Clerk Assistant (Ms Deborah Deller): The second order, second reading of Bill 6, An Act to amend the Child and Family Services Act in order to better promote the best interests, protection and well being of children / Projet de loi 6, Loi modifiant la Loi sur les services à l'enfance et à la famille afin de mieux promouvoir l'intérêt véritable de l'enfant, sa protection et son bien-être. Mrs Ecker.
Hon Mr Sterling: I move that, notwithstanding any standing order relating to Bill 6, An Act to amend the Child and Family Services Act in order to better promote the best interests, protection and well being of children, when Bill 6 is next called - well, it has been called - two hours and 30 minutes shall be allotted to the second reading stage of the bill;
That, at the end of two hours and 30 minutes the Speaker shall interrupt the proceeding and put every question necessary to dispose of the second reading stage of the bill and the bill shall then be referred to committee of the whole House for immediate consideration and that 25 minutes be allocated for consideration of the bill at this stage;
That, at the end of that 25-minute period, the Chair of the committee shall, without further debate or amendment, put every question necessary to dispose of all remaining sections of the bill and any amendments thereto and report the bill to the House;
That, upon receiving the report of the committee of the whole House, the Speaker shall put the question for adoption of the report forthwith, which question shall be decided without debate or amendment and at such time, the bill shall be ordered for third reading;
Ms Frances Lankin (Beaches-Woodbine): On a point of order, Mr Speaker: I would like to ask unanimous consent that the two hours and 30 minutes allotted for second reading stage of this bill be split evenly between the three parties.
Hon Janet Ecker (Minister of Community and Social Services): I move second reading of Bill 6, An Act to amend the Child and Family Services Act in order to better promote the best interests, protection and well being of children.
I'm very pleased to open debate on second reading of Bill 6, the Child and Family Services Amendment Act. As members well know, the purpose of these amendments is to provide new rules to ensure better protection of children at risk of neglect and abuse. They create new and stronger tools to enable front-line workers, professionals and the courts to do their jobs more effectively.
While the child protection system our government inherited in 1995 had some significant strengths, it also had some very troubling weaknesses. When I attended a meeting for provincial social services ministers in 1996 I saw that other provinces were facing similar challenges, and it helped to flag for me the need to examine our own system here in Ontario. In addition, the inquests into the deaths of children involved with children's aid societies and the report of the Ontario Child Mortality Task Force confirmed that some children were falling through the cracks.
But there was little consensus in those early days among child protection experts on what was required to fix the system. Some believed the answers lay simply in more resources. Some blamed it simply on the lack of proper training for front-line workers. Others focused on the legislation, but there were conflicts over whether the problem was with how the Child and Family Services Act was written or with how it was being applied.
Our first conclusion was that by simply throwing more money at the child protection system, while certainly needed, we couldn't do that without a plan and without priorities, because it just did not make sense. Second, we recognized that there was little to be gained from tearing everything down and starting over. Instead, we recognized that we need to build on the existing strengths to create a stronger child protection system.
The more we looked at the challenges we faced and the experiences of other provinces, the more we recognized the need to focus on the foundations of child protection and on the right mix of tools and resources necessary to protect children.
Over the past three years, we've been putting these tools and resources in place through a step-by-step reform of Ontario's child protection system. These steps include the new risk assessment system, now in place across the province to help protection workers make more informed judgments about children at risk; and the new information database to link all CASs to enable front-line workers to track high-risk families wherever they may move and be alerted to past involvement with a child protection agency. The database is already installed in over 40 sites and will be in all 54 CASs by the end of May.
In addition, we put in $15 million in new funding in 1997-98 for an extra 220 front-line workers and supervisors to improve other front-line support, such as the new database and better staff training. A commitment of $170 million was made in the 1998 budget to be spent over three years for CASs to support the hiring of an additional 760 child protection workers and supervisors to continue to move forward with better staff training and also, very importantly, to revitalize foster care. The first phase of this funding went out last year.
In addition, as well as the new resources we also have been putting in place a new funding framework for child protection that will reflect actual service needs of CASs and will support more equitable planning and effective management of all of these reforms.
We are also meeting with the Association of Native Child and Family Services of Ontario to discuss implementation of child welfare reform. Over the next few weeks, ministry staff will be in touch with the provincial association and the individual agencies about the next phase of the funding formula that will be flowing within weeks.
Child protection always involves very difficult questions for everyone involved, from front-line workers to health care professionals to the courts and to those of us in government. The stakes are always high, because when child protection fails, hindsight asks no easy questions of any of us.
That is why we have proceeded carefully but steadily, why we have consulted with all sectors of the child protection system. We have received excellent advice that has guided all the steps I've mentioned. In November 1997, I appointed a panel of distinguished experts, led by Judge Mary Jane Hatton, to consider the recommendations we had received from the various inquests into child deaths and also from the child mortality task force. We also asked the members of this expert panel to give us their advice on the adequacy of the current child protection rules in the Child and Family Services Act. Following consultations with parents, with youths, with professionals in the fields of child welfare, health, justice, law enforcement and education, the expert panel delivered its report in the spring of 1998.
The principal recommendation of the panel was that the Child and Family Services Act needed to strike a better balance between the concerns for the family, which are important, and the best interests of the child. The panel told us that it must be made clear that the paramount purpose of the act is to promote the best interests, protection and well-being of children. In plain language, when there are doubts about the safety of a child, they must always be resolved in the best interests of that child.
We listened to their advice and to the advice from the task force and the inquests, and that advice has been very helpful to us in developing a package of amendments that focuses on those areas most critical to better protecting children. The amendments we are considering today are the first significant changes to child protection legislation in Ontario in 10 years. Their purpose is to make clear that the legal framework for child protection puts the best interests of children first.
The threshold for triggering the protection of a child would be reduced from the current "substantial risk" to "risk that the child is likely to be harmed." This should result in earlier reporting and, where appropriate, earlier action taken to protect children.
The amendments would improve protection of children in cases of emotional harm and the risk of emotional harm by lowering the threshold for that definition of emotional harm from "severe" to "serious." This means that the child would have to experience serious anxiety, depression, withdrawal, self-destructive behaviour or delayed development, and the child would either not be receiving treatment to alleviate the harm or the harm would have to be caused by the parent.
The fourth priority is the need to improve what is called "permanency planning" for children in the care of a children's aid society. The proposed amendments would encourage earlier planning of permanent arrangements by reducing the time children may remain in the temporary care of a CAS.
The fifth broad objective of these amendments is to improve the access of children's aid societies to the information they need to fulfill their protection mandate. Court processes would be streamlined and the grounds for obtaining information expanded. A CAS would be allowed to apply for a warrant or telewarrant to obtain information during the up to 21 days allowed for a protection investigation. In addition, CASs would be allowed to make an application to a court where the information may be relevant to monitoring certain court orders.
Sixth, the Child and Family Services Act currently does not address conduct towards a child who has not been under a parent's or caregiver's direct care in the past. In future, with these amendments, evidence of past conduct towards any child, and not just the child in the person's care, would be admissible in any child protection proceeding. In addition, this evidence could be admitted at any stage in a child protection proceeding.
Finally, Bill 6 provides for a mandatory review of the Child and Family Services Act at least every five years and for that report to be made public. This reflects the government's view that the legal framework for child protection must be reviewed regularly to ensure it is responding sensitively and effectively to changing needs. So not only are we changing those rules that will have the most positive impact on child protection now, but we are also laying the groundwork for future necessary improvements to this very important legislation.
As I mentioned earlier, effective child protection requires a careful mix of tools and resources for front-line workers, professionals and the courts. The step-by-step approach we have taken to reforming the child protection system is addressing each of these needs in a systematic and comprehensive fashion.
The ongoing investments and improvements I have described, combined with the amendments we are addressing today, will strengthen the foundations of child protection in Ontario. They will ensure regular review of the legislative framework, and they will ensure the consideration of future improvements. They also reflect the very broad consultations we have conducted and the helpful advice we have been given.
All of these changes provide children's aid societies and their workers with the tools and resources they need to better protect children. They make clear that the best interests, protection and well-being of children are always paramount and that protecting vulnerable children must always come first.
In closing, I would like not only to thank the members of the ministry staff for their work on this, but I would also like to recognize that we have in the gallery here this evening with us many of the individuals who helped us prepare these amendments: Mary McConville, Sandy Moshenko, both from the Ontario Association of Children's Aid Societies; Terry Daley, with the Toronto Catholic CAS; Melanie Persaud, who is also with the association; Bruce Rivers, who is with the Toronto CAS; Kristina Reitmeier, with the Toronto CAS; and Marv Bernstein, with the Toronto Catholic CAS. Also, from the expert panel, we have with us tonight Professor Nico Trocmé, and I understand his son Paul is with him in the gallery tonight; also, Theresa Ortiz and Dr Harriet MacMillan, who were very instrumental in helping us move forward in our reforms.
Let me begin by speaking briefly to the process we've endured to bring forward a better child protection bill and the disappointment we in the Ontario Liberal Party have had to have seen the stagnant, often moving-backward flow of this bill. People will remember that before Christmas, in fact in October, when the bill was first brought into the House, we had every intention of having the opportunity to go forward with hearings, which is an appropriate process for a bill of this importance and a bill that has this kind of impact on the lives of families and in particular on the lives of children.
We were very disappointed to see that once the bill had been introduced it was gone, never to be seen again until the 11th hour before Christmas, when suddenly it was revitalized and discussions ensued about how on earth we were going to finish discussion, debate and approving of this bill, and would we then start consideration of no hearings, no travelling in Ontario, no meetings with other groups. It occurred to us then that the government probably never did have any intention of allowing appropriate debate with this bill.
That is our greatest concern, that here we have a bill - in my view, one of the few times you would likely have all-party support for legislation - stymied instead by the process, because this government has never put children first, that has never been a priority. I would like to contrast that with the kind of priorities Mike Harris has had since he was elected in 1995.
From the very beginning, the cuts that hurt the most in Ontario were cuts that affected children. They were the ones who had no voice to bring forward their concerns or the fact that they weren't getting service. One of the greatest impacts those cuts Mike Harris made had was specifically on children's aid and the clients and families those associations service, in every community across Ontario, both through children's aid societies and through children's mental health agencies that deal with these children and in the other part of the mandate of the children's aid society, which, for the most part right across Ontario, it has yet to fulfill in this term of government, and that is a prevention factor. The children's aids are also required to be operating in the area of prevention, so that families never get in crisis, so that children never are taken into care through children's aid.
I would probably guess, and be very close to suggest, that we cannot remember what year this decade the children's aid actually had the appropriate funding, time, staff and resources to engage in preventive measures, because they have been in crisis for that long.
During the years of the NDP, under the social contract, the children's aids were not spared in terms of the amount of funding that was taken away from them. When Mike Harris was elected, he made those cuts permanent, and then they continued. At that same time, families across Ontario became more in crisis than ever in the history of Ontario, and intake numbers at children's aid went through the roof. At the very same time that the law for child protection was for a long time viewed as inadequate, we also had very inadequate funding levels to deal with the cases we had. So yes, the bill has always been required. These amendments have been required for some time.
To make matters worse, governments for the last several years have also not addressed the issue of appropriate staffing levels of children's aid. They have not addressed the issue of appropriate preventive behaviour and intervention for families so those families never got in crisis to begin with. The experts in the field, the professionals who deal with children, have often talked about, "Spend $1 today and save $7 tomorrow or down the road." That has always been the case in the area of intervention for children. When we talk about children's mental health agencies that often are the first line, day care centres that are often the first line that notice there may be something wrong with this child, that there's something going on in the family that we need to take a closer look at, these same agencies and professionals that work for children have never had the appropriate resources to step in and apply the kind of interventions to stop a family going down the road where eventually children's aid needs to be called.
The number of cases that children's aid societies have seen in Ontario has skyrocketed. That is not something this government can be proud of, because a number of policies brought forward by Mike Harris today in Ontario have caused that to happen. We have more financial crises in families today than ever before and in particular with families that were vulnerable to begin with. We have services that have been cut in the school system, where identification often happened and intervention also happened. We have fewer psychologists who work for boards of education today in Ontario than ever in the history of our province. That is not something this government can be proud of. We have fewer sociologists, fewer people who work for boards of education to do the kind of intervention they used to.
All of those social agencies that have had the squeeze put on them over the last several years through the social contract, made permanent by the Mike Harris government, still today do not have the time or the energy or the extra resources to do that extra little bit those special children need. The result is that families move along that continuum into crisis faster than ever before.
