There are three government agencies that have had a significant impact on the critical issues effecting outcomes on families and children involved with the Children’s Aid Society (CAS). While most of these agencies will agree with the issues described below, each agency has had the opportunity to improve their policies and has chosen not to. The Executive Directors (or top bureaucrats) of each agency are appointed positions by the government of the day, reporting into the respective Minister who oversees their agency. Subsequently, issues of bias, political pandering and turning a blind eye to critical issues, are concerns in all three agencies. Below, is a summary of each agency’s involvement (or lack of) and how or why their policy decisions adversely impacts the lives of vulnerable children and families who are in the care of the Children’s Aid.
The mandate for the College is prescribed by law: anyone who practices social work or social service work needs to be registered with the College. If a person practices social work in Ontario and is not registered with the College, the College has the governing authority to enforce this law by fining both the individual, and the organization that hired them. (The College is like other Colleges that govern integrity, ethics and qualifications in areas such as Law, Medicine, etc.) To be registered with the College, a social worker needs to meet a list of criteria, such as abiding by a code of ethics and having achieved a University degree in social work. The College also accepts grievances from individuals regarding registered social workers who are in their database. Individuals can inquire online with the College to find out if a particular social worker is registered with the College or not.
- The majority of social workers employed by the Children’s Aid Societies of Ontario are not registered with the College. The College has turned a blind eye toward enforcing the law as it pertains to the CAS. This issue has eroded both the quality and accountability of social workers employed by the Children’s Aid Societies. Lack of enforcement has placed vulnerable families and children at risk of incompetence and/or unethical behaviour by an unregistered social worker.
- The College actually investigates very few of the complaints made against social workers, which renders the College useless to the public.
One of the areas the OCL is involved in, is providing a lawyer to a child who is apprehended by the Children’s Aid Society, so that this child has their own lawyer to represent their best interests in court.
- The OCL presently has a policy to choose whether or not they will represent the child’s wishes in court. For example, if the child wishes to be returned to his or her parents (grandparents, foster parents, etc.), and the OCL lawyer does not feel this is a good idea, they will not present the child’s wishes to the judge. Not only is this policy not fair to the child and/or the child’s parents, but it puts the OCL in a conflict of interest with the Children’s Aid by not giving the child counsel that is independent from the CAS. Furthermore, this policy implies that the OCL lawyer has the authority to act as a judge, which is very unfair to the child. Seasoned lawyer Alfred Mamo asserts in the documentary, “ the judge is there to decide what’s in the best interests of the child.” Not the child’s lawyer.
- When the Children’s Aid wins custody of a child in court, the OCL lawyer will end representing the child (on the premise that the child no longer needs a lawyer). Often times, when a child is in the custody of the Children’s Aid, the child is in more danger than the environment they were removed from. Thus, if the child is placed in a dangerous situation (an abusive foster home or group home), the child can no longer access their lawyer for help or representation.
When a child goes into care and loses their connection with their parents, lawyer, teachers, relatives, friends and so on, the Child Advocate is the only person on earth (with exception to the Child’s CAS worker) who has a legal right to contact the child and maintain a relationship with that child (visit them, speak with them, etc.). If a child is abused in a group or foster home, they can call the Child Advocate for help. A parent can also call the Child Advocate if they feel their child is not safe or they wish to mediate communication or visits with their child. The Child Advocate can also investigate and report on issues in the Legislature, which effect children in CAS care.
- Lack of visibility with children in care. If a child is being abused in a group home or in a foster home, they do not know that the Child Advocate either exists, or how to reach them. The Child Advocate claims that they display ‘posters’ inside group homes, but workers in group homes claim that they’ve never seen such a poster. Even if they did place posters in group homes, what is stopping a group home from removing that poster shortly after it was placed? Nothing. (Involving the Child Advocate over abuse issues in a group home is not likely to be perceived in the best interests of management.) Furthermore, the Child Advocate agrees that children placed in foster homes are even less likely to know about their office (because there are no posters in foster homes). Thus, children who are being abused, while in the care of the Children’s Aid, have no idea that the Child Advocate even exists.
- Workers in group homes claim that when a Child Advocate visits a child, workers at the group home eavesdrop and do not give the child and Advocate the type of privacy that empowers the child to be honest about his or her situation. The Advocate does not assert that privacy, therefore, the child is not honest with the Advocate because he or she fears reprisal from the group home staff (after the Advocate leaves).
- When the Advocate is made aware of a situation that either endangers the life of the child, places that child at risk, or is unfair to the child, there is a lack of action to correct the situation. Essentially, there is a ‘lack of advocacy’ for the child.
- The Advocate turns a blind eye to the over-drugging of children in care and has completely failed to advocate on this issue.