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Former Ontario child advocate urges reform following infant death

Former Ontario child advocate urges reform following infant death
Former Ontario child advocate urges reform following infant death

اخبار العرب-كندا 24: الثلاثاء 11 يونيو 2024 08:57 صباحاً

Calls for the Ford government to overhaul Ontario's child welfare system are growing louder after a shocking case of alleged abandonment in Kingston has left many questioning the province's role and demanding an investigation.

A 32-year-old woman accused of abandoning her two young children, causing her infant son to die from neglect in their apartment, has a history of substance abuse and domestic instability, according to neighbours and a source close to the family who spoke with CBC News.

Other children had previously been removed from the mother and biological father, who was not living there at the time, CBC has learned.

Some including the province's former children's advocate are blaming the tragedy on systemic issues with the province's child welfare system.

"Immediately what stood out to me was, this mom was in no place, obviously, to be caring for ... these children," said former Ontario child and youth advocatee Irwin Elman.

Court documents related to the 46-year-old father reveal that he, too, has a troubled past that includes charges of assault, mischief and violating court-imposed conditions.

The parents, who separated around 2020, previously lived in Brockville, Ont., where the couple had four other children removed between the two of them. The children were placed in other homes due to concerns about their welfare.

Local agencies aware of mother

Elman said children's aid workers across the province should have been notified when the family moved from one jurisdiction to another, but it's not clear that happened.

"Children's aid workers should be able to type ... the name of the mom in Ottawa and go to the database and see if she had an open file in any other part of the province," Elman said. "These kinds of things were supposed to have been taken care of."

Local child and family services in Brockville and Kingston were aware of the mother.

Multiple neighbours and a close family source told CBC they warned child welfare authorities the woman was pregnant, and said there had been offers to take the newborn to live with his biological siblings.

"There's quite a few of us in this building that called children's aid and told them what was going on," said one neighbour who added she saw workers arrive at the building, only to leave when they couldn't hear children screaming.

Family and Children's Services building in Kingston, Ont.

Family and Children's Services building in Kingston, Ont.

Family and Children's Services of Frontenac, Lennox and Addington is based in this building in Kingston, Ont. (Joseph Tunney/CBC)

In a statement, Children's aid societies said they obtain as much information as possible to make decisions in line with provincial standards, but could not comment on any specific involvement due to privacy legislation.

Ontario's Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services (MCCSS) issued a similar statement late Friday, adding the well-being of youth in the province is a "top priority."

No one from the province has confirmed whether the circumstances surrounding the infant's death in Kingston will be reviewed, though the ministry said that is the protocol in cases where the child died while receiving services.

Under Ontario's Child, Youth and Family Services Act, CBC cannot report details that could identify the woman or her kids.

According to Elman, there's pressure on children's aid societies not to add to an already overburdened care system.

"It's a brutal life to live in care, but when these people say it's no place for a child to be, they're the very people responsible for not making it brutal," he said. "That makes it very confusing both for the workers and sometimes even the parents."

Elman is calling for a special committee to be struck across party lines, and for investigations by the Office of the Chief Coroner and Ontario's ombudsman.

He wants to see a biannual report on the number of deaths of children in care , and recommendations about what can be done to reduce that number.

The father said natural causes and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) have been ruled out.

The father said natural causes and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) have been ruled out.

The father of the two children found abandoned in a Kingston apartment in late May told CBC natural causes and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) have been ruled out in the death of his youngest son. (Patrick Louiseize/CBC)

Liberal MPP for Kingston and the Islands Ted Hsu said he was "horrified" to learn of the recent case in his riding, and echoed calls for an investigation.

"I don't know the full details of this individual case, and I'm sure more will be unveiled as local officials investigate, but I am interested in understanding any evidence of systemic problems that led to the terrible outcome of this case," he said.

"For example, one thing I would want to understand is how files are managed, and what happened to this file when the people moved between agencies."

Elman, whose office was closed in 2019 by the Ford government, said the system is designed to mitigate risk, not to find the best ways to support families.

"We should create a separate system [that's] responsible for caring for children that come into the care of the state, and care for [them] in a way that doesn't remove them completely from their biological families," he said.

"The family support system should be about developing community and supporting families, so that every family gets what it needs, when it needs it, to do right by their children."

Pair of siblings found alone in Kingston home has community asking parents, police and child welfare agencies how living conditions allowed to devolve to point of baby's death.

Pair of siblings found alone in Kingston home has community asking parents, police and child welfare agencies how living conditions allowed to devolve to point of baby's death.

A young boy was found alone in a Kingston apartment with the body of his infant brother on May 29. Their mother is now facing multiple child neglect charges. (CBC News Graphics)

Children's Aid Society of Ottawa urges reform 

On June 6, the Children's Aid Society of Ottawa (CASO) announced it's urging the province to reform child welfare services due to "a growing number of children and youth with complex needs are unable to remain safely at home or access appropriate treatment options in their communities."

In a statement, CASO pointed to inadequate resources, a lack of support and housing, and insufficient collaboration between sectors as reasons why youth are falling through the cracks.

"These vulnerable individuals are at risk of being placed in environments that do not meet their needs, such as out-of-region group homes, or other placements that may compromise their safety and well-being," CASO's statement read.

CASO executive director Kelly Raymond also said in a statement the sector is at a "tipping point."

Children's aid societies in other regions have also raised alarm bells about provincial funding levels.

In 2019, the Ford government cut $28 million from a $1.5-billion fund earmarked for regional children's aid societies. At the time, more than a dozen of Ontario's child protection agencies were already in deficit.

In 2024, the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPESU) reported 49 of the 53 societies were facing a $67-million budget shortfall, representing about 30 per cent of their operating costs.

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