Since this government was elected, they've made the motions of introducing all kinds of new funding formulas. I ask the people who are here representing the children's aids today in the gallery, how long have we been talking about a new way to fund children's aid? How many months ago did we have an announcement about reviewing and revising and coming up with a better formula? I ask the people who are up in the gallery today who have long been talking about work studies for the people who work for children's aid, how many people is enough to care for these children?
We still do not have a new model for funding of children's aid. Today in Ontario we have more debt on the backs of children's aid societies than ever in the history of the province and about the same amount in total as Mike Harris has spent on propaganda advertising for his own re-election campaign at the expense of taxpayers; more than $100 million in contingency funding that is now in debt to children's aid. Is that something this government can be proud of, that they can honestly stand up today as heroes on behalf of children when we have more debt at the children's aid level than ever before?
We have a letter that has come to us from the professionals who work for children's aid. They said, "Unfortunately, when we met with officials from the Ministry of Community and Social Services in May 1998" - which is less than a year ago - "we were told in no uncertain terms that the government would not even consider participating in a workload study of any kind." The reason this is so important is that with the changes that will be coming, many of which we agree with in full, which we would advance ourselves, they will require more work, more time, more resources to implement.
If we have a crisis in the protection of children today with the current act that protects children - for a whole number of reasons, there is a huge number, an absolute, exponential growth in intake of children in the system today, more than ever before. We have the highest level of leaves of absence for people who work for children's aid and the highest level of sick time taken by those same workers. The stress levels have never been reported to be this high. The caseloads are very high.
That means the workers who work in the system today cannot manage the system today, and everyone acknowledges that with the passing of a new, tougher law to protect children, more children will come into care, because you will raise the bar to get these children to safety. If we are inadequate in upholding the law today, what will that mean for the future when the law is passed? We still will not have the resources available to implement the new law.
I asked the people who represent the people from children's aid, the workers, "If you cannot support the law and enact it and make sure it is working for kids the way it is now, a weaker law, how will the children be better protected because you have better words in black and white, in law, tomorrow, so that at the end of the night tonight we can all stand proudly and say, `Look at the strong law' that has nothing to do with the implementation of this on the front lines for those families that are in crisis today?"
Tomorrow we are not magically going to have the better number of resources so that the caseload per worker is improved. This is the gang that cut funding to children's aid, that continued to talk about a better funding formula for children's aid, that continues to talk about how, "We'll do something about that contingency funding." Instead, children's aids are spending money on banking services because they are in debt.
It was more than a year or two ago that Halton children's aid said: "Here are the keys to the children's aid. You run it." The London children's aid decided, against their better judgment, against what is in law, that they cannot be in debt: "Forget it. We're hiring 20 more workers. The government be damned. We need the people. The children are in crisis."
Those are the kinds of circumstances that are out there today with a weaker law, so let's not pretend that all of a sudden tomorrow morning we can all get up and feel good about ourselves because we've done better for the kids in Ontario. You have a record that you cannot run from in the area of children.
We have a 12-year-old boy who is discovered by his mother to have a loaded gun under his bed, and in an absolute terror and panic she calls the children's aid, only to be told: "We have no room for this boy. We can't do anything for you." That happened this year, only to find that we don't have residential programs to take these children in crisis to. You have fewer day programs today than you had last year, never mind when you were elected in 1995.
Those kinds of issues are intertwined with the new law that you want to create. Don't come into this House and laud this new risk assessment tool, because what it means for the workers who deal with the families is that each case takes more and more time to do the important work of tracking with this new assessment system. Don't laud yourselves because you have a new computer program that's going to do better tracking, because every one of those cases now takes more time. When you introduce those things, as good a tool as they are, a computer is useless if you don't have enough workers to work the system. Your caseloads have gone through the roof, and you haven't addressed the funding issue. What is the point of having a Cadillac on the highway if you don't have the keys?
That's the point we are trying to make. We have said from the very beginning that in the area of children's services you need to properly fund in the right places. We've said from the beginning that you need to have intervention measures early. Why, if it is mandated in the act, have there not been any prevention programs at the children's aid level for years? Because they have been so cash-strapped and so busy dealing with the crisis in families since long before I can remember that they haven't been able to enact the law that currently exists, which everyone acknowledges is a weak law.
After tonight we're going to have a great new, strong law. Is that going to make it better for you, so that when the Toronto Star launches its next edition for a coroner's inquest, you can stand up and say, "Well, we have a great new, strong law"? These people have told you this from the beginning of time, and you haven't listened.
When Dr Fraser Mustard released his report a couple of weeks ago, Mike Harris all of a sudden found religion. He all of a sudden decided, "Why, those early years are really important." So he introduced pilot projects. Where are those high-paid staffers who are usually sitting back there? Did anyone suggest to the Premier that he had actually cut those same pilot projects in his first year of government -
He has the gall now to talk about junior kindergarten and its importance, because sometimes that can be the first intervention that a professional has to see that there may be a child in need. Now he wants to talk about funding of junior kindergarten, after 22 school boards, equalling 60,000 children, have lost junior kindergarten under this government. That is your record.
Mrs Pupatello: For the first time, in 1995, the Ontario Liberal Party announced a critic for children's issues, and after a year or so, the government responded by enacting a mere figurehead position of a minister without portfolio for children, responsible for something or other; we haven't figured out what. The fact of the matter is, it was for show. You had a minister responsible for children who had no budgetary authority. We could never figure out what the mandate was. It had some office or other somewhere with staffing, and it made it look like, "We've got this focus on kids." You had no control through this minister to make sure that cuts weren't affecting children negatively. You had no authority through this minister, when Mike Harris was cutting the pilot projects that were so critical, that Dr Fraser Mustard today is advancing as critical for early years development, to say, "Hey, those are the things we cut."
Instead, what we had in 1995 was a government that cut every single children's planning council in every region across Ontario. Then we had this new minister for children say: "I'm going to have to do a tour. We're going to have to go around Ontario to see exactly the kinds of children's programs that exist out there." We said, "You know, that's exactly what the children's planning councils had for you, but you cut those in 1995." Maybe we could have taken all that money and actually used it, say, for a contingency fund or two for some of those children's aids that are paying debt servicing charges because they have the greatest debt they have ever had, because you cut the children's aid while you were at it.
I want a children's minister in this House who is actually going to protect children, who will actually stand up and say, "We need to have intervention services before those kids are in crisis." We are talking about a government that has advanced a "making services work for people" document, with all of the euphemisms and jargon, that essentially boils down to the theme of, "We as government will only help those most in need." That is just another language for, "Children will continue to be in crisis, and when they get into crisis, we'll have to intervene." That is cruel treatment of children in Ontario. That is cruel treatment of our very youngest citizens, who deserve better attention than that.
We would have children who may have been identified for four or five years and not have intervention services available to them because the system has been cut. Those are the children who are ending up in the now cash-strapped children's aid. Police officers on the street will tell you that they could identify the children 10 years before; when they now are picking them up for shoplifting, they can identify them. What kind of cruelty are we advancing when we won't go forward and intervene sooner than that, when we actually have to get them into the child protection system?
We must equate these two discussions tonight while we advance this bill, which we hope will be a good bill. The truth of the matter is that with no public hearings, all we can do is read the final report of the expert panel the government put together. Here is a government with no respect for Her Majesty's loyal opposition or the role that an opposition plays in the House. We need to see, through a public hearings system, that people come forward to speak openly and freely about what they feel is wrong with a bill that will then affect all of our lives. Why can we not have the comments -
Mrs Pupatello: The member for Kitchener ought to know better, because this government, even in December, would not have allowed hearings. I think you should get your facts straight before you shoot your mouth off. There are comments here from the -
Mrs Pupatello: Thank you, Chair, and the member is wrong. The Ojibway Tribal Family Services, for example, ought to have had the opportunity - and here we have Colin Wasacase, the OTFS executive director, who expresses extreme concerns about the treatment of native children under this new, stronger law. We do have a ministry responsible for native issues. Have they had any intervention in the creation of this new law? The minister, who is here in the House this evening with us, has he had any intervention to say, "By the way, what is that doing for children of the native community?" Had we had a public appeal process, we might have found out what all their concerns were, because they are not addressed in this bill the way it's written.
In fact, he says they "continue to be extremely concerned as to the devastating effects of proposed amendments to the CFSA the child protection bill will have on children and families of our First Nations communities. There is an absence of respect and due consideration that should be given to the extensive customary supports that are available within our First Nation communities to enable our children to remain where they belong. Our first-hand experience of what occurs when our children are apprehended and placed in non-native foster homes" is critical to them because from the native community perspective they want to keep their children in their communities. Something needs to happen to ensure that this be done. At the same time the government, through its law, has to make sure those children are all protected.
Going back to the workload crisis in children's aid, it isn't as though the minister and the government hadn't been aware of the crisis in workloads. I did tours with workers on the job to see the kind of workload they were dealing with and the kind of hours they kept. I have to say that the lion's share of all of the people who work in this system will likely never be millionaires at their job. They come to this kind of work as a vocation, as opposed to a job, because they can't be doing it for the money or the hours. The work is gruelling. These are the kinds of individuals who go into their own pocket to buy the special prom dress for the little girl who just doesn't have the money. These are the kinds of people who go home thinking about these cases night after night, to see that those kids they're really worried about are going to be safe.
How has the government responded to that, and what allowance is the government, through its funding models, measures or levels, giving to the children's aid so that they can make sure we don't just push them all right over the bridge? So many of them are on the edge now. I must read this letter - just a portion - from Leah Casselman of OPSEU. I think you need to understand how critical the workload issue is, and it's not new just this term. It was the same case under the NDP government as well.
"The workload crisis in children's aid societies across Ontario has never been more critical as agencies struggle to comply with new standards and guidelines for investigations, new recording expectations and the dramatic increase in reports of child abuse and neglect. As a result, our members are deeply concerned about their ability to properly protect children in their communities and are concerned that children are now more at risk than ever."
I want to ask the members opposite one question: When in the history of anyone's experience as an employer or an employee would you ever offer the opportunity to tell the world that you can't do your job unless it were true? When would you ever go forward and say, "We can't do this"? Everyone wants to say they're able to do their work, but in this case they know that because of their workload, because they're not getting through their cases, because they know they need to do more for every one of those cases, they're not meeting it. They know their people are going home thinking, "I should have been able to do more." That becomes the government's responsibility.
There were a number of people, especially those representing foster parents, who were very kind to submit some information to us. Rick Crandall from the Hamilton area, who is president of the foster parents' association from that region, said very clearly:
"Are our MPPs culpable in the death of baby Tamara Thomas? The recent death of baby Tamara Thomas in Toronto only highlights the tragedy of our MPPs' failure to act responsibly and pass the now dead Bill 73. They not only failed to act upon inquest recommendations, but they continue to handcuff protection workers and are leaving our most vulnerable children at risk."
When the bill is passed tonight, I don't want the minister or ministers breaking open the champagne because you managed to get a bill through. You hurried us through with no hearings, a horrible process for probably the most important bill the government has had in the last four years. Even in this important matter, you couldn't get it right when you had all-party support for this topic. You failed these children. Tomorrow morning when we wake up, the system will still be vastly underfunded, there won't be enough protection workers and the workers will still go home every night and wonder, "Have I been able to do enough, and have I been able to get the services to that family?"
Hon Mrs Marland: I'm not sure in debate whether I rise as the member for Mississauga South or the minister responsible for children. In either hat, I'm very proud to stand in support of this bill this evening.
For the member for Windsor-Sandwich to get up with such a vitriolic style that is so personally attacking of people in the government is one style of debate. Another style of debate is to do your homework. I'm quite sure that whether or not you agree with the member for Beaches-Woodbine, you will find a difference in the calibre of debate. The member for Beaches-Woodbine does her homework and she, I'm quite sure, has read the Early Years Study.
The member for Windsor-Sandwich said that since Dr Fraser Mustard and the Honourable Margaret McCain released the Early Years Study, and I quote, "The Premier found religion." What this member forgets is that asking Dr Fraser Mustard and the Honourable Margaret McCain to do the study was the sole decision of one person in this province: Premier Mike Harris. He is the person who, for the first time in the history of this province, decided to put children first to the point where he did appoint a minister responsible for children and a children's secretariat. It may well be that the member for Windsor-Sandwich doesn't understand what that role is or what that has represented, and yet the very fact that I was not given a full-line ministry speaks volumes, because -
Hon Mrs Marland: What it means is that I had no strings tied to any encumbrances of ministries in terms of allegiance or a loyalty. I could look very closely at everything that came to the cabinet table in terms of whether there was an impact on the children in Ontario, and that is the best part.
