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Minister replies to PWC’s Child Advocate demand

The Minister of Children, Community, and Social Services has responded to a letter from OPSEU’s Provincial Women’s Committee (PWC) demanding the reinstatement of the Ontario Child Advocate.

Although the minister, Todd Smith, writes that “our government is working with the Ombudsman to better support the children, youth and families that interact with them,” he doesn’t commit to reinstating the Child Advocate.

Here is the text of his letter:

April 6, 2020
Ms. Dianne Clarabut
Chair
OPSEU Provincial Women’s Committee
100 Lesmill Road
Toronto, Ontario
M3B 3P8
OPSEUCommunicationsDepartment@opseu.org

Dear Ms. Clarabut:

Thank you for your letter on behalf of the Provincial Women’s Committee of the Ontario Public Services Union (OPSEU) and its members regarding the transfer of responsibility from the Office of the Ontario Child Advocate to the Office of the Ombudsman. I appreciate the opportunity to respond.

In May 2019, the Ontario Ombudsman’s office assumed oversight responsibility for investigations into services provided by children’s aid societies and residential services providers through the Restoring Trust, Transparency and Accountability Act, 2018. The act provides the Office of the Ombudsman with powers to investigate complaints about services provided to children and young persons by children’s aid societies and in licensed residential settings. These settings include children’s residences, youth justice facilities, foster care agencies and secure treatment programs. This gives the Ombudsman broader investigative power than the Child Advocate, who was limited to investigating children’s aid society services or services provided to children and youth by a residential licensee where a children’s aid society was the placing agency.

Our government is working with the Ombudsman to better support the children, youth and families that interact with them. The Child and Youth Unit is a dedicated team within the Ombudsman’s Office that answers questions, provides information about the rights of children and youth, conducts investigations, and assesses and investigates complaints from young people and adults who may have concerns about services provided under the Child, Youth and Family Services Act, 2017. We are confident that between the Ombudsman’s experienced team and the investigative team which transferred from the Ontario Child Advocate’s office, that Ontario’s children, youth and families are receiving high quality service.

We cannot redesign the systems that support children and youth without hearing from them directly. This includes listening to the voices of marginalized youth, racialized youth, and youth with involvement in the child welfare and youth justice systems. The Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services is committed to listening to what they have to say.

As of August 23, 2019, Ontario is engaging youth, families, caregivers, Indigenous partners, frontline workers and child welfare sector leaders on their experiences and ideas to strengthen the child protection and residential services systems for children and youth. We want to ensure that services are better coordinated, focused on prevention and are high-quality, culturally appropriate, and truly responsive to the needs of children, youth and families.

As part of our engagement on opportunities to strengthen and modernize the child welfare system, the ministry created an online survey to allow youth, as well as families and caregivers, frontline workers, and lawyers, to share their ideas with the ministry directly.

We received over 3,500 responses to the survey. This input is informing our plans for improvements in child welfare. We look forward to sharing more information on next steps for the child welfare system in the near future.

Again, thank you for writing.

Sincerely,

Todd Smith
Minister