By David Rivard,
Chief Executive Officer
The future of the child welfare sector has just become a whole lot more interesting with the legislative changes proposed by Minister Coteau in late 2016. Over the next two years, we are likely to see major changes in the way child welfare services are delivered, data collected and the number of agencies in operation across the province. In early December, the Minister announced what some are calling ‘historic’ changes to the Child and Family Services Act (CFSA), the first in over three decades. Bill 89, if passed by the Liberal majority at Queens Park, would among other things:
• Amend the CFSA to raise the age of protection services to 18
• Emphasize children’s rights and child-centred language
• Make changes to specific areas in children’s aid society
governance and accountability to permit amalgamations
• Address children’s residential licensing
• Provide the Ministry the authority to designate ‘lead’ agencies.
Several of these changes would set in play a complex set of policy and funding challenges. However, I believe the Minister is heading in the right direction with the proposed changes, and the sector will be that much stronger for it in the long run.
In late October, the Executive Directors from the Catholic and Jewish agencies and I had the opportunity to meet with the Minister and two of his senior staff to discuss several issues, including the collection of race-based data, the role of CAS Boards, issues pertaining to Child Protection Information Network (CPIN) and child welfare reform. In order to assist with reform, a Child Welfare Partnership committee has been established to include leaders from the field and the Ministry working together on strategic reform issues and the alignment of various government initiatives.
Wanting to remain responsive to the changes that will be coming to the sector, and to demonstrate our readiness to consider all aspects of reconfiguration, our Board of Directors developed the following list of ‘reconfiguration principles’ that will complement and guide the direction our agency will take over the next several years.
• Improved service experience and outcomes for children and families
• Maximum service value from the use of resources
• Promotion of equity for all
• Meaningful engagement of all stakeholders
• Linkages with others to benefit from and contribute to their initiatives
• Value the experiences and contributions of reconfiguration partners.
Other initiatives, including shared intake screening for the four Toronto CASs, shared access to records and communication support, are all ideas that are being considered. With the next provincial election set for June 2018 and many in the local media championing the fact that the existing model for the child welfare sector has not been revamped in nearly 100 years, we can be assured that interesting times lay ahead for the 46 CASs currently operating across the province.
We will be sure to keep our website up to date with pertinent news regarding the forthcoming changes and how CAST will adapt accordingly.
For a larger provincial picture, feel free to visit the website of the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies (OACAS) at
By Laura Eley,
Communications Coordinator, Children’s Aid Foundation
In 2014, the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto (CAST) collaborated with the Thorncliffe community to establish a collaborative aimed for Muslim families and children in order to improve access and provide culturally appropriate services. As a result, Intake staff and managers have built stronger bridges with local schools and agencies.
Thorncliffe community is a densely populated, multicultural neighbour-hood and is considered a ‘priority neighbourhood’ by the City of Toronto. Half of the population spend 30% of their income on housing, and over 90% of individuals live in high-rise apartments. The goal of the partnership is to increase awareness of child welfare services among service providers and faith groups serving families living in the Thorncliffe community. Parents and the community have responded well to the initiative saying:
‘Having all concerned agencies and service providers at one table has been key to making things happen. This project, Thorncliffe Collaborative for Muslim Families has given a voice to a segment that is often not heard - that is the voice of those with special needs’.
‘Through this collaborative, bringing culturally relevant workshops to this community has been key to getting the required help to the parents and children that need it most.’ – Parent Leader.
Like any other community initiatives, this project aims to engage parents in positive and preventative conversations in collaboration with local partners and agencies. Through this integrated approach, we strengthen family-child relationships and expand access to community resources. For more information on this partnership:
Said Dirie, Community Development Worker, CAS of Toronto.
(416) 924-4646 x 3766
Communicate: Your title is Chief Operating Officer, what does that mean at a Children’s Aid Society?
Mahesh Prajapat: As a Chief Operating Officer, I oversee the agency’s ongoing operations and procedures. My job is to set clear,
strategic direction for what our service priorities are. Having a clear vision of where we are heading, setting clear goals, targets and being able to deliver all of that to the community is fundamental. It will build trust, which will determine our success.
C: Discuss your journey through child welfare, and the transition from Peel CAS to CAS of Toronto.