Just to get back to the Early Years Study, the Premier first of all met with Dr Fraser Mustard himself and then decided that he would like to step forward, make the appointment of a minister responsible for children and then commission this study. I think to make the kinds of comments the member has made speaks volumes about the fact that she doesn't understand the study. Apart from the fact that it has very worthy recommendations and she knows full well that our government has endorsed this report, the report itself commends our government on what we've been doing, commends our government on the early intervention programs.
She speaks of how important early intervention is - absolutely right - but did the Liberal government in its five years develop any early intervention programs? At least the NDP government developed Better Beginnings, Better Futures. I was here and that's the problem, you see. That member may have got her researchers to do some work, but I certainly recall that all the concerns you're referring to tonight were concerns when the Liberals were the government sitting on this side of the House.
So we introduced Healthy Babies, Healthy Children, a program that our government is particularly proud of. It's a new program in which we have already doubled the funding from $10 million to $20 million. Next year it's $50 million a year because we recognize that that is the amount of money that is needed. Once the program started, the people involved in the program said, "It needs more money." We have committed more money to it.
That's a program that for the first time will screen every newborn baby, and on average, for the last two or three years, that has been 150,000. Every newborn baby is screened at birth as to whether they will be at any kind of risk. From that screening, they are then referred to the intervention and prevention program. Whatever they require, they are hooked into those local community-based programs.
You know also that another program, which is an early intervention program which our government has introduced and also increased the funding for, a critical program, is the preschool speech and language program. Where children start school with a severe communications problem, therefore a socialization problem, low self-esteem, that particular problem becomes compounded.
The fact that we have now moved first is tremendously exciting. I congratulate all the work that Dr Fraser Mustard, the Honourable Margaret McCain and the 10 members of their reference group put into that report. The 10 people in that reference group are all very well known, renowned experts in all of their individual fields. I think to talk about the report in such an offhand way insults those people who produced that report, who in turn commended our government on the work we've done so far and gave us a pathway to go in the future. That member knows we made that commitment in the throne speech a week ago, and to criticize the Premier by saying - in fact, the expression is ridiculous, so I won't even repeat it, because I really don't want to give credence to it.
I feel particularly confident about the future of children in this province in that now very-high-priority area of protection. What is in this bill that we are about to pass tonight are those areas that have been thoroughly researched, that the people who work in the field, all the professionals in many different areas who are involved with child protection, have been asking for for a very long time. It's our government that has brought the bill forward; it's our government that is amending the Child and Family Services Act for the first time in over a decade. I'm very proud of that, as the minister responsible for children, and I'm particularly proud of the commitment by the Minister of Community and Social Services who, with her staff, has worked extremely hard to get that legislation drafted. She herself would tell you that the commitment was a personal one on her part. That's why things work, and because the Premier made a personal commitment on his part for the future of children in this province by appointing Dr Fraser Mustard and the Honourable Margaret McCain to do their study.
One of the recommendations Dr Fraser Mustard made, as a matter of fact, not in the report but in his meeting with the Premier, was that there should be a minister who could speak for children at the highest level possible, which is the cabinet table. It's not about having a budget and another 20,000 staff and a whole bureaucracy; it's a matter of somebody being there who looks at what every ministry in government does for children. I'm very grateful to have had that opportunity; I'm very grateful to the Premier for giving me that privilege of being the first minister for children in the history of this province. I look forward to the impact of this bill that is before us tonight because of the partnership and dedication of the Minister of Community and Social Services and her staff who drafted it.
Mr Frank Miclash (Kenora): I find it truly unfortunate that we have a bill before us here that did not go to committee hearings. This is yet another slam in terms of how this government feels about northern Ontario. There were a good number of people, a good number of my constituents, in northern Ontario who were looking forward to making comments, making recommendations in terms of this particular piece of legislation, the Child and Family Services Act, and the amendments to it. They certainly were very disappointed that they did not have a chance to do that.
As has been mentioned earlier, the Ojibway Tribal Family Services is an agency that services a good number of communities in my riding. They are truly very upset that their concerns, their traditions and their background were not taken into consideration when it came to this bill. They make a very strong statement. I think this is one of the strongest statements I have ever heard against any government that has drafted a bill. They say: "To suggest that these proposed amendments promote `cultural genocide' would not, in our belief, be an improper statement. How else does one characterize a child being forcibly removed from their First Nation community and thus being deprived of their rightful heritage and First Nations family entitlement." That's one of the strongest statements that has ever been directed to a piece of legislation in this Legislature.
A good number of those agencies are feeling that this government had no respect, absolutely no idea of their cultural backgrounds, how they could fit into the legislation. They're extremely upset. They go on to say: "We sincerely believe that the proposed amendments...do not acknowledge the predominant role the First Nation must assume in intervention and support for our children. It is our urgent recommendation that, rather than giving additional and intrusive powers to the CASs, it would be more appropriate to provide additional financial resources to organizations such as the Ojibway Tribal Family Services and to First Nation communities so that culturally appropriate" - again, I go back to culturally appropriate - "family supports and prevention programs may be instituted." These are statements made with regard to this legislation, which showed total neglect for our First Nation cultures and for some of the problems they have had to put up with.
We've talked about Children First in this Legislature a good number of times. Our party will be going into the next election with a very important document. It actually puts children where they belong: It puts children first. By ignoring its responsibility, this government just shows how it feels towards the needs of one part of our society that needs the most protection. Again, it's truly uncalled for in terms of not allowing not only people from northern Ontario and First Nation communities, but people from across the province, to have had input into this very important piece of legislation. There's a lot of distrust of this government, what they have done in terms of this particular piece of legislation, and a lot of real concern among First Nation communities throughout Ontario.
Ms Lankin: Let me begin the debate on this bill by recalling for all of us the reason we're here debating this tonight. I want us to remember Lisa McLean, I want us to remember Shanay Johnson, Angela and David Dombroskie, Jamie Lee and Devin Burns, Kasandra Hislop Shepherd, Margaret and Wilson Kasonde, Jennifer Kovalskyj-England - children who died in this province, children whose deaths were examined by a coroner, where reports were issued, recommendations upon recommendations have been issued, recommendations which an expert panel was struck to look into, recommendations to a government, and a bill based largely on those recommendations was brought forward.
Many people in this House know my thoughts and my concerns about how the government has handled this bill in terms of process, and how many people, unfortunately, well-intentioned people in various stakeholder groups, bought into the government's agenda on process. I think that's shameful, but I'm not going to waste the precious time we have tonight in this House to talk about a matter of such important public policy and a bill that I believe is so important to once again castigate the government on process - although I know it's on the record, and it's something I will remember for a long time in terms of how this government has set its legislative priorities.
Why, then, in the last minutes of a government, would we agree to such an abysmal process, taking a matter of such public importance and allowing it to be rammed through the Legislature in one evening sitting, without proper attention being given to the details in the bill and without proper hearings from members of the public who have points of view? I guess I come back to reading out those children's names. I guess that's the reason, because the one thing above all that the bill does is bring into the realm of legislative protection the issue of children who are neglected. For years the issue of neglect was not a ground for children being given protection. The bill corrects that, and it's good in that respect.
Those children whose names I read out - I know all of us feel the emotion, when you think about that - those children who died, unfortunately are just the tip of the iceberg. There are many more children who are neglected than there are children who are actually abused, believe it or not, in our great province. Neglected children, because of the sheer number, are far more likely to be reported to children's aid societies, are far more likely, in the end, to reach a point of crisis and perhaps even to die. They're far more likely to have a range of problems throughout their years - dropping out of school, health problems, a whole range of things - which until now there has not been an ability for us as a society to intervene in, to do something with the power of the law behind us.
Of course, there have always been mechanisms, if resources were put in place - early intervention and prevention resources. But we know, despite some of the statements that have been made by members of the government, that those resources are lacking, that there aren't enough, and there haven't been enough for a long time. The force of the law allowing child protection workers to act in a situation of neglect is an important change that is happening in this legislation tonight.
We also know that while improving the law is not going to be the total answer, some of the recommendations made by the expert panel which are being enshrined into legislation may save some lives and may allow our child welfare system to do a better job of protecting children. I say "may," and I want to come back to that in a moment because I think there are some pretty important caveats to place on this debate about the importance of the actual legislative framework, and I want to have an opportunity to do that.
As we look at the bill, it has been pointed out that we only have in front of us what the minister and the government chose to bring forward. We don't have the benefit of comment and discussion with members of the expert panel, for example. They weren't allowed to come before a hearing, because the government didn't allow hearings to be held. We don't have the points of view of those who hold some contrary opinions.
But we do know some things. We know that the government didn't bring forward all of the recommendations from the expert panel. I had hoped perhaps tonight in the debate we might have heard from some government members. I know the parliamentary assistant has yet to speak, and perhaps he might address some of these points.
The expert panel, for example, talked about extending child protection to 16- and 17-year-olds. The government chose not to do that. Why? Shouldn't we have that discussion? Shouldn't we know, at the same time the government has cut support to social assistance programs to 16- and 17-year-olds and placed tremendous restrictions on them? We're saying: "You're on your own. You can't have government support if you're leaving a situation unless you can prove it's a situation of abuse, but we're not going to give you the tools legally to prove it's a situation of abuse, because children's aid society child protection workers don't have the right to step in and make a finding." Why? What's the contradiction? That was a recommendation of the expert panel. Why was that ignored?
The panel recommended including exposure to domestic violence and significant substance abuse by a parent or another person having charge of a child as grounds for protection. Why did the government refuse to implement that recommendation? What were the reasons behind that? What was the concern?
I can imagine there might be some concerns that would be raised by those who are working in the women's shelter and family violence sectors about whether or not there would be a chilling effect on reporting of situations of family violence if there was a fear that children might be removed from the family as a result of that. We might have heard that if we had been allowed to have some discussion about this very important recommendation; we might have been able to weigh the thoughts and concerns of thoughtful, concerned people on both sides of the issue and make a decision as legislators. But the government made that decision, for what reason we do not know.
The expert panel recommended that in certain circumstances there be adoption with contact or that access be allowed after adoption had taken place, access by the natural parents or the parents who were in charge at the time a protection order was put in place. There may be grounds, for reasons of stability and healthy development of the child, to allow continued access. That provision was not included in the amendments. Why? It was part of the expert panel recommendations the minister has referred to over and over again, yet that wasn't included. We don't know why.
Relaxing adoption disclosure regulations: This is another whole area. I know if the member for Riverdale were able to take part in the debate tonight, she would want it stressed that the minister had on many occasions promised those in the community who have been looking for adoption disclosure changes that when the bill, the Child and Family Services Act, was opened up for any amendments, that issue would be addressed. Of course, we know that whole set of provisions and any amendment to it and any debate about it has been swept under the rug. We don't know why. We don't know why the government is refusing to move on that, particularly when there have been resolutions and private members' bills passed by all three parties in the House, but that's not here.
However, despite those shortcomings, many people who are involved in child protection would argue that, on balance, the changes are important enough that the bill should go ahead. In fact, they have argued that, vociferously. I wish they had been as vociferous in their argument with the government that it deserved public hearings, but so be it. The bottom line, and I agree with them on that, is that we are able to pass the legislation.
I want to talk about some of the concerns we might also have heard on a range of issues if hearings had been held. One of the things we would have heard is how the bill doesn't address, at all, issues of prevention. Granted, the expert panel's report was around issues of child protection and the bill follows in the line of those recommendations to a certain degree. I've noted some exceptions already. But the whole area of prevention, the whole area of positive support to parenting, is something that lies outside of the bill and has been failed abysmally by this government's actions in a whole range of areas.
I note one of the additional grounds, one of the definitions that has been added to the legislation, along with severe psychological harm, for example, is delayed development. Well, what about the supports to the associations for community living, the way in which the funding has been cut, the way in which families dealing with children with delayed development are scratching everywhere they can to try to put together the services to meet their family's needs?
What about children with multiple developmental problems, physical and emotional, who seek help through children's treatment and rehabilitation centres, where the budgets have been frozen for over six years now, promising a review which is just being completed and they're being told won't be implemented until some time in the year 2000, after the government sorts it out with other reviews of other children's sectors?
