In 2005/2006 the vision for the Ontario Child Welfare system reform was articulated by the Ministry’s Child Welfare Secretariat was that child welfare will be outcome-focused, balanced in its service approach, evidence-based, accountable and integrated, and sustainable and flexible. The seven areas of focus at that time was to transform Child Welfare into a preventative system, rather than a reactive system included the following: implementation of a Single Information System, an early focus on permanency for children, implementation of a differential response model, accountability to clients, the Multi-Year Results-Based Plan (a new funding model), research, and court processes.
The OACAS Funding Framework Committee worked closely with MCYS in an advisory capacity during the developmental phase of the new Funding Model. The committee submitted a response to this funding model in October 2005 to provide further advice and feedback to the Ministry. OACAS noted that that the problems and issues outlined its submission, if left unattended, will have an impact on the viability of agencies and their capability to deliver the mandated services.
OACAS has continued to advocate for funding stability and sufficiency for members. A submission was made to the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs during their annual pre-budget consultations to provide them with the facts and the context judged to be important when considering the OACAS ANNUAL REPORT 2005/2006 and the budget for child welfare for 2006/2007 and beyond.
The anticipated and recommended funding formula that was crucial to the sustainability of a preventative Child Welfare model has not been implemented by the MCYS resulting in the impacts anticipated by OACAS in 2005. Since October 2009, CAS's across Ontario have operated under a collective budget deficit of approximately $67 million at 37 agencies. Recently, Children and Youth minister Laurel Broten announced $22.5 million in 'mitigation' funding for 26 agencies. This funding provides only a stop-gap and leaves agencies considering program closures in order to address ongoing and compounding funding shortfalls. CAS agencies need stable long term funding to be able to protect children.
The implementation of the Ministry's transformtion agenda resulted in many changes to the way in which we service our cients While many of these changes have been positive for chidren and families, there have also been many problem areas that are now high-lighted by a funding formula that, in our view is devastatingly flawed and does not allow sufficient funds to deal with our Agency's current reality.
Members of CUPE xxxx are very proud of their role in the development of the Differential Response model implemented across Ontario Children's Aid Societies. Many of the now mandated programs in Ontario were strategies that members already used to support their families and protect the children within their community. These efforts were encouraged and supported by a management that often found the monies to support these vital programs in a funding environment that did not value the services and programs being provided. Even after the programs implemented by the membership became required for other agency's the management at ABC continued to place value on these programs despite the ongoing delays to changes in the funding formula which would reflect the new preventative measures of Differential Response.
The increased documentation and administrative requirements as a result of increased Ministry standards have made it harder for us to spend actual time with the clients that we support particularly in view of the new requirements regarding frequency of client contact. We recognize that the current economic climate, however we know first-hand that when the economy takes a downturn, our services to children and families become even more crucial. The preventative involvement with families is being lost, and members are again responding in reactive fashions due to time constraints, work loads, and a decrease in services that are available to support families in crisis.
The brothers and sisters who work as front line staff in a community experiencing greater job and housing loss, increased addictions and increases in domestic violence see their reduced capacity to spend time with families working through the immediate crisis, and being forced to make decisions that are impacted by an increased pressure from workload and Ministry timelines. In many cases, front line members are turning to Community Partners for support to find that many programs are no longer offered, resulting in fewer and fewer supports for at-risk children in the community. These members are turning internally to access the skills of the Family Support Unit and making more referrals to programs offered by the agency, including parenting programs.
The Family Support Unit, often referred to as the Family Preservation Unit is an integral element of the preventative work at this agency. This department is instrumental in keeping at-risk children in their homes. This close knit team of highy skilled workers, enter the homes of some our neediest families and provide them with support, encouragement, skills, and a sense of self-esteem and capability that primes the family for success. The supportive relationship that these members are able to build with the families they work with is fundamental to the program. A supportive relationship is something that develops with time, regular connections and worker availability to meet the families needs. Loss of members in this program results in workers who are less available, reduced connections and less committed time to the high risk families that need the in-depth support to address their issues and prevent their children coming into Foster Care.
Since the implementation of Differential Response, Front Line workers have sent more high-risk cases to this program in accordance with Ministry requirements that all preventative efforts are made to keep children out of Foster Care. As a result, the work in the Family Support Unit case loads have doubled. In the past, a member could spend upwards of 6 or more hours with a family per week. Due to increased case loads and fewer staff, this time commitment is no longer feasible. The result is that prevention work is often overshadowed by crisis management. Cases stay open longer. The intensive nature of the program as a prevention or reintegration measure is jeopardized. As the waiting list increases, families are not receiving the support they need to stabilize in the middle of the crisis which is the most effective opportunity for change in a family system. This all comes at a time when other services in the community and within the agency are being cut as well. As a result of less supports available to our high needs families, more children will either remain at risk for greater periods of time or will be brought into the Foster Care system.
Our children in care and the Foster Homes that support them are being increasingly effected by the funding cuts. Pressure is being put on foster families to increase their involvement and personal expenditures in working with our high risk children and youth. With the quality work that our membership does to keep children out of Foster Care, those that are apprehended and brought through the Court system tend to have high needs and be children who require strong proactive parenting and resources. Our foster parents are adapting to a new breed of children in care and continuing their quality service, but with the increased demands of front line and children's services members, they have less and less regular connection to the activities that are affectng the child in their homes long term life. The changes in the access to Volunteer drivers is also having a profound affect on children and foster families. Putting children's connections to their comunities and families at risk due to a lack of available resources.
As caseloads and Ministry demands for increased documentation, and information flow increase, the need for a stable and organized administrative and information technology system department becomes greater. The restructuring of the members of our administration department that is currently underway to create greater flexibility within the environment is supported by the members as a necessary change for agency sustainability.
Management has frequently requested feedback from the membership on methods of addressing the fiscal concerns plaguing all Children's Aid Society's and indicated that this feedback would be taken into consideration. The members of the Information Technology department have been developing strategies and planning for methods of generating revenue for the agency, a strategy endorsed by Management recently. However, with the current reduction in IT staff, resulting in the need for less available members to manage the IT needs of the entire agency it seems unlikely that the resources will be available to regularly follow through on these revenue generating possibilities.
Perhaps it is a communication issue. Some decisions that are made seem quite baffling when no explanation is given, for example: the promotion of an admininistrative assistant to a supervisory position, seems to contradict the message of fiscal responsibility put forth by management. It is understandable that management is under no obligation to explain their decisions to the membership, but when we see corporate supervisors with no staff to supervise and with seemingly overlapping responsibilities and duties, perhaps the membership would benefit from some hearing some of the rationale behind management's decisions.
The brothers and sisters of CUPE Local xxxx want to provide quality service to the families and children that we serve in the community of ABC. In order to continue to keep at-risk chidren in their homes, resources must be prioritized to meet families needs. Increased workloads, decreased programming, and a plummeting morale has a profound effect on worker retention, attrition, and well-being, all of which cost the agency money. Reducing stress, stabilizing and managing workloads are the only solution to ensuring quality service to the families in our community.