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CASe Notes: New funding model needed to act on Sampson inquest recommendations

Children's Aid Societies
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A bulletin for OPSEU members in CAS

A new funding model is needed if Children’s Aid Societies are going to implement the recommendations of a coroner’s inquest into death of seven-year-old Katelynn Sampson.

Sampson died of septic shock in August of 2008, after having been beaten for months. Her mother had handed over custody to Donna Irving and Warren Johnson when she was no longer able to care for her.

Sampson’s guardians were granted custody despite the fact they had criminal records and previous contact with child welfare agencies. The pair pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in 2012 and were sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 15 years.

Sampson had case files open with both Native Child and Family Services (a Unifor unit) and Toronto CAS (represented by CUPE). The unions at each agency had standing at the inquest.

In April 2016, a coroner’s jury released its findings into the girl’s death and made 173 recommendations for the child welfare system. A key message was that children should be at the centre of all decisions involving their care. A child is an individual with rights and must be seen, heard and respected. That guiding principle is now called “Katelynn’s Principle.”

Jury Recommendations

Recommendations made by the coroner’s inquest jury are not legally binding. Implementation of the recommendations by MCYS, the Children’s Aid Societies, the OACAS, and other agencies are voluntary.

In the current climate of funding restraint, CASs have struggled to meet the child welfare standards prescribed by the Ministry of Children and Youth Services. Many of the jury recommendations that would place the child at the centre of the service would require a new funding model. That’s because the current funding model does not adequately take into account the administrative burden that implementing the recommendations would place on frontline work.

The OPSEU CAS Bargaining Council has reviewed the jury recommendations that directly impact our members’ work. The jury presented the recommendations below to the Ministry of Children and Youth Services (MCYS), Children’s Aid Societies (CASs) and the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies (OACAS).

The first recommendation involves the application of Katelynn’s principle. It calls on all parties to the inquest to ensure that Katelynn’s Principle is applied to all services, policies, legislation and decision-making that affects children.

Quality Improvement

5. That MCYS consider raising the financial penalties in the Child and Family Services Act where a professional with knowledge of child abuse fails to report, and extend the penalty to the professional’s employer.

7. That MCYS consider revising the Act to include penalties for non-professionals who fail to report.

  • This would cause a significant increase in referral calls and consequent workload. All intake calls require the same screening process. This means greater pressure on current intake workers. It also raises questions about enforcement.

11. That MCYS review its accountability framework so that: a) CASs adhere to standards by conducting random file reviews and comprehensive audits; b) workers understand that standards are legislated minimums; c) differences between CASs do not lead to inconsistencies in child protection services throughout the province.

  • We agree with random audits. The audits will expose a systemic problem with meeting standards. However, the struggle to meet standards is a documented workload issue that will not be solved by random audits. At present, agency standards (best practice) can be different from ministry standards. Any auditing list should have consistent categories.

12. That all Toronto CASs use the same intake screening service.

  • OPSEU’s concern is that should the government further propose a province-wide central screening process, it could be cheaper but not better. Local screeners allow for better clinical assessment based on community knowledge.

14. That regular business hours be changed to a 12-hour period.

  • This recommendation is meant to ensure that intake calls are responded to within 12 hours. However, changing hours of work will not fix the problem. A better idea would be to expand the number of after-hours workers available. Delays are caused by heavy workloads, not scheduling issues.

16. That Emergency After Hours Services be provided out of agency offices, not from home (for supervisors and workers).

  • This would add costs in terms of staff times but it is unclear how it would improve service. A better solution would be to expand mobile technology to allow staff to access records from home.

17. That penalties be applied to any agency or child protection worker that omits, destroys, or alters a protection referral.

  • OPSEU supports accurate and complete record-keeping, but penalties should only be applied when there is proof of intent to omit, destroy or alter a referral.

66. That MCYS, CASs, OACAS, and Native Child and Family Services of Ontario should establish reasonable caseload benchmarks and should collect information on caseloads to determine if current caseloads are appropriate.

  • We agree that caps need to be established in consultation with unions and frontline workers. Other factors also need to be considered such as “case weighing.”

111. That CASs require that any designated child protection worker with requisite degree or diploma be registered with the Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Services Workers (OCSWSSW).

  • We do not support mandatory registration with the OCSWSSW. Currently, complaints can be filed against a worker directly at any CAS agency. In addition, complaints can be filed under three provincial bodies: a) Child and Family Services Review Board; b) Office of the Provincial Child Advocate Investigative Branch; c) Legislative review with the court. We work in a highly regulated environment.

112. That CASs implement a partner system for initial child protection investigations.

  • We agree. However, the current funding model does not permit co-teaming.

115. That in the event of a child death, all workers that had any involvement with the child/family will be interviewed for any agency-commissioned or Coroner’s reports.

  • We agree, with union representation.

Information Sharing

24. That all workers, either internally or between agencies, should have unfettered access to all files (including masked or sealed files).

  • We agree that this would facilitate better service, as long as measures are in place to protect staff confidentiality.

25. That there be a province-wide protocol for release of information and records

  • We agree.

Training

We agree with all of the jury recommendations regarding training. Additional training requirements would require a significant increase to staffing and funding levels as current administrative and caseload levels are preventing standards from being met.