What about the growing waiting lists and the need for early intervention? There are over 3,600 children on waiting lists for children's treatment centres right now. The delay in getting treatment is somewhere in the six- to eight-month range. How does that accord with legislation that will allow child protection workers - or not allow, will suggest that they need to move in early to protect a child who is at risk of likelihood of suffering delayed development because of situations in the home when the services aren't there to help? The whole prevention side is missing.
Let me talk about children's mental health. There are over 7,000 children and youth on waiting lists for services for children's mental health. Many of those families are stretched beyond their own resources, not just financially but emotionally, to be able to cope, to be able to provide the kind of loving support for a child who is troubled. Many of those parents recognize the early warning signs. They are crying out for help. The government's response in terms of the legislation may provide a protection regime to remove the child from that situation, but what it doesn't do is start before that to try to provide the supports to the family and get the treatment that's necessary for the child or for the youth in a timely fashion to prevent the family from hitting the point of crisis where child protection agencies need to step in.
I could go on on that point, but let's talk about just within children's aid societies themselves and their circumstances. You've heard there haven't been the additional resources put into prevention. What about the necessary resources simply to deal with the increased workload as a result of a whole range of cutbacks in family and social services and community services, families at greater risk, at greater stress, more kids in need of support and help and protection, along with new risk assessment tools which take a dramatically longer period of time to implement, and rightly so - they're much more thorough - along with inadequate funding and rising caseloads? Let's just talk about that for a moment.
Let's talk about some other recommendations the government seems to have ignored. Let me look at the report on the inquests into the deaths of children. I referred to these earlier. There are a lot of recommendations here which found their way into the expert panel's report and into government action.
Let me take a look at the recommendations around the funding formula. They talk about providing adequate resources to meet "agreed upon caseload-workload standards." What are they referring to when they talk about "agreed upon" standards? If you look down further in the recommendations, it says, "develop and adopt caseload-workload standards in conjunction with...the Ontario Association of Children's Aid Societies, the Ontario Public Service Employees Union...for the child protection functions prescribed in the Child and Family Services Act," its regulations, standards and guidelines established for practice.
OPSEU, I can tell you - it's a union I've had a long affiliation with - has for months been attempting to get the government to sit down and do a joint workload study to develop the appropriate standards around caseloads. We know there are international standards. You're already seeing workers in the system anywhere from 30% to 38% to 40% over international standards for caseloads. The government has failed to address that. The minister has spoken about putting in $90 million over the next three years, but I have to say that while I applaud moving from a funding system which had a base budget and contingency funding where over the years, with increasing caseloads, we saw the contingency funding being used each year as a matter of course, while I applaud rolling that into the base budget, that's not addressing higher caseload. That's simply maintaining the status quo, but in a much more secure way so that children's aid societies supposedly will know what their budgets are.
Let me just say a word about that. We are already into the second month of this new fiscal year, and as of last week - I don't know if anything has changed on Friday or today - children's aid societies had not yet had their budgets confirmed. The minister knows I have, for almost two months now, been attempting to get from her ministry detailed notes on the new funding formula and how it's being implemented. I've appealed to her ministry, I've appealed to the minister's staff, I have appealed to the minister personally; I am still without any of that information.
Ms Lankin: The formula, it appears, is still a work in progress. Children's aid societies, it appears, are still waiting for their budget numbers. Some have had their budgets cash-flowed on the basis of last year's budgets. Some have had their money pro-rated cash-flowed on the basis of last year's actual expenditures. Others, as you have heard, have decided to borrow and take out lines of credit against what they think their budget is going to be under the new formula.
These are issues that are critical, because these are issues about how we resource this new legislation that is coming into effect. If studies like those done by the Ottawa-Carleton Children's Aid Society and their workers about the new risk assessment tool are correct, where it shows that it takes up to six hours to properly use that tool, I think their analysis was that they would have to almost double their staff to deal appropriately with the caseload.
What is the problem here? What does that mean? What it means is that in legislation where you are dramatically changing the threshold at which point child protection workers will step in to say that there are grounds where a child needs protection, step in to remove a child from a family, where they don't have the time to properly implement and use the new tools - the very good, thorough new tools that are being provided by the government - the worker is left in an absolutely untenable situation.
The expectation is to move in quicker, to ensure that our children are not at risk, and we would all want that. But the inability, in terms of the volume of caseload they have, to spend the appropriate amount of time to assess that risk in the way that it should be done, with files sitting on their desk, mounting up, in which they might know or might fear that any day one of those children might become one of the children whose death is going to be looked into next by the coroner, leaves children's aid workers in an absolutely untenable position. In the issue of budgeting for the actual implementation of this legislation, the new so-called tools that are being provided to support this legislation, as well as the issue of prevention, must be addressed if this is to be at all meaningful.
I want to talk about some of the provisions of the legislation that have given people out there some concern. Again, these are things that warranted discussion in public hearings, because I think there might be answers to some of these. But we don't know what answers would have been in the minister's mind, or perhaps even in the expert panel and what they might have said.
There's a concern about the change in the threshold in the definition of a child in need of protection. As the minister referred to earlier, the existing legislation talks about "substantial risk" that a child will suffer, and then there are a number of categories of definition of harm; for example, physical harm, or that "the child has been sexually molested or sexually exploited" due to the acts of a parent or a failure of a parent to adequately care for, provide for, supervise or protect the child. The threshold, though, is the first part of that phrase that I read out, "substantial risk that the child will suffer." Those words, as the minister again pointed out, are being changed to "a risk that the child is to suffer harm." Some people in the area of family law are asking: "What is the definition of `risk'? Of what proportion is the risk? Is it any risk? Is there a threshold in the definition of `risk'?"
We know this will evolve through the courts, we know this will be tested out over time, but what's the expectation? Perhaps some discussion among people about that might have given some clear thought; perhaps the legislators might have been able to talk about it after the hearings in third reading debate in a way that would give instruction to judges in the future in terms of what our intent was. That opportunity is missed.
The concern is that we have a risk of unstated proportion that a child is likely - well, again likely. I guess that's more than a possibility; perhaps it's a probability. If there's a risk that they're likely to, maybe it's a possibility that they probably will suffer harm.
I don't want to nitpick around words, because what we're dealing with here are kids' lives, and this is critically important, but I want to stress that the words carry with them legal meaning and legal import and that courts will in fact interpret those.
Minister, you shake your head. Maybe you've got all of the answers because maybe you worked beside these people through the whole process and you had the opportunity to talk to them, to question and to listen to them, but no other legislator in this place had that same opportunity or got to hear the debate between well-intentioned people and experts in family law and the expert panel, the children's aid society and child protection workers. No one else got to be a party to that, nor do we know how you took into account any of these issues and/or came to the consideration and the determination that you did.
One of the things we know is that the law, as it currently stands and as it will be amended, gives no guidance to what constitutes inadequate levels of care provision, supervision or protection. We know the cases are going to, in a sense, boil down to conclusions by some people. I imagine those people will include social workers and judges, and hopefully it will be reflective of some kind of community standard or sense of norm around parenting and what we expect of parents, but it's not clear. Perhaps that's an area where we could have spent a bit of time, again, exploring whether or not there was some more explicit language to give greater guidance in terms of what we are talking about.
Some of the members opposite I know often comment when we read about shocking cases in the newspaper involving young people. There's often comment from the government benches: "Where were the parents? What were the parents doing? It's the responsibility of the parents." It's a big theme and issue over there, parental responsibility. The legislation is silent in terms of what standards we will apply in assessing that. I think the standards that will evolve through the courts will probably be reflective of community norms, but I don't know that. I'd like to have that debate, because I think the standards of some of the members in the party opposite would be quite different from those of some of the members on this side of the Legislature. But it's not a debate that we will be able to have.
I want to talk about some of the importance of what the bill does around permanency planning. I think this is a really critical area. The change, for example, from two years to one year in the legislation, in the sense of moving much quicker to give a sense of what the permanent plans for the child will be, is very important, but there are some caveats that have to be expressed. In the situation where you have a long, drawn-out court battle, it is not inconceivable that it will take a year for some of these matters to get to court. What does that mean in terms of the issues affecting children in that particular case, in that particular family? It may be that the parents are willing to facilitate change that would create the stable home setting and that we would all feel, with those changes, that the best solution may be for the children to remain - or to return. But it may well take a year or more, particularly given the cuts to services that have taken place, for the parents to get the help they need.
If we're talking about alcohol or drug rehabilitation services, or mental health and counselling services, or parenting courses or marital counselling or even budgeting classes, these things are no longer readily available in our communities - perhaps some attention to that side, as well, to ensure the resources are there so that appropriate and timely permanency planning can be put in place. That might be something we would have talked about had there been the appropriate time to examine elements of the bill.
There are people who raised concerns that the intervention I mentioned before between the commencement of an application and a trial can be abysmally long. How do we rationalize that? Perhaps we need the resources to ensure there is an expeditious resolution or an expeditious processing of these applications so that we can also implement the expeditious time frame for permanency planning.
I support the recommendation. I support that amendment. I'm just saying again that for it to be meaningful and to work, there are other pieces that need to be done, and we haven't had an opportunity to talk about that.
There are people who have written to me and who have raised concerns around things like warrants for records and what the thresholds are under which warrants can be issued. Who issues them and what records? We haven't had a chance to talk about that and how you balance the very legitimate need to ensure that child protection workers and judges and others who are going to be making decisions have access to the appropriate information about the nature of parenting and any concerns there may be around the family home with safeguards against privacy to ensure there aren't abuses of a new, more open regime.
I ask the parliamentary assistant perhaps to explain about the actual change in threshold that is being suggested here, where a motion can be brought to court on notice to the person affected for access to records under the existing system that might be relevant to consideration of whether a child is suffering. In the new system, the person does not need to be notified. The matter of records: It can be for all records regarding that person. It isn't the same threshold of relevancy to the actual issue of consideration.
With a society that has developed fairly strong mores around safeguarding of privacy, I hope the courts will implement this judiciously, but it is an extraordinary leap from where we are today. It is important that we ensure timely access to the appropriate and relevant records. Is this the right way to do it? We haven't had the benefit of any discussion on this. We haven't even had the benefit of having the privacy commissioner come before us and comment on this section of the bill, because there weren't the hearings. So we don't know whether there are concerns the privacy commissioner would have with respect to that and whether or not the appropriate balance has been struck. It would have been useful, would it not, for us as legislators to at least be reassured that the government's course of action on this is the appropriate one with respect to achieving its goals?
Duty to report: a change in terms of the obligation on professionals and the attachment of a penalty for failure to report. One of the questions I would have liked to know about that is why there is a prohibition on a professional, having made the determination and recognizing the need to report that, being able to delegate it to a staff person within their operation to do the reporting. It seems to me that many professionals would probably, in most cases, pick up the phone and do it themselves; there's not a problem with that. But there may be occasions when that becomes very problematic. What was the reason for the prohibition? There is probably a really good reason. I don't know the answer, though, because we haven't had any kind of opportunity for exchange or discussion.
I want to talk a little bit about an area of significant concern on the part of members of our caucus and of my leader, Howard Hampton - we will be moving an amendment to this effect tonight - and that is with respect to First Nations. I know last week when Howard mentioned, when asked by the media, that he had some concerns about the bill, there was a flurry of faxes that came in. I have to say to people that sometimes it would be good to pick up the phone and ask, because I want to tell you what led to that expression of concern. I think it's something we should all be concerned about in the province.
"As you are aware, the First Nations child welfare agencies were not adequately consulted; therefore it is inaccurate for the minister to state extensive consultations were conducted." Once again First Nations were left out of the process, and they have a right to be angry. They have a right to feel that they have been overlooked yet again.
"The aboriginal representatives who attended a four-hour session in Thunder Bay, Ontario, to discuss legislative changes is totally inadequate. While it may be accurate to say that stakeholders in urban settings agree this is good legislation and provide overwhelming support for the bill since introduction, this is not the case for First Nations agencies. Furthermore, First Nations agencies did not have the opportunity to provide feedback to the government prior to introducing the bill.
"The new child welfare reform will adversely impact on First Nations agencies" - I think this is the crux of it, and this is what I hope the government will listen to in terms of the recommendation that we bring forward in an amendment - "as the new system is not aboriginal-specific and will be very difficult to integrate. The model promotes a social work perspective of the urban family but does not take into account aboriginal community interrelationships, extended family, social conditions, remoteness, on-reserve poverty, peer relationships etc which occur in First Nations."
I don't think the minister would actually dispute that. I think that's true. What the minister would suggest is that the provisions within the bill that talk about cultural sensitivity, which are in the existing act, remain, that they're not changed by the new bill.
