By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express
The province is reaching out for input on improving a child welfare system officials say is facing challenges.
The Ministry of Children and Women’s Issues recently announced the launch of consultations that will include youth, families, caregivers, frontline workers and child welfare leaders.
“If we are going to make a difference for children and youth, we must listen to them and then build programs that protect them and help improve their futures,” Jill Dunlop, Associate Minister of Children and Women’s Issues said in a statement. “Ontario’s most vulnerable children and youth deserve the best supports we can provide, and we look forward to hearing advice and ideas on how we can make a meaningful difference in their lives.”
Dawn Walcott Parris, acting executive director of the Durham Children’s Aid Society welcomes this news.
“I think that there is a lot of knowledge and expertise in the community, in agencies, amongst staff, board members, volunteers and amongst people who have used Children’s Aid child welfare services that will inform and direct the work of the ministry,” Walcott Parris says. “I’m really pleased that they are taking this step forward.”
The ministry has highlighted a number of challenges facing a system that has more than 12,000 children in its care province wide.
These include delays in matching children and potential adoptive parents, and a lack of consistency of services available across the province.
There is also a disproportionate number of black and Indigenous children in the child welfare system, according to the ministry.
In the City of Toronto alone, the rate of black and African-Canadian children is five times that of their representation in the city’s population.
However, Walcott Parris says this issue isn’t as prevalent in Durham Region.
“We worked very closely with members of our black communities,” she says.
For example, the Durham CAS has hosted the “Building Bridges” forum with local African-Canadians for the past five years.
However, Walcott Parris says issues with Indigenous children have been present in Durham.
To address this they’ve worked closely with Dnaagdawenmag Binnoojiiyag Child & Family Services, which addresses children’s welfare issues for Indigenous youth.
Dnaagdawenmag is one of 12 such organizations in Ontario.
While the number of children in Ontario’s care system has dropped 23 per cent over the past six years, government officials allege “inefficiencies” still exist.
But Walcott Parris says those numbers don’t account for children who are still with their families but are using CAS services.
She adds “keeping children safe and families extends beyond the role of child welfare alone.”
“The are many systems – such as education and mental health – involved in meeting the needs of families and children,” she states. “It’s a really broad scope that impacts children and impacts child welfare.”
Each society faces its own unique challenges, Walcott Parris says.
“Durham is very diverse, and it is diverse in a lot of different ways. We have rural areas, we have urban areas, we have the 401 corridor, we have different economies and social regions,” she says. “We have a lot of diversity and we need to be able to offer services adequately across the region.”
The public can provide input through an online survey at http://www.children.gov.on.ca/htdocs/English/professionals/childwelfare/engagement.aspx which will be available Aug. 30.
As well, the ministry will be engaging directly with Indigenous partners, service providers and stakeholders for their input. All participants will be asked for their insights about the gaps, barriers, and opportunities to support better outcomes for children, youth and families.
The government will also work with a third party to analyze the results of the consultation, and develop plans to modernize the system.
Walcott Parris says she believes the province will bring these recommendations later on in the fall.