MP: I started my journey as a social worker with the Catholic Children’s Aid Society in 1991. I joined the Peel CAS Intake team in 1992. Throughout my 25 years with Peel CAS, I held different positions throughout the agency before taking on the Director of Service role. Accepting the COO position and the transition to CAST was not an easy decision. No doubt, it is a fantastic opportunity; however, after 25 years spent in an organization, you are not leaving behind a ‘job,’ you are leaving relationships built throughout the years.
As with any new environment, adjusting to the work culture,
relearning the system, the transition itself was tough. It is a new journey and a great challenge, and I am looking forward to establishing new relationships.
C: What guides the child welfare service philosophy?
MP: We exist as an organization to serve and protect children and youth. We are here to make the lives of the people who need us the most, better. This is our guiding principle. The child welfare sector, often is viewed in a negative lens; however, our service philosophy is to partner with families and the community for the benefit of the child/youth, to ensure they are kept safe and stay with their family.
I like to believe that we do not have to keep kids safe from their families, but rather, we support families to keep their kids safe. Fundamentally, believing that our work is a partnership with the family, being transparent, understanding the family dynamics, because they hold the key to make their family ties stronger.
C: CAS of Toronto is the largest board-governed child welfare organization in North America. What opportunities and challenges does that present?
MP: It is a complex organization, coordinating and making sure service flows, system is efficient and aligned is a difficult thing to do. We have the capacity (and advantage) to make a strong impact on how the child welfare service is delivered, and to influence change in a way that smaller agencies may not have. The Ministry pays more attention to CAS of Toronto. There are, certainly, more eyes and ears on us, giving us the chance to influence the field in a way that many others may not be able to, and that is definitely an advantage.
C: What does CAST need to do better?
MP: At CAST, our principles and values are clear: we strongly believe children and youth belong at home with their families. Consequently, strengthening our relationship with the community is crucial in order to succeed. Child safety should be a joint effort, and not the sole responsibility of Children’s Aid, but rather a community partnership. Unfortunately, the child welfare sector has the reputation of separating children/youth from their families. We are moving away from that approach.
Community partnership entails the involvement of the family, educational institutions, mental health/medical institutions, the police, etc., making it a global responsibility. Therefore it becomes a stronger foundation.
C: The future of child welfare in Ontario is under the microscope right now. How is CAST positioned to handle the future?
MP: We know and have determined what our success factors are. We are well positioned to handle the pressures of the future, both financial and services related. The notion of being adaptive to change, and responsive to change, is a character any organization has to have. Our main goal is to improve service experience and outcomes for children and families. Maximize service value from the use of resources, build meaningful engagement of all stakeholders, as well as build linkages with others to benefit from, and contribute to their initiatives. I can confidently say CAST is ready for the changes that lie ahead.
C: What do you find the most challenging about the work you are doing right now?
MP: The tremendous amount of scrutiny surrounding the child welfare sector; it does not allow any forgiveness. It is very difficult to live up to an unrealistic expectation, where children will not be harmed, especially when we live in a society that has numerous systemic issues such as poverty, disproportionality, equity, unemployment, violence, all types of social factors. These are all facts that create risks.
C: What have you learned about CAST in your first year on the job that you did not know before?
MP: I am impressed with everyone in the agency. There is a tremendous amount of talent, skills and knowledge. There is a genuine desire, throughout the agency, to make a difference. Being in a leadership role, we want to build an organization where people matter. We want people to feel that they are valued; it is important that they have a voice. Having people who believe in the work they do and are committed is the key to success; therefore, putting the right people in the right position, then everything else will follow through. It is important to build a healthy organization by having a clear direction.
By Judie Powell,
The Children’s Aid Society of Toronto is committed to supporting Black youth in care in discovering and embracing their Afro-Canadian history. Organized by the Black Education Awareness Committee, each August, a group of Black youth involved with children’s aid journey to a historically signi-ficant black destination to increase their awareness and understanding of historical and contemporary Black contributions to today’s society, and in turn to support the development of a healthy self and cultural identity. The week spent in Nova Scotia was an unforgettable experience that changed many youth’s self-perception. For some it was their first time on an airplane; for others it was their first time leaving Ontario.
We began our journey by meeting with the newly