We're hoping that, given the minister understands the importance of paramount interest - because, in fact, one of the very first amendments is to bring the rights of the child to be paramount over all other considerations. It doesn't take away the importance to consider what is proper for the family and the importance of trying to keep a family unit together and a whole range of other issues, but it says, push come to shove, if you've got to make a decision, what is paramount is the right of the child. I think we all agree with that, with all of the caveats that I put in place about the need for the better supports for positive parenting and prevention and intervention.
Ms Lankin: Minister, you don't need to heckle. You could just listen for a second and see whether there's any merit in even giving consideration. I know at the last minute you just need to get it done, but maybe, given that you've spent so much time refusing to listen, you could for a moment tonight listen and see whether you could give any consideration to this.
We're going to propose that paragraph 5 of subsection 1(2) - and that is the section that currently is the leading section in dealing with cultural sensitivity dealing with First Nations - be dropped and that a new subsection be added further up in the beginning of the bill where we talk about the paramount issue of children's rights; that following that we add a subsection (1.1) and that it read:
"It is a purpose of this act, so long as it is consistent with the best interests, protection and well being of children," which is the language the minister uses in the legislation, "to recognize that Indian and native people are entitled to provide, wherever possible, their own child and family services, and that all services to Indian and native children and families should be provided in a manner that recognizes their culture, heritage and traditions and the concept of the extended family."
I say to the minister, it does not take away from the current provisions of the legislation. What it attempts to do, in language that the minister seems content with, because there aren't proposed changes to that, melded with the language that makes paramount the right of children and the best interests of children, is to elevate the concern of First Nations, to bring it to the beginning of the legislation and to say that where the purpose is consistent with the best interests of the child, it is also paramount to consider the cultural sensitivities of First Nations and their ability to continue to deliver their own services where that has been established.
I hope the minister, over the period of the next half-hour or 45 minutes or so before we get into committee of the whole, will give some consideration to passing that amendment. The only letters that have come in from First Nations across the province have been letters condemning the lack of consultation and asking for, on a nation-to-nation basis, those consultations to take place and asking for the legislation to reflect the real and differing nature and issue of concern, particularly in dealing with remote and on-reserve native communities.
Ms Lankin: The minister is already dismissing me, saying, "It's already in there." As I've said in my debate, it is in there in paragraph 5, and I'm suggesting to you that paragraph 5 could be moved up to subsection (1.1) and in a very clear and a very strong and a very forthright fashion make it clear that this Legislature of Ontario understands First Nations' concerns and understands that those concerns are born of a history of experience. It is a history of experience of how our agencies, modelled on our culture and our family values, have interacted with their communities and have brought about in some circumstances some disastrous results.
None of us and none of the agencies, the children's aid societies, would support a return to some of the horrible events of the past, where we saw First Nations children removed from their homes, removed from reserves, taken away from their extended families and their cultural base. None of us would support that. But how is it that we come to a place in time where we are in one evening pushing through legislation and we have not adequately consulted, yet again, with First Nations? How is it that we continue to believe that we know what is best, we continue to be able to sit there and say, "It's OK, it doesn't affect them; it's already there in the act," when every one of the representations that have come from First Nations - and you heard a couple of them read here tonight - has said very clearly that the minister did not consult adequately and that their concerns are not addressed; and in fact the more interventionist nature of this legislation, which most of us in this House absolutely support, which is based on the recommendations of the coroners' inquests and based on the expert panel, is not appropriately applicable to their society, to their culture, to their children?
Why can't we listen to that? Why can't we take steps? Even though we're doing it in a very condensed way, why can't we take the steps to give expression to their desire to continue in their own way to provide for the protection of their children? I hope we will be able to do that tonight.
I began by reading the names of some very, very precious children who died at the hands of their caregivers or their loved ones or their parents. I end by saying to all of us that the work that has been done, the very painful work that has been done by those who reviewed the circumstances leading up to those tragic deaths, the painful expression of that which we heard - I think often of the coroner's jury in Shanay Johnson's death, the painful expression of that - and the recommendations are in part addressed through amendments in this legislation tonight.
On balance, I support the passage of this legislation, but I hope that comments we have been able to put on the record tonight, comments about the inadequate discussion and debate of certain legal thresholds, of what the intent of the Legislature was, won't prejudice appropriate determination of that down the road by the system, by the courts, by judges. Comments have been put on the record with respect to the need for adequate funding, not simply for the increased caseload and the increased time with which to deal with the caseload through the new risk assessment but for prevention measures as well, the need for children's aid societies to find out what their budgets are, which we still don't know, and what the funding formula really means, which we still don't know, but those are corollaries to making this legislation work.
I hope we understand that the necessary supports in our communities, those supports which had been cut in so many areas - children's treatment centres, children's mental health, child care, early childhood education opportunities - all of those intervention and prevention programs, are necessary to make legislation like this meaningful and work, to make legislation like this the tool that all of us want it to truly be, the tool that gives highly skilled child protection workers who have appropriate caseloads the means with which to go in and do what they want to do every day, what they do best, which is protect children and try to ensure that no other child meets the fate of the children whose names I read out here tonight.
The remaining time I will leave for other members of my caucus who want to participate. I appreciate having had the opportunity. I say again, I think it is shameful that there wasn't the appropriate process and the opportunity to hear from the public. I hope that after passage of this bill and some experience, long before the five-year review period is up, we will come back together as legislators and give this public policy the kind of hearing, and have the discussion with those in the field, that I believe is warranted.
Mr Frank Klees (York-Mackenzie): I'm pleased to participate in this debate. I'm sure all members of the Legislature would prefer that we not have to debate this subject at all. It's unfortunate that in our society today we do have to deal with the reality of abuse. It's unfortunate that there's even a need for children's aid societies within our communities, but that is the reality. As legislators, we have a responsibility to do the best we can to protect the most vulnerable in our society. I know we all share that common objective.
I'd like to begin my remarks by quoting from a letter that was addressed to the Honourable Howard Hampton by the children's aid society of the county of Simcoe, signed by Mr George Leck, the executive director. It reads as follows:
"As you are aware, Bill 73, An Act to amend the Child and Family Services Act in order to better promote the best interests, protection and well being of children, is being introduced to the Legislature in the spring session. We cannot sufficiently underscore the importance of the passage of this bill to Ontario's most vulnerable children.
"The government has sought extensive feedback from children's aid societies, youth and the public prior to introducing the bill. The amendment in the legislation allows for further amendments within a five-year review period, which will allow for any other revisions that may be necessary. Other components of the government's child welfare reform agenda such as the risk assessment model, child welfare information system and the new funding framework will not effectively protect children without these amendments to the legislation.
"The Simcoe County Children's Aid Society fully supports the proposed legislative amendments. The Child and Family Services Act is the major tool used by CASs to protect children. The proposed amendments will help us to keep children safe.
I read that because I think it encapsulates succinctly what this Legislature is attempting to do. It refers to the fact that there has been extensive consultation. It's interesting that we have now spent about an hour and a half, perhaps more than that, in this Legislature, a great opportunity for members opposite to provide positive, constructive proposals in terms of the ongoing implementation of this legislation, and yet what we heard most was more questions about why we didn't have more opportunity to discuss this.
I don't know what the members opposite have been doing for the last four years, the last eight years, the last 16 years. Most of those who spoke today were in this place. What were they doing, if not discussing the important implications of this act? Where were they? Where were you while the initial proposal was made? Where were you in the course of all the discussions? I don't understand.
If we go to Hansard, we will see in Hansard, time and time again, valuable time wasted in this place that should be used for constructive debate by members opposite saying, "We haven't had enough time to talk about this legislation." Perhaps, in the next session of Parliament this place can actually get to discuss some of the positive aspects of legislation, rather than the continual rhetoric that does no one any good. The people in the gallery and the people who are watching at home hear what you're saying. They have not heard one positive message from you. I'm suggesting to you that it's time we get on, and that's why we're saying, "Let's get on, give the children's aid societies the tools they need to get on with the business of protecting children in this province."
The key messages around this legislation are to protect children and to put children first, but let's be clear: Putting children first does not mean putting families last. Clearly that is a balance that this Legislature has kept in mind as this bill was drafted. This was foremost in the minds of the people who were conducting the research. To say that there hasn't been consultation is certainly not being honest with the people in this province.
I'd like to address the concern of the member for Beaches-Woodbine regarding First Nations, and it's absolutely not true that First Nations were not consulted. They were. Discussions were held with First Nations. The panel of experts, in preparing their report released in June 1998, consulted with people across the province, including First Nations. The ministry -
Mr Klees: Member for Beaches-Woodbine, you're saying "the government." The ministry held two informal discussions with First Nations and aboriginal organizations to discuss options in September 1998, and since the bill was first introduced in October 1998, ministry staff have met with representatives of the designated aboriginal children's aid societies; they've met with the Association of Native Child and Family Services of Ontario and the Union of Ontario Indians to discuss the bill and other changes. There have been -
Mr Klees: If they refer to that in their letter, why didn't you in your comments? Why did you allow it to remain on the record that there has been no consultation with the aboriginal peoples of this province? It's simply not true, and it doesn't help the debate.
I would also like to point out that this bill before the Legislature today will in no way amend any of the provisions in the Child and Family Services Act which deal specifically with First Nations, including the concepts of extended family, preservation of cultural values and customary care. All those issues are in the act today; they will remain there. Those concerns of the aboriginal peoples in our province will be very much preserved. The purpose of the proposed amendments is to make it clear that the best interests of the child must come first.
I know the third party will be presenting an amendment. Again, I have to question, and I put the question to the House: What is the purpose of this amendment? Perhaps the issue is that it's in the wrong place in the act, that you'd prefer it to be in another section. That's the kind of debate, that's the kind of discussion in this place that has delayed the implementation of legislation for years. We can quibble about the cosmetics of a piece of legislation till the cows come home; What we need to do is focus on the purpose of this legislation, and that's to protect children.
The CFSA contains several provisions that recognize the unique needs and circumstances of First Nations, their children, their families and their communities. Again, as I said before, none of these provisions would be amended by this bill. The purpose section of the act, section 1, still recognizes that "Indian and native people should be entitled to provide, wherever possible, their own child and family services, and that all services to Indian and native children and families should be provided in a manner that recognizes their culture, heritage and traditions and the concept of the extended family."
I go on, because I think this is critical. It is very important that the people of Ontario and certainly the native peoples of this province understand that this government in no way intends to sideline or to minimize the importance of the cultural heritage of native peoples.
Subsection 37(4) of the act deals with the preservation of a child's cultural identity. Again, for the record, I quote: "Where a person is directed in this part" - the child protection part - "to make an order or determination in the best interests of a child and the child is an Indian or native person, the person shall take into consideration the importance, in recognition of the uniqueness of Indian and native culture, heritage and traditions, of preserving the child's cultural identity."
Subsection 39(1), subsection 57(4), section 58, subsection 64(6), section 69, part X - I can go on - all of these sections in the act speak specifically to First Nations and preserve the integrity of that culture and ensure with children's aid societies that as children are being considered and protected, these issues are taken care of. There is no need for us to further delay the proceedings in this House with a cosmetic amendment that does nothing more to enhance this legislation, because all of these concerns are already taken into consideration.
I'd like to address an issue that the member for Beaches-Woodbine referred to. She asks the question, why 16- and 17-year-olds, for example, are not specifically named in this act. The member opposite knows full well my history in this place. When I brought before this House a private member's bill that specifically would have allowed parental responsibility to intervene with 16- and 17-year-olds, the member opposite voted against that bill. In fact, every member of the opposition party voted against that bill -
We've got another session of Parliament coming up, and every member here knows I'll be back to revisit that issue, because I do believe there are some responsibilities that we have to 16- and 17-year-olds, who unfortunately your government, the NDP government, elevated to the position of adults and gave them their own rights, and I suggest to you that that is not doing them any good, as you admitted in this debate in this House tonight.
The fact of the matter is that it's not referenced in this act because children of 16 and over are treated differently in law in this province, as the honourable member knows. Children over 16 in fact receive services under other parts of the CFSA, for example, under special-needs agreements. It's not that these children of 16 and 17 years of age are not dealt with under the CFSA; they are.
Can it be improved? I for one, as the Speaker knows, as other members of this Legislature know, believe we could improve that. To my constituents and to the many people in Ontario who I believe agree with me on that point, we will be back to revisit that.
