Submission to Standing Committee on Justice Review by the Adoption Council of Ontario March 2017
On March 29th, ACO’s Executive Director Pat Convery was invited to speak to the Standing Committee on Justice Policy reviewing Bill 89, An Act to enact the Child, Youth and Family Services Act, 2016. After careful review of the Bill and consultation with adoptive families, youth and professionals, she presented the following.
On any given day in Ontario there are more than 15,000 children and youth in the care of a Children’s Aid Society. About 6,000 of these children are in permanent government care, Crown Wards.
These children are our collective responsibility and this ACT will guide our care of them.
As you know, Bill 89 seeks to bring ‘historic change’.
Bill 89 seeks:
- to put children at the centre of decision-making,
- support more accountable, responsive and accessible child and youth services
- and strengthen oversight for children’s aid societies and licensed residential services.
All of this change is needed and welcomed.
Generally, Bill 89 provides a reasonable framework to raise the bar of accountability of service to children, youth and their families.
But this legislation falls short in recognizing what we now know about the impact of trauma on children.
There can no longer be any question about the scientific evidence that early childhood adversity has real long term effects on ALL aspects of a child's development and wellbeing and in particular their long term mental health outcomes.
We also know very clearly about the challenges children and youth experience as they move through and ‘age out’ of foster care to ‘living independently’ without the support of a lifetime family. These include homelessness, unemployment, involvement in the justice system and significantly higher risk of their children coming into the foster care system. And the cycle continues to this day.
The impact of all of this on children must be addressed head-on in this Act to ensure that our system is set-up to provide what is necessary so our province's most vulnerable children and youth can have the best chance possible to heal and thrive.
In our submission before you- The Adoption Council of Ontario highlights 3 areas that we believe are critically important to review and enhance before passing this legislation.
Our recommendations are based on the ACO's direct experience over many years with the families and children who have lived through our province's system of care and are continuing to live with the long term effects and impact on their lives.
These are the 3 specific areas where we believe stronger wording and higher levels of accountability can be embedded in the framework of Bill 89 to address the concerns we have.
- Recognition of our current knowledge of the impact of trauma on the population of children and youth who are served by CYFSA
- Recognition of the need for all children and youth to leave foster care with timely permanency of a stable family connection when return to birth parents is not a viable or safe option. – This must be an ongoing responsibility and include recognition of the need to maintain connections to siblings, safe birth family members and culture.
- A recognized need to raise the bar higher on oversight and accountability of services provided to children, youth and families at every juncture and particularly when a child is in our permanent care – A Crown Ward. This is not the time to reduce services or oversight as our current system allows.
I urge you to take the time for careful review of the details in this ACT. Consider how the actions we suggest can be embedded into Bill 89 to ensure that it is most effective. To ensure that our children and youth have the services and support they need to reach their full potential when trauma and adversity (through no fault of their own) brings them under the scope of the ACT. This includes:
- recognition of the need for assessment and treatment of trauma
- full attention to their need for competent professional care
- timely permanency with a safe and stable family.
The well-being of these children should be a high priority for all of us.
Fredrick Douglass, abolitionist and statesman once said, “It is better to raise strong children than to repair broken men.” We often hear that our system is broken, Bill 89 seeks to fix it, and I challenge you to work hard in this committee to make sure we ‘get it right’.
Dr. Paul Steinhauer, a noted Ontario Child Psychiatrist also spoke clearly of this:
Society is wiser to invest in Children’s Mental Health SOONER while they are young than LATER when problems (stemming) from abuse and neglect will cost us all dearly.
Let’s all do what we can to make this a reality for all the children and youth covered by this ACT.
They deserve nothing less.
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