Nations have been victims of seriously botched (racist, and even malicious) child welfare policies for a very long time. Subsequently, their proposed solutions are educated, well-informed and based on historical experience. They include keeping child welfare cases out of the courtroom, balanced advocacy and assistance (for parent and child), community involvement, the preservation of religion and culture, and an emphasis on building strong families. Subsequently, to stress this perspective, and how it is relevant to all families (irregardless of race, religion or culture), the documentary opens (and closes) with the “Talking Together Circle”, a First Nations approach to child welfare issues. Further, the entire structure of the film (as a conversation) metaphorically emphasizes the critical need to incorporate a child’s community, before he or she is recklessly disconnected from it. Presently, the law leaves it up to the Children’s Aid to decide whether or not to incorporate the community. Unfortunately, more often than not, the CAS chooses not to, and thus, accepts sole responsibility for the child and family’s well being. The child (and parents) are shuffled through an arduous and expensive legal process while the child’s aunts, uncles, minister/pastor/rabbi/counsellor/elder, grandparent(s), and so on, are left out. When mistakes are made (good families broken, children left in abusive homes, etc.), the Children’s Aid uses its $21 Million PR budget and $45 Million legal budget, to silence criticism and discourage conversation. Predictably, the cycle repeats itself.

      If you haven’t seen the film, I encourage you to do so. I would be interested to know what you think after you’ve seen the film. Based on your experience as a social worker, your insight is very important to a ‘conversation’ on child welfare. I encourage more people, like yourself, to offer their perspectives. That’s how we make a democracy work – and that’s also how complex issues, such as child welfare, get solved.

  2. Lana says:

    Let’s call it what it is: Baby or Child Trafficking.

    During the Great Baby Scoop Era (e.g. late 1940′s to early 1970′s) hundreds of thousands of healthy white babies were systemically stolen from unmarried mothers to supply the demand of infertile married couples. The demand for healthy white children has never waned but the CAS has found a way to make money trafficking the less desired children as well: Foster Care and at the very least – illegally keeping files open.

    In the past our churches & nuns, maternity homes, hospitals & doctors and CAS all worked together to force ‘unmarried’ mother’s to relinquish their children. Today it’s the ‘poor’ mother and she is up against the CAS, hospitals & nurses, family courts, schools and the police. The traditional hunting ground for babies/children used to be the maternity homes and now it often in poor neighborhoods such as subsidized housing complexes.

    Good mothers and innocent children are regularly given a LIFE SENTENCE without their children or mothers. Their Crime: Being ‘unmarried’ or ‘poor’. But as long as infertile married woman feel entitled to another woman’s baby – to save her marriage or trap a man – the demand will not end. As long as Foster Parents get involved – strictly to make money on trafficked children – the demand will not end. Until our politicians give the Ombudsman oversight and strip the CAS of their ridiculous powers – the demand will not end.

    But the nightmare of kidnapped, abused and dead children can really end. Once a brave law firm launches a class-action law suit against the Ontario CAS and brings our incompetent, corrupt and cruel provincial Liberal gov’t to it’s knees – it will definitely end. There would be so many people willing to testify against the CAS they would have to implement a lottery system.

    I used to live in a subsidized housing complex and their were crack addicted mother’s who beat, abused and neglected their children. The CAS were well aware of these families but completely ignored them while harassing the good mothers. I never could understand it until I started thinking of the CAS as a business – a place for often power hungry and ruthless people to earn money. A child protection agency should be run by the public and it’s members voted in by the public. As it stands, the CAS does nothing to help our most vulnerable and precious resource: our children.

  3. Brenda Lundrigan says:

    This goes a long way in explaining to me the reason why the CAS take so many kids into custody for little or no reason. I have known the organization to use lies in their original documents to get a temporary order for these children and then put the parents through hell and back before returning the kids back in the family. The more kids they take into custody… the more money they get. The longer they keep the files open; the more money they get.
    They keep foster parents to a different standard then the parents ….. foster parents are allowed to do things that a parent would be brought into court for……….
    The CAS would rather pay over $1000.00 per month for a child in foster care then pay $400.00 for counseling that a child desperately needs (even though this would be much cheaper) and then accuse the parent of not cooperating when the parent is actually looking out for the best for the child.
    With the attitude that is given to our young people; is it any wonder that adolescent crime is on the way up and so many of our young people are under the impression that everyone owes them something rather than they having to earn whatever they want in life.
    I would love to see this documentary and/or talk to someone who can point me in the direction of making some much needed changes.

    • Gene Lincoln says:

      You are so right on. I work in a low income community and I’ve seen the power of CAS at their best. Some of the workers are very young and don’t have life experience, much less with different cultures.
      Most low income communities’ experiences with CAS is not so great, and the reason for that is direct or in-direct experiences.

  4. Robert Barnier says:

    I hope that everyone in Ontario, requests that their elected members of parliament and those who are on the provincial election ballot,view this documentary and make known their position on demanding accountability of CAS

  5. Reality Check says:

    The road to hell is paved with good intent.