With regard to the issue that was made as well about the funding formula, I think it's important for the record that we make sure people in Ontario understand that, contrary to what's being said by the opposition, this government has in fact substantially increased the framework of support for children's aid in this province: additional funding of $170 million over three years to children's aid societies, supported by the funding framework. Those funds are being used to hire child protection staff, improve training and revitalize foster care. This is on top of the additional $15 million that was invested in 1997-98 for more staff, additional training and to support the new database.
In addition to that, when we talk about resources, I agree that simply creating another law is not enough. If creating laws were sufficient to protect children, we wouldn't have a child in danger in this province, because there are lots of laws. The fact of the matter is, is it effective law? Because we do need that. Children's aid workers have been telling us for years in this province that they need more effective legislation that will empower them to do the work they want to do, need to do.
I'm so surprised at the member for Beaches-Woodbine, who now begins to take exception with the fact that we are opening up the framework and the scope of the kind of initiative that children's aid workers can take in this province, feeling it's too broad, feeling it's not narrow enough. That's the very reason we're here, because we believe that the people on the front lines in this province need the tools to step in when there is the potential of a child being in danger. That's their job.
With regard to additional supports, Speaker, you know that new, permanent front-line child protection staff and supervisors are in the process of being hired. Societies were able to hire 237 additional permanent front-line workers in 1998-99 and 220 in 1997-98. Funding over the next two years will allow societies to hire at least 523 more child protection staff. We understand that the law is not enough, but what we need is effective front-line workers who will take the training that is being given them, who will take the assessment tools that are being made available to them and apply them sensitively and professionally to protect children in this province. We believe we are well on our way to improving the state of the conditions for children in this province.
In addition to those resources, the member opposite will also know that we have increased rates for foster care parents. The minimum basic rates were increased from $14 to $25.71, retroactive to October 1998.
It's one thing to say, "You're not providing the support services." As the minister said earlier, "Please inform yourself." Let's deal realistically. Let's deal on a level of intellectual honesty with members in this House and, more important, with the people in this province who rely on the legislators in this place to debate the issues truthfully and factually.
Mr Klees: The member from Kingston howls at that. You can howl all you want. The fact of the matter is that the kind of rhetoric that goes on over there on those benches does nothing at all to communicate the truth and the facts about legislation before this House.
I believe the electorate sees through that. I can tell you that what I am hearing on the street is that people in this province are sick and tired of that kind of partisan debate. What they are looking for is principled leadership that will deal with the issues in the best interests of children, of seniors and of adults in this province, because they're simply saying: "Get on with managing the province. Do the right thing because it's the right thing to do. Put aside that partisan quibble you have and all of that yelping that goes on over there."
Mr Klees: It has been four years in this House. The member says "arrogance." This is not about arrogance. I am giving you feedback of what I am hearing from people in my riding and as I have travelled the province in my capacity as parliamentary assistant.
People across the province are saying to me, "I may not agree with everything you've done, and maybe sometimes I feel you've gone a bit fast and maybe you could have done it differently, but you know what I respect?" I'm being told that what people respect is the fact that this government has done what it said it would do. It has delivered on its commitments to the people in this province.
It has also been intellectually honest with people, because when in 1995 we set out an agenda for the people of this province, we can today go back and look at that agenda and see where on every point we have delivered what we committed to deliver to the people of this province. We are not subjecting ourselves to simply reacting and responding to every special interest group that comes along. Just because someone makes noise about a particular piece of legislation is no reason to delay the intent, the good things that legislation would do, because what we have to do is ask ourselves, first of all: "Is it morally right? Is it intellectually right? Is it timely for us to move forward?"
The people in the galleries today are saying to us, "Move forward." It may not be a perfect piece of legislation. I have yet to see one. But do you know what? We're doing it because we believe it's the right thing to do for children in this province. We're doing it because we believe it's the right thing for front-line workers who care deeply about the children and the families they serve. We're doing it because other governments in the past have failed to do it. For other governments, for other members who have sat in those seats for years now to say, "You're doing it all wrong," I think sounds very hollow.
What we need to do now is move forward with this. As this letter from the children's aid society said, this is a piece of legislation that is open to discussion, that is open to review. We are happy to hear from people on the front lines who will say: "Look, here is how we can do it better. Here's something we can do in the implementation that will improve matters for children."
We're willing to listen, and we will also be willing to act on that, but in the meantime, the longer we delay, the more risk we allow to remain in the faces of children in this province. We're not prepared to do that.
Our problems are much deeper than a data processing system. Our problems in this society of ours are much deeper than simply the tools that are being provided in this legislation. I think that over the number of days and months to come what we need to be debating much more is not necessarily how we deal with the symptoms of child abuse but what we can do in this province to get at the heart, at the root of child abuse. Until we get there as legislators, we still have not done our job.
Mrs Lyn McLeod (Fort William): I guess I am one of the very few members of the Legislature who has an opportunity to speak twice to this bill. As all members will know, we have committed ourselves not only to supporting the bill but to the agreement to have the bill passed this evening so that it can become law in the event there should be a dissolution of this session of the Legislature.
I'm not going to reiterate all the concerns we have in this caucus about the process and the fact that legislation of this import is once again going to be passed without an opportunity to debate the very significant issues that have been raised by members of both opposition parties, concerns which would not have precluded our supporting the bill in the interests of children's safety but which deserved some public debate.
I note that the member who has just finished speaking suggests there should have been an opportunity on the part of the opposition to offer - I've written the words down - positive, constructive suggestions for change. We would have welcomed that opportunity.
But in fact there wasn't even much time for the rhetoric he suggests, or the time-wasting he suggests has actually gone on, because this bill was originally presented for second reading debate on November 5 for an evening - without notice, by the way. It was subsequently called for debate again on December 3 and December 17, at which point, as you will recall, the House was dismissed and did not resume again until two weeks ago. This is the only opportunity we have had to debate this bill on its reintroduction.
There has hardly been time or opportunity to put forward positive, constructive suggestions for change, and those suggestions that have been put forward are not even going to get consideration this evening.
The primary concern we have raised throughout - I am not going to take time, I don't have time, to get into the details of the concerns that have been raised - is that while all of us are in agreement that we must take legislative action to act on the recommendations of the inquests and to ensure that child protection and child safety is always foremost in terms of the actions of the children's aid societies that are mandated to protect children, we are concerned that there can well be, perhaps almost inevitably, a pendulum swing so that there could be error on the side of apprehension in order to be sure we are providing the protection children need.
That swing may well occur not because it has been made legally possible and in so many instances absolutely necessary to apprehend children for their safety but because it will be necessary more often to resort to apprehension because there have not been resources provided at an earlier stage to do the prevention that would allow that child to stay safely within the child's family.
I think it is still fair to say that children's aid societies barely have enough resources to deal with their current legal manadate and the constantly increasing demands to respond to crisis situations and that there is no real indication that the government, in bringing this legislation forward for passage, is going to ensure they will have the additional resources they need to carry out their expanded legal mandate.
I certainly don't see the resources for prevention being put into the hands of children's aid societies. I do not see those resources being put into the hands of other community agencies that are serving children and whose work might well work alongside the children's aid societies to ensue that there are healthy family settings in which children can grow.
Because of that, I am going to use the few minutes I have left to make some further comments about the legislation and our concern for the well-being of children and to talk a little bit about children and children's needs and how well this government is meeting those needs.
If the members opposite feel that's a waste of time, so be it. I happen to think part of our responsibilities is to call a spade a spade when the government wants to exercise its rhetoric and its political opportunism to trumpet what it has done for children, and when the record of four years speaks so clearly to the opposite reality.
One of the concerns we have raised recently in the Legislature - and raised because we have had public statements made by family and children's centres which are providing counselling for children and families, the kind of counselling that makes it possible for troubled children and troubled families to find ways of resolving their difficulties. Those agencies have come forward and said they need an immediate investment of $120 million just to be able to deal with their current waiting lists.
I've had frequent opportunities to sit down with the regional children's centre in my home riding. I know the kinds of waiting lists and the way in which those waiting lists have grown over the last two years because of funding cuts and because of the kind of pressures which other cuts have put on families in this province since the Mike Harris government came into office.
Those agencies came forward and said, "We need a $120-million immediate investment just to deal with the crisis situation we are facing now." There has been no response from this government at all, no response to even begin to repair the damage they did to these agencies when they first came into office and made the agencies - and the children and families they serve - some of the individuals that had to pay the price for the cost-cutting that went on to fund that tax cut.
I think of the family situation that we raised in the Legislature today where a woman in Thunder Bay who has been valiantly trying to provide care for her multi-disabled child at home is now facing a situation where on Thursday of this week she will be asking the children's aid society to come and take that child. One of the things that has pushed her to the brink of what for her is a truly desperate, truly tragic action is the fact that a newly privatized health care provider that provides the home care that this child needs, and was providing that care in the school setting, has decided that they can no longer provide the kind of support that would allow the child to be cared for in a school setting.
Therefore, the mother will have to leave her job to care for this child at home once again even though the history of this family, as the Minister of Community and Social Services well knows, has been to try and do everything possible in the past to provide that care at home. The mother has had no support at all from the ministry or the Minister of Community and Social Services to be able to ensure that this multi-disabled child can be cared for safely in a setting.
I heard the minister responsible for children's services speak with some pride about the creation of a minister responsible for the children, somebody who can be an advocate for children, but I don't see this government having done nearly enough to even repair the harm they have done over the past four years.
Incidentally, the minister - and I want to point this out because it's certainly rhetoric indeed when the minister responsible to be an advocate for children feels that it's necessary, rather than just talk about the government's record on services for children, to get into a direct personal attack on other members of the House - suggested that my colleague the critic for community and social services hadn't adequately done her research.
I would suggest that the minister herself, with her responsibility for children's services and her need to trumpet what the government has done, might also want to get her facts straight. It seems that she was so anxious to ally herself for political reasons with the New Democratic Party that she neglected to remember that the Better Beginnings, Better Futures program, which we all think is a good program for children and families, was introduced by a previous Minister of Community and Social Services, Mr Charles Beer, who happened to be a Liberal cabinet minister at the time, not a New Democrat.
I believe that most of this government's concern for children is a somewhat recent conversion on the road to Damascus or perhaps, shall we say, on the eve of a writ of an election. I look at what this government has done for children, particularly the early years. I'll just deal with that because I have only a couple more minutes. I look at what they've done for junior kindergarten. The minister responsible for children has talked a lot tonight not about the legislation but about the Mustard-McCain report, which is one of the road-to-Damascus publications that the government has welcomed in the last couple of weeks and indicated support for. I look at the recommendations here on the funding of junior kindergarten, and the importance of junior kindergarten and senior kindergarten programs.
It reminds me of the fact that one of this government's first actions was to cut the grants for junior kindergarten programs in half, so that when this government talks about the full funding of junior kindergarten, they're talking about funding it at half the rate it used to be funded at, so that our junior kindergarten classes are now staffed at the level of 25 students to one teacher. I don't believe that Dr Mustard or Margaret McCain, with their genuine concern for the importance of learning in the early years, could ever subscribe to funding at the level of 25 young students to one teacher as being full funding of programs for the early years.
I also remember well that when the funding formula came out and the government took over total control of funding for education, they had a program in there that was called The Early Years: The Learning Alternative - that's not quite the exact name - but I also know that was sort of the hallmark of their funding for the early years. When I looked at all the places where they had taken funding out that would support children in the early grades - and I'm not even including the cuts to junior kindergarten that had already taken place - there was a net loss of $90 million in funding that would support children's learning in the early years.
This year the grants that were announced for school boards, just about three weeks ago now, had another $66-million reduction in the early learning grant that would support learning for children in the early years. I don't think that exactly qualifies as support for the recommendations in the Mustard-McCain report.
The last situation that I want to raise in terms of what this government's actions are doing to children in the early years comes back - and I'll be very quick because I want to save time for my colleague to speak - to a specific program which is referenced in the Early Years Study as one of the model programs that all of us who are concerned about children and families would like to see implemented much more widely. It's called the Roots of Empathy program.
As the Early Years Study notes, it was "developed by the parenting and family literacy centres in Toronto inner-city schools, is slated to be replicated nationally and internationally," and they put in brackets "and hopefully provincially!" They don't appear to have quite as much confidence in this government as the government thinks they do. It talks about the way in which the program "brings an infant and mother from the community (who are in the parenting program) into elementary school classrooms monthly so that children can see and learn how a baby develops and what a baby needs in order to prepare the next generation for parenting."
