Remarks for Deborah Gordon, chair, OPSEU Child Treatment Sector, for a presentation to the Standing Committee on Justice Policy regarding Bill 89, An Act to enact the Child, Youth and Family Services Act, 2016
Good afternoon. My name is Deborah Gordon, and I’m the elected chair of the Child Treatment Sector of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union. With me today is Jane Kaija, chair of OPSEU’s Children’s Aid sector.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today about Bill 89.
Together we represent over 6,100 workers in three important sectors of the Broader Public Service that are directly impacted by this legislation.
Our members have a deep investment in the success of all children, youth, and families in Ontario – that’s the reason we do the work we do. Frontline workers want better futures for all Ontarians, and we are uniquely positioned to provide insights into the changes that are needed to support them – and us as workers trying to achieve successful outcomes.
To begin, we want to say that we support the general principles laid out in the preamble to Bill 89.
We think programs and supports for children and youth should be child- and youth-centred and follow Katelynn’s Principle, which says that the child’s views must be given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child, and that each child should be given the opportunity to participate before any decisions affecting them are made.
We support diversity and inclusion. We believe in the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We want to eliminate systemic racism and the barriers it creates.
This kind of language is in the preamble to Bill 89, and it is all very forward-looking and 21st-century. Unfortunately, the actual changes proposed in the bill are very minor. They do not live up to the promise of the preamble.
Bill 89 is not a bill to help children, youth, or families.
It is, instead, a bill to help the government respond to the numerous recent reports that detail just how badly it is failing to respond to the actual need that is out there in our communities.
Bill 89 is no roadmap for change.
All workers in the child welfare system have seen the encroachment of funding models that actively subvert a child-centred approach. These models focus on outcome measures, quotas, accountability agreements, and the perennial management of waitlists.
Meanwhile, the demand for services has gone up sharply, and the services demanded have become more complex. The government’s response to these pressures has been to restructure, amalgamate, and download.
This shuffling of the deck chairs has done nothing to stop the ship from sinking.
So, in two minutes, what do we need to see in Bill 89?
We need a bold and courageous vision – one that is more than aspirational. We need a vision that says government must:
- address the social, economic and health needs of children;
- deliberately work across silos between ministries;
- significantly increase spending on services to children and youth;
- eliminate the profit motive from the provision of any service to children and youth; and
- create a system that allows room for innovation and flexibility which will support the unique needs of each child and youth.
We support greater oversight and accountability; licensing for residential services; amplifying the voice of children and youth; and First Nations oversight and governance. But in the absence of radical changes, vulnerable children will not have access to the same life opportunities as other children in Ontario.
In the end, we will all pay.
This is shameful. Right now, Ontario’s GDP per capita is at a record high. We really are richer than we think. It is absolutely unconscionable that we, as a society, refuse to recognize the real needs of our most vulnerable children.
Yet here we are, witness to a series of cascading failures in the way we provide services to children and youth.
We’ve had coroner’s inquests into child deaths.
We’ve had Auditor General’s reports.
Most recently, we’ve had the Report of the Residential Services Review Panel.
All of them have pointed to a system in crisis – a crisis that we must now fix.
The opportunity for a bold and generous vision to help our children and youth succeed is before us now. In our written submission, which you have, you will see 17 recommendations we’re putting forward to seize this opportunity.
Jane, and I would very much like to discuss them. We look forward to your questions.