27. That MCYS establish and fund an authorization process for all workers, supervisors and directors.

  • Any process should allow for accommodations as appropriate.

28. That OACAS and MCYS should develop mandatory training on curriculum or risk assessment.

29. That OACAS and MCYS should develop a standard training module on intervention and assessment techniques for use when working with adults with mental health, addiction or a developmental disability.

30. That MCYS introduce mandatory annual training on Child Protection Standards (CPS).

31. That MCYS conduct consultations on certification/ authorization and ongoing training with bargaining agents, Office of the Child Advocate and the Office of the Children’s Lawyer.

32. That MCYS consider raising educational requirements starting with a B.S.W. and Master’s degree in related field and update job descriptions accordingly.

  • Agencies have been moving in this direction. This change could limit the diversity of knowledge in the profession offered by different schools of thought/disciplines. This recommendation would facilitate mandatory college registration.

64. That MCYS and OACAS develop mandatory training on crisis intervention.

65. That MCYS and OACAS establish compulsory training, including cyclical testing and formal individual evaluation.

96. That OACAS provide training on critical thinking and exercising clinical judgement and not rely rigidly on rules and procedures.

  • The current system discourages this practice.

97. That OACAS provide training on custody transfers.

98. That OACAS develop specific training on managing cases with complex custody issues.

100.That OACAS address training issues on sexual abuse.

114. That CASs train workers on rights set out in section 20(5) of the Children’s Law Reform Act.

Child Protection Information Network (CPIN)

We agree with all jury recommendations in this section.

33. That MCYS provide a mechanism, such as an anonymous online survey, for frontline workers to report problems with CPIN.

36. That CPIN be amended to ensure that the system records that children’s views have been solicited at all critical junctures.

37. That MCYS provide dedicated resources for uploading legacy records (PDFs).

38. That MCYS consult with and involve organizations representing frontline workers in any operational review or assessment of CPIN.

Child Protection Standards

41. That MCYS undertake a workload study to track time needed to meet Child Protection Standards and use the results to inform a review of the funding formula.

  • We agree. MCYS has refused to strike a committee on workload.

42. That MCYS amend standards to include a provision that a child be assessed by a medical practitioner at the beginning of an investigation at agency expense and that the report be added to file.

  • We do not agree with this recommendation, which would greatly increase workloads. It would override the clinical judgment of child protection workers and be very intrusive for clients. A better option would be for every CAS to have its own assigned medical clinic.

43. That MCYS amend Standard #8 so that all files at closing include a review of all records and databases to ensure that concerns identified at opening have been addressed and additional concerns have not been raised.

  • This additional requirement to re-check every file that has already been checked would add to the administrative burden for children protection workers.

44. That MCYS revise standards to provide a conferencing and reconciliation process in the event of disagreement among staff, including supervisors over referrals or coding.

  • We agree.

45. That MCYS commission an independent study to determine if the Eligibility Spectrum enhances or detracts from compliance with Child Protection Standards and if it hinders workers’ decision making.

  • Such a study is not necessary. Non-compliance with CPS is a workload issue.

46. That MCYS revise Standard #1 to require intake screeners to call 911 where imminent harm is assessed or initiate a joint (CAS and police) investigations protocol prior to passing the referral on to another agency or worker.

  • We agree.

47. That MCYS revise standards to provide possibility of less-than a 12-hour response time following referral.

  • We do not agree. Often we respond immediately but if mandated to respond immediately, we become first responders.

48. That MCYS amend standards to require supervisors to complete case notes of supervision meetings.

  • We agree.

49. That MCYS amend standards to establish a requirement to record documents that have been reviewed by workers and supervisors at key points and to require that be tracked in CPIN.

  • We agree.

53. That MCYS amend standards to require a written synopsis of historical information of an individual’s involvement with CAS and their risk history and ensure that this synopsis travels with the file and is updated as needed.

  • Previous CAS involvement history is already being done.

Funding

56. That MCYS consult with organizations that represent front-line workers during the review of the Child and Family Services Act and the funding formula.

  • We agree.

57. That MCYS immediately conduct a review of services to determine if the current funding model is limiting CASs’ ability to effectively carry out child protection services.

  • A study was recently completed by the Ontario government’s Commission to Promote Sustainable Child Welfare (2009-2012). The union has been making a case for years that the current funding model is inadequate. Since the funding formula was changed, services and jobs have been cut, further undermining our capacity to meet Child Protection Standards.

58. That MCYS commission a third party to study the single service child protection model against the multiservice protection/prevention model in Ontario to determine if clients are better served through single or multiservice agencies.

  • Core protection and prevention services should not be viewed as competing demands. Prevention services are integral to providing comprehensive service. No more studies are necessary.

59. That MCYS fund collaborative projects to enable CASs and Boards of Education to work together.

We agree.

173. That MCYS strongly consider the incorporation of child protection services in Ontario under one provincial structure in consultation/partnership with Association of Native Child and Family Services Agencies of Ontario and OACAS, as well as representatives from other cultural and religious agencies with a child protection mandate.

  • We support the creation of consistent child welfare practices across all CAS agencies. Ministry oversight and accountability should be strengthened. We recommend that the province fund an independent study to examine the merits of direct ministry oversight under one agency.