That's a small part of what that program does; it's a small part of what the family and parenting centres developed in Toronto some 15 years ago by Mary Gordon are actually doing. Mary Gordon is an internationally recognized expert in providing -
Mrs McLeod: On the reference group, exactly as the minister says. That's why it's so important that I take time to bring this back to your attention, Minister, because Mary Gordon, who is an internationally recognized expert in doing exactly what the early years report recommends; who has been called down by Colorado to look at the extension of the work that she's doing, which is to look at what happens to children who are in a bullied situation at schools, has had to come and talk to people like opposition members and trustees to say, "My programs are threatened with closure." Threatened not because of the minister responsible for children, who I'm sure would be horrified to think that a program like this, which is what the Early Years Study so much wants to see replicated, is threatened by the Minister of Education, her colleague.
What happens to advocacy for children when a program that is being recognized as groundbreaking and important is threatened with closure because the funding formula of her colleague in government, the Minister of Education, does not provide the continuing education dollars that would allow programs, for example, that are reaching out to young prostitutes on the streets of Toronto who have young children and have those young prostitutes involved in parenting programs?
They're not going to be funded any longer because they were funded under continuing education dollars which are no longer there. The after-school programs aren't going to be able to run because schools aren't being funded to run any kind of community after-4 programs; they're not getting the maintenance money from the Minister of Education. It's going to be just like other programs, just like Veronica Manuel whose case we raised this afternoon, where everybody says somebody else's ministry is responsible and yet a child falls through the cracks because nobody is actually prepared to take responsibility.
I quite frankly believe that the ministry of children's services in this government is simply a cover so that you can create the impression of being concerned about children while the line ministries that actually provide the financing and the resources, and should take the responsibility, fail children and families time and time again.
Mr Howard Hampton (Rainy River): I have some comments to make on this legislation, but first of all I want to respond to some of the comments that were made from across the floor: insinuations that opposition members don't know what they're talking about, that opposition members are dealing with cosmetic issues only.
I want to read a submission from Tikinagan Child and Family Services that was made to Comsoc and let the public judge who around here is dealing with trivial issues. Tikinagan is a child and family service organization that deals with 31 fly-in communities. Many of these are poor communities. Many of them have difficult issues to overcome in terms of unemployment and social development. In fact, in their submission they point out:
"Tikinagan functions in a unique environment that includes numerous remote communities' extreme social problems. The children in these communities sometimes live in Third World conditions. Rates of poverty, family violence, alcohol abuse, suicide, gas sniffing and other social problems are multiplied far above provincial averages. Virtually all children in these communities are at risk, using the Ontario risk assessment criteria."
I guess this is what the member refers to as "trivia," that somehow the work that's done by this child and family service organization isn't worthy of debate or discussion in this Legislature. This organization raised a number of issues back in January and I'll go through them.
Recommendation: The ministry acknowledged that the risk assessment model has not been fully implemented at Tikinagan; that the ministry commit to working in close partnership with Tikinagan to ensure that all of the child welfare reform initiatives are developed in ways that are appropriate within Tikinagan's unique and challenging context; that a working group be established including the ministry, Tikinagan and the native association, with a mandate to study and make recommendations on modifying the child welfare reform initiatives in order to be implemented within this unique and challenging environment; that a time-limited project be conducted to redesign and modify the child welfare reform initiatives - eg, a 12-month project with a full-time project coordinator and translator.
I guess this member would have us believe that all this has been done, that you've complied with these requests from the aboriginal child and family service agencies, who have one of the toughest jobs in the province. You haven't done anything.
Here I have a letter from Weechi-it-te-win, dated April 29, 1999, another child and family service agency. If this member spoke any truth at all, I wouldn't have this letter. But what does this letter say? It says:
Then it goes on to say, "The ministry's current initiatives on changes in the act and funding formula threaten our achievements." Again, a child and family service agency that does some of the most difficult work in this province, and this member refers to it as "cosmetic," not worthy of debate or discussion or consideration. You're showing the true colours, the true integrity of your government, sir.
Mr Hampton: "In the first place, the ministry's current focus on child protection, singling out the child from the context of the family, threatens our custom and our method, and hence the result of our services. Our custom is to address the needs of children through the concentric circles of the immediately family, the extended family and the community. Our own expression for this custom is: `It takes a community to raise a child.' We use these unique strengths of family and community relationships to protect, nurture and develop our children when the immediate family is unable to do so. Members of the extended family or other members of the community provide care and support with the consent of the child's parent(s) in our method of customary care."
They point out that this is at risk because this government hasn't consulted, hasn't addressed the real issues of these native child and family service agencies that do some of the most difficult work in the province. This is a letter dated a couple of days ago, pointing out that what this government is about here tonight is nothing but rhetoric. The concerns of these aboriginal child and family service agencies haven't been addressed. The concerns with the funding formula haven't been addressed. The concerns with the framework haven't been addressed. What the people of Ontario are hearing from this government is a snow job, designed to be able to go out there and trumpet on the eve of the election campaign, "We introduced amendments to the Child and Family Services Act," but don't reflect on the fact that some of the most needy children in this province are totally left out of the framework. In fact, the government's new framework will do damage to the very child and family service agencies that work so hard to try to help those children, to try to protect them. This is what they say:
"In the second place, the ministry's new funding formula views all children's aid societies in the same way and threatens our practice of customary care. For example, the ministry proposes to fund ongoing support of a child in care based on an allocation of four hours per month for a child placed under a voluntary arrangement versus five hours per month under a court order. Clearly, the ministry will see our customary care arrangements as voluntary since we work hard to achieve consensus within the family and the community to the plan of care for a child; however, the ministry will not recognize the exceptional effort it takes to establish and maintain this consensus on care. Ironically, we could save time (and money under this funding formula) by simply going to court and having a judge consent to the plan of care, except that this is contrary to our custom and, from hard experience, we know it is likely to damage the child and the family. In all, the ministry has no fault with the outcome of our community care services, yet seems bent on destroying their very fabric."
This is from a native child and family service agency, a letter written on April 29, pointing out that despite their efforts to try to get this government to understand their difficult challenges, despite their efforts to try to get this government to respond, that in fact there hasn't been a response. These are powerful words: "In all, the ministry has no fault with the outcome of our community care services, yet seems bent on destroying their very fabric." That's where we are.
What I've tried to do is to present an amendment that hopefully would bring some flexibility to this legislation so that those native child and family service agencies that have some of the most difficult tasks, that face up to some of the most difficult challenges under the most difficult economic and social circumstances, would have the flexibility they need to be able to do their job.
"We need to replace the rhetoric on customary care and the arguments about method with a contract for services rendered and service results, and allow aboriginal agencies to direct their own program development under their respective mandates from the First Nations they represent."
That's what they're asking. I don't see it anywhere in this act. I don't see any of the flexibility that would be needed. I've asked about the funding framework. I'm told that the funding framework is quite inflexible, that it will not provide aboriginal child and family service agencies with the kind of funding they need to fund their very unique programs; that it's either all according to this government's funding model or you're out of luck. Thus the statement that the ministry "seems bent on destroying" the very fabric of the successes that these agencies have been able to create and build up over a period of 15 years. That's why I'll be putting the amendment.
Mr Gerretsen: In the few minutes that I have left, I want to continue with what has just been stated by a number of previous speakers. The minister basically says that the reason why this particular section doesn't need to be placed on its own is that it's already in the act. That's really the only reason that she's given. What I can't understand and what I am sure the people of Ontario can't understand is that if it is such a minor thing to the minister, why doesn't she just go along with the change that has been suggested?
That brings me back to the earlier point made by the member for York-Mackenzie. I always get very leery when people say this kind of stuff, because there have been enough disputes in the world over the last couple of centuries, certainly during this century, to deal with these kinds of issues. He said, "The truth is on our side, and there's none on the other side." That is a very dangerous comment to make, particularly in legislation of this nature. Surely to goodness we can accept, whether in government or in opposition, the idea that maybe you get the best legislation by listening to the other person's viewpoint and the suggestions they make with respect to that legislation. Who knows? It may turn out in the end to be better legislation.
Mr Gerretsen: Of course, he likes to deflect. He also says, "What the people are really interested in how a government manages the province." There are an awful lot of people out there who think you've made a mess of things. How else do you explain the fact that the minister here says, "We're going to have 500 new workers within CAS," and then later on she says 1,000 - how do you justify that with her earlier act of actually cutting $17 million out of the CAS budgets, which happened a couple of years ago? Has the world changed so much that all of a sudden we can go from a situation where the CASs didn't need $17 million worth of resources to a state where 1,000 new workers in the area is a good thing? I doubt that very much.
As the member for Port Arthur mentioned earlier, what about the junior kindergarten funding? One of the very first committees I was on travelled the province. We went to city after city and town after town in this province, and every group that came before us said: "Government, you're doing the wrong thing. Do not cut the junior kindergarten funding. For every dollar you spend at a young age, you'll save $7 or $8 in social costs at a later age." Every one of the government members totally disagreed and totally dismissed any suggestion made by any group or by members of the opposition that maybe they were doing the wrong thing. Now, all of a sudden, junior kindergarten funding is back again.
How about in the areas of hospital care? Ten thousand nurses were fired in this province, just within the last couple of years. They'll say, "We didn't fire them; the hospitals fired them." Well, the hospitals fired them because you didn't give them enough money to adequately resource the health care workers and the nursing components of hospitals. Now you're hiring them back again, or a new group of nurses. The world doesn't change that quickly.
To my way of thinking, those are examples of the kinds of things this government has been guilty of right from day one. They have not managed the system well. They have not managed the system of child services or the health services.
What I fear more than anything is when someone is so driven by ideology that they can't see the possibility that maybe the views of another person may just add something to solving a problem. That is the feeling of a lot of people out there. A lot of people feel that this government has been so ideologically driven that it simply didn't want to listen to anybody else.
I find it very interesting. I've got a letter here from the developmental consulting program at Queen's University, a letter written just a couple of weeks ago, in which Philip Burge and Joseph White clearly state: "Our purpose for this meeting would be to outline our concerns that Bill 73 does not amend the Child and Family Services Act adequately. Specifically, we believe that an additional amendment is crucial. There needs to be a clause stating that foster children, once adults, have a right to receive identifying information about their birth parents and immediate family members and extended families." That issue hasn't been addressed in this legislation either, or hasn't been addressed by the minister in any way, shape or form.
So before we start throwing accusations at the opposition that the government has the truth on every issue it presents, maybe it would be wise for all of us to listen to one another and end up with legislation that really and truly is not Tory legislation, or not Liberal legislation, or not New Democratic Party legislation, but is really and truly the best legislation for the people of Ontario because that is really what it's all about in the long run.
Hon Mr Sterling: Mr Speaker, before you dissolve into the committee of the whole House, I'd like to seek unanimous consent to amend the order the House passed earlier this evening with respect to Bill 6. Could I have unanimous consent to move that motion without notice? I want to extend the time a little bit.
Consideration of Bill 6, An Act to amend the Child and Family Services Act in order to better promote the best interests, protection and well being of children / Projet de loi 6, Loi modifiant la Loi sur les services à l'enfance et à la famille afin de mieux promouvoir l'intérêt véritable de l'enfant, sa protection et son bien-être.
"(1.1) It is a purpose of this act, so long as it is consistent with the best interests, protection and well-being of children, to recognize that Indian and native people are entitled to provide, wherever possible, their own child and family services, and that all services to Indian and native children and families should be provided in a manner that recognizes their culture, heritage and traditions and the concept of the extended family."
Mr Hampton: I want to make a number of comments on the necessity for these amendments, and to support them I want to read from a letter dated April 28, 1999, from the deputy grand chief of the Nishnawbe-Aski Nation. This is a tribal organization which represents close to 50 First Nations, a tribal organization that is very familiar with the unique challenges that native child and family service organizations face. This is the text of the letter; again, remember it is April 28, 1999.
"As you are aware, the First Nations child welfare agencies were not adequately consulted; therefore, it is inaccurate for the minister to state extensive consultations were conducted. The aboriginal representatives who attended a four-hour session in Thunder Bay, Ontario, to discuss legislative changes is totally inadequate. While it may be accurate to say that stakeholders in urban settings agree this is good legislation and provide overwhelming support for the bill since introduction, this is not the case for First Nations agencies. Furthermore, First Nations agencies did not have the opportunity to provide feedback to the government prior to introducing the bill.
