State Crimes: Against children and youth continues to take place in group homes and foster homes, administered by of the Ministry of Children and Services and the Children’s Aid Societies. The numbers of children and youth have been killed, scarred, traumatized, and maimed for life in atrocious acts of violence committed by the government institutions and private societies are uncountable. Because of the seriousness of the crimes against humanity perpetrated in this country against children and youth must be investigated by an independent international human rights organization.
Children's aid societies urge Ontario group-home overhaul
Caregivers not screened through a provincial database of people who may be risk to children, report by 44 societies finds.
Children’s aid societies are calling for an overhaul of Ontario’s group home system, where standards are so low that caregivers are not screened through a provincial database of people who might be a risk to children.
The demands are contained in a hard-hitting report by the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies (OACAS), which represents all but three of the province’s 47 privately run societies. The report, obtained by the Star, was presented in February to a government-appointed panel reviewing Ontario’s system of residential care.
It describes a widely inadequate system of residential services and lays much of the responsibility on the Ministry of Children and Youth Services, which funds and regulates child protection in Ontario. The societies note that despite years of debate and study, group homes remain unaccountable, to the point that societies don’t know if the homes they send children to are performing badly.
“Why is it that I can check online for a rating on a restaurant but can’t check on a group home?” the report says, quoting an unnamed “senior counsel” with Algoma children’s aid.
The report makes clear that children and youth are paying the price.
“Group home staff are often underpaid and not always well trained in understanding treatment needs or how to deal with behavioural challenges” presented by children often struggling with trauma or mental health issues, it says.
The report describes “somewhat cryptic” ministry standards for a group home licence. Most troubling, perhaps, is a double standard on background checks.
Foster parents approved by societies must be checked through Fast Track, an electronic database that contains records of all children’s aid societies and flags people who have abused children or risked their safety. But people hired to care for children and teens in group homes are not screened through Fast Track.
Group homes do get police to check for criminal records and to conduct a broader “vulnerable sector check.” But Sally Johnson, OACAS director of service excellence, says those checks don’t go far enough.
“A criminal record check won’t tell you if they have a child protection record somewhere in the province,” says Johnson, who headed the OACAS team that drafted the residential services report.
Screening caregivers through Fast Track was recommended by the coroner’s inquest for Jeffrey Baldwin, who died in 2002 after years of mistreatment by his grandparents. The Catholic Children’s Aid Society of Toronto failed to check its own records, which would have flagged their convictions for child abuse.
Despite the litany of system failures it outlines, the OACAS report says group homes play a “critical role in supporting children and youth in need of protection.” But the ministry has no systematic way of determining local needs and, as a result, no idea where to set group homes up.
Children from northern Ontario are often placed far from their communities and cultures. Children suffer through “a high number of moves in care” before finding the right placement, the report says. Long waits for mental health programs mean kids “often end up being placed in hospital psychiatric wards, which may not be the most appropriate environment.”
The report describes a system that in many ways is flying blind. It notes there is no public registry or website that outlines which homes are fully licenced by the ministry and which are operating under provisional permits — an indication that standards have not been fully met.
In the past five years, no group home has had its licence revoked. Two licences were not renewed, one because of “findings noted during an unplanned inspection,” according to a ministry response to Star questions.
Even reports that must be filed to the ministry about serious incidents involving children in care are not compiled and shared with societies, the OACAS says. They disappear into a black hole, along with other residential care data that could be used to gauge performance.
“Current ministry policy and processes do not facilitate or promote transparency and accountability in residential programs,” the report says.
The OACAS also reveals that local societies sometimes investigate complaints against group homes, but do not share findings with other societies. It says the government-appointed review panel noted this practice could result in societies placing kids in homes where they are at risk. But when societies in the past shared the results of investigations, group homes sued them, the report says.
“It puts a bit of a chill on people,” Johnson said in an interview.
On average, 15,625 children were taken into care in 2014-15 due to parental abuse or neglect. About 3,300 ended up in Ontario’s 484 privately owned group homes. The province last year gave societies $1.5 billion in funding.
The OACAS report credits the Toronto Star with revealing some child protection performance data through freedom of information requests. The Star’s ongoing investigation discovered a patchwork of practices and services across the province.
The Star also revealed that in 2014, there were 23,263 serious occurrences involving children and youth in residential care. Of those, about 9,000 resulted in kids being physically restrained and pinned to the floor by caregivers.
A Star analysis of serious occurrence reports to the ministry also found police being called in 40 per cent of incidents in Toronto, often because kids broke house rules or damaged property.
“Some group homes utilize rigid behaviour management models and the police are often called in to manage acting-out behaviours,” the OACAS report says. “This is especially problematic for racialized and marginalized youth who are not only disproportionately reflected within child welfare, but are also overrepresented in the corrections and justice systems too; a trajectory that often begins in group care.”
As a licencing condition, the ministry should insist on programs “geared to changing rigid group home cultures focused on punitive behavioural control,” OACAS says.
The ministry is expected to release the findings of the group home panel it appointed by early April.
The Canadian Regime and the Ministry of Children and Youth Services should be investigated for human rights violations.