Ontario Child Welfare system lacks consistency

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Recently, Canadian parents were charged in Jamaica after the body of their two-year-old son was found decomposing in a suitcase. What’s more alarming is that these parents had been charged with the mistreatment of children before. The Warrens are the same parents who were guilty of leaving their eight-month old daughter “baby Angelica” in a cold Toronto stairwell.

These parents also had other malnourished and developmentally delayed children, all under the age of six. What was their punishment? The mother, Stephanie Warren, was charged with paying a $300 fine under the Ontario Child and Family Services Act while the father was granted a two-for-one credit for serving 11 months of pre-trial custody.

There are a multitude of issues that come up with this story, but one of the most prominent is the efficiency of the welfare system. Is the welfare system in Ontario up to par? Will these children be placed in an effective system that will address their mental and emotional needs? While the Ontario Child Welfare system is efficient in extracting children from environments of neglect and abuse, there are still very prominent issues associated with this system that must be resolved.

Firstly, there are many objectives that prove that our child welfare system is functioning in an effective manner. Following the transformation agenda from 2003-09, there has been an increasing importance on permanency and continued relations with the child’s family. In addition, adoptions in Ontario have increased from 18 per cent in 2003-04 to 62 per cent in 2009-10, despite constraints in funding.

In some parts of Ontario this system is identifying vulnerable children at an early stage, enabling them to use a variety of services to ensure their care and addressing their mental and physical issues.

The strong community-based organization ensures that these children are not completely displaced from their communities. Lastly, with the poverty reduction and early learning strategies, Ontario is moving towards realizing a more integrated system of child welfare.

However, in terms of serving children and families equitably across Ontario and early identification of vulnerable children this system still has a few issues to iron out. Firstly, there exists an inconsistency of legal processes within the Ontario legal system which greatly delay the work of child aid societies (CAS).

For example, due to the differences between local bars in different regions, there is insufficient supervision as well as a lack of appropriate psychological or drug testing of parents. Access to courts in rural areas also cause a large delay in legal proceedings involving these children in need. Secondly, there needs to be increased coordination between CASs. While there are many instances that illustrate collaborations between CASs on a local and provincial level, there is a lack of sector-wide focus.

These regionalized groups frequently look to the government to facilitate any sector-wide initiatives, which provide a more “working-group” setting rather than an efficient “team-based” approach. Like a team in any organization, these CASs must learn to work together and have an understanding of shared responsibility in order to increase the efficiency of the welfare system.

Another issue is the effect of child care in response to the needs of children within the child welfare system. After the global economic crisis, there was a significant decrease in funding towards children’s mental health services. Many of these children come from troubled home environments and, as such, need those mental health services to continue integrating within society and building positive relationships with foster families. However in some areas, such as in rural Northern Ontario, these issues have become so delicate that CASs now needs to negotiate payments with mental health providers.

Ultimately there is a lack of overall discipline within the Ontario Child Welfare system. There are still issues due to the variability of system requirements such as consistency of the legal system, lack of coordination between CASs and providing mental health services.

In order to increase the effectiveness of this system there needs to be better coordination, financial stability between CASs and an increased emphasis on supporting the needs of these children from an early stage.

It is only by effectively supporting the lifelong connections and overall health and wellness of these children will this system prosper.

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