"The new child welfare reform will adversely impact on First Nations agencies as the new system is not aboriginal-specific and will be very difficult to integrate. The model promotes a social work perspective of the urban family but does not take into account aboriginal community interrelationships, extended family, social conditions, remoteness, on-reserve poverty, peer relationships etc which occur in First Nations.
"The minister states there are issues involved with the Child and Family Services Act which need to be dealt with after the bill is passed. Given the historical record of this government, how will the issues be dealt with, once legislation is passed?
"I would like to state clearly that NAN is not opposed to the protection of children; however, the proposed amendments to the Child and Family Services Act will have significant negative impacts on the Nishnawbe-Aski Nation children, which is unacceptable."
This, from an organization which represents over 50 First Nations in the far north, an organization which is very familiar with the kinds of challenges that aboriginal child and family service organizations must face and must deal with. They are asking that something be done before a piece of legislation which is overwhelmingly focused on the realities of urban life is then forced on to them and totally misses the point with respect to them and with respect to the challenges they face and will actually make matters worse for them. That's why I've put forward these amendments. Let me explain the structure of these amendments and why we've brought them forward.
The existing act states, "The purposes of this act are," and then it says, "(a) as a paramount objective, to promote the best interests, protection and well-being of children." So it's got one paramount objective. Then it lists a number of other objectives which are subsidiary - well, they aren't paramount. If they were paramount, that's what it would say, but the other ones are not paramount.
What I am suggesting is this: The amendment I have introduced would recognize the unique challenges of these child and family service organizations which work with First Nations, would recognize that their situation is different from the urban model, and by placing this in the way we want to place it, at the top of the list, we propose that this would recognize the paramountcy of the work of these aboriginal child and family service organizations. By recognizing the paramount interest, by putting it on a scale that is similar to what is recognized in 1(a) "as a paramount objective, to promote the best interests, protection and well-being of children," if we do it in that way, I believe it will give those aboriginal child and family service organizations the recognition they deserve, the recognition of their unique challenges, the recognition of the unique way they do their work.
"`(1.1) It is a purpose of this act, so long as it is consistent with the best interests, protection and wellbeing of children, to recognize that Indian and native people are entitled to provide, wherever possible, their own child and family services, and that all services to Indian and native children and families should be provided in a manner that recognizes their culture, heritage and traditions and the concept of the extended family.'"
I simply make the argument that this will give those native child and family service organizations and the work they do the recognition, the paramountcy they will need in order to carry on business under this new act. Without that unique recognition, they simply fall under this very urban formula, this very hard-set fast formula, which doesn't recognize the unique work that they do, doesn't recognize the unique challenges that they have to deal with, and doesn't recognize the unique ways they have developed to deal with these problems.
I can't understand why the government would be opposed to this kind of amendment. I can't understand, when the only consultation the government did with these aboriginal organizations was one four-hour meeting, as set out by Deputy Grand Chief James Morris, when the issues that were raised were not responded to. I can't understand why the government would be opposed to this, when Weechi-it-te-win points out in their letter of April 29, 1999:
"This letter is to convey to you our concern about proposed changes in the Ontario Child and Family Services Act and its current interpretation by the Ministry of Community and Social Services.... [T]he ministry's current initiatives on changes in the act and funding formula threaten our achievements. The issue now is to ensure that our community care services are preserved and their continuing development by our First Nations is supported."
Then it points out in detail, "In the first place, the ministry's current focus on child protection, singling out the child from the context of the family, threatens our custom and our method, and hence the result of our services."
Then, as they point out, "In all, the ministry has no fault with the outcome of our community care services, yet seems bent on destroying their very fabric," and "...the ministry's new funding formula views all children's aid societies in the same way and threatens our practice of customary care."
All I'm asking here is that the recognition that First Nations have asked for, the recognition of their unique challenges, the recognition of their unique way of conducting their work, the recognition of the successes they have achieved, be recognized by this amendment. Those are my comments for now. Hopefully we'll get some action from the government.
Hon Mrs Ecker: I appreciate the honourable member's concern about this issue, but with all due respect, the current wording does provide flexibility in the amendments that we have put forward to the Child and Family Services Act. I think what is more important is that First Nations are indeed recognized many times, in many clauses, in the current Child and Family Services Act. We are doing nothing in the changes we are bringing forward today that would diminish or alter their authority and their cultural recognition that is in this legislation.
Not only is it in the purpose section of the act, section 1, that still recognizes "that Indian and native people should be entitled to provide, wherever possible, their own child and family services, and that all services to Indian and native children and families should be provided in a manner that recognizes their culture, heritage and traditions and the concept of the extended family," but subsection 37(4) talks about, "Where a person is directed in this part to make an order or determination in the best interests of a child and the child is an Indian or native person, the person shall take into consideration the importance, in recognition of the uniqueness of Indian and native culture, heritage and traditions, of preserving the child's cultural identity."
Subsection 57(5) provides that "Where the child...is an Indian or native person," and the act decides that it is necessary to remove the child from the care of the family, "unless there is a substantial reason for placing the child elsewhere, the court shall place the child with (a) a member of the child's extended family; (b) a member of the child's band or native community; or (c) another Indian or native family."
Section 58 provides that where the child is an Indian or a native person, and has been made a crown ward, a representative chosen by the child's band or native community may apply to the court at any time for an access order. I could go on. There's section 64, section 69, part VII, part X. There are references all the way through this legislation that recognize very clearly the uniqueness, the cultural sensitivity that is required for First Nations. Indeed, that's one of the reasons that we have five separate child welfare agencies that are run by First Nations so that they can take care of children from their own community.
The other point is that the expert panel was very clear in their advice, and I would like to point that there has been considerable consultation. There have been several meetings with staff, through the expert panel, with representatives of First Nations, as there should be, as we consulted on this legislation quite extensively. One of the things the expert panel was very clear on was that there had to be a paramount purpose, the best interests of the child, and that one of the problems with the legislation was that if you try and set up all different competing purposes, you get into the kind of confusion that has been flagged by coroners' inquests across the province. We have been very clear about the paramount purpose. We are continuing to recognize, however, all the way through the legislation, the uniqueness of First Nations, their need for flexibility and their need for taking care of members of their own communities, so that is indeed in there.
The other point I would like to make, as there have been references made a number of times to the funding framework, is that the legislation does not delineate the requirements in that funding framework, but what that framework is very clearly designed to do is to support the work of children's aid societies. It recognizes that local needs may be different. But in addition, the other point is that there have to be standards. That is something, again, that was very clear in coroners' inquests, that one of the reasons children fell between the cracks was because there weren't clear standards applied the right way in all children's aid societies. That is why there are standards and that is why we will be funding according to those quality standards. That is an important improvement in the system and should be seen as such.
I understand the intention of the honourable member in bringing this particular amendment forward, but we do believe that all the sections that are in this legislation, as I rhymed them off, do indeed recognize First Nations' authority in these matters.
Ms Frances Lankin (Beaches-Woodbine): I want to very quickly comment on the minister's comments. There's only one amendment on the floor and there's a second one to be dealt with so I will keep my comments very brief.
I say to the minister that in her iteration of all the sections of the existing legislation that deal with First Nations, she misses the point, which is with respect to the changes in the purpose section. I acknowledge and my leader acknowledges that those provisions remain. You yourself hit the nub of the issue when you talked about the amendments to the purpose section which give a paramount purpose to the act, that paramount purpose being the best interests of the children.
As you indicated, the old act had a number of purposes and there was confusion sometimes in the mind of the court. The new act sets out a paramount purpose, the best interests of the children, and then sets out a number of additional purposes. Within those additional purposes is the language with respect to Indian and native people and that, where it is consistent, they are entitled to provide "wherever possible, their own child and family services," and that those be provided "in a manner that recognizes their culture, heritage and traditions and the concept of the extended family."
What we are proposing to you by these amendments is that that should be elevated out of the list of additional purposes. It shouldn't be relegated to the same level as consideration of the family unit, consideration of a whole range of other issues that you've set out in the act. It should be brought up into the paramount section. Clearly, however, with the language we've put forward, it remains subservient to your paramount objective because we say:
"It is a purpose of this act, so long as it is consistent with the best interests, protection and well-being of children, to recognize that Indian and native people are entitled to provide, wherever possible, their own child and family services, and that all services to Indian and native children and families should be provided in a manner that recognizes their culture, heritage and traditions and the concept of the extended family."
Minister, it is the very fact that we are talking about dealing government to government, where you're talking First Nations, that their interests and their provision of services and the culturally sensitive provisions within the legislation should not be relegated to simply a list of additional purposes, that it should be elevated. Nothing in our proposal takes away from the paramount best interests of the child.
I say to your parliamentary assistant, who called this cosmetic, that if it were cosmetic you would not be making the change to set out a paramount section and relegating all other issues to additional purposes. If that is not cosmetic, neither is it cosmetic to take the section dealing with First Nations and their very important concerns and elevate that to a subsection of the paramount concern. It gives an expression of this Legislative Assembly and our desire to recognize First Nations and to see, on a very fair and equal footing, that their interests are of an extreme purpose, of a paramount purpose, only subservient to the best interests of the child.
Mrs Sandra Pupatello (Windsor-Sandwich): I just wanted to mention that my party will be supporting the amendment. I was happy to hear the comments from the minister. In fact, the minister's comments actually strengthen the argument to allow the amendment to stand and be passed by the House, other than for some political purpose to not be supportive of an opposition party amendment to the bill. If in fact the balance of the bill repeatedly spells out in further detail the importance of the First Nations people, and in particular in treatment, there would be no reason to add this in this section either, so frankly her comments actually support the notion that it should be included in that first section.
Secondly, I do think that the whole process - not having been allowed to have hearings, most First Nations and all whom we have contacted feel as though they've been shut out of the process completely. The minister's comments are of great concern to me because it has been a closed door process. We have not had access to what's been presented to the government. When the expert panel made their report, there were many people who participated in the expert panel to say, "Why was so much left out, if in fact you were listening to the expert panel?"
While you may have gone forward to ask people, we have no idea, as members of the opposition who have a due role to play in the process of public hearings, in the development of what the bill may have been and what amendments could have come forward. That was not allowed in this case, and there is no good reason not to be supportive of this amendment. On behalf of my party, we will be supporting this one.
"(1.1) It is a purpose of this act, so long as it is consistent with the best interests, protection and well-being of children, to recognize that Indian and native people are entitled to provide, wherever possible, their own child and family services, and that all services to Indian and native children and families should be provided in a manner that recognizes their culture, heritage and traditions and the concept of the extended family."
"Let's get to the root of the issue. The" government's risk assessment "model is grounded in a commitment to protect children, and in the assumption that conducting risk assessment in this way will ensure better protection for them. But consider the possibility that there are so many issues with the model for Tikinagan that it may actually undermine our ability to work effectively. Of course, we want to protect children here at the same level of standards that are applied in southern Ontario. But is it possible to consider another model, or at least a totally reworked model that would be effective here? Is it possible to have a serious discussion about what the protection needs are for kids here? Is it possible to think that Ontario would care enough about children that we could seek out programs that would really be effective here?"
To emphasize it even more, they point out: "The ministry's child welfare funding formula framework is designed to provide equitable funding in children's aid societies and to ensure standardized levels of service through the provision of a number of things."
Then they point out: "However, Tikinagan functions in a unique environment that includes numerous remote communities with extreme social problems: native languages and cultures and the intensive political involvement of local chiefs and councils. In this context, the structure and delivery of child protection services is fundamentally different from comparable services in other parts of Ontario."
That's the gravity of the situation we're dealing with. All we've asked this minister and this government to do is to move up that purpose section dealing with native child and family service agencies so that it has paramountcy in section 1 of the changes, and if it has paramountcy, in our view we suggest that the interpretation would be that they would receive the priority they are deserving of. Their uniqueness would be recognized.
The Chair: Pursuant to the order of the House, I will now put the questions. Mr Hampton has moved that the Child and Family Services Act, as set out in section 1 of the bill, be amended by adding the following subsection:
"(1.1) It is a purpose of this act, so long as it is consistent with the best interests, protection and well-being of children, to recognize that Indian and native people are entitled to provide, wherever possible, their own child and family services, and that all services to Indian and native children and families should be provided in a manner that recognizes their culture, heritage and traditions and the concept of the extended family."
Bill 6, An Act to amend the Child and Family Services Act in order to better promote the best interests, protection and well-being of children / Projet de loi 6, Loi modifiant la Loi sur les services à l'enfance et à la famille afin de mieux promouvoir l'intérêt véritable de l'enfant, sa protection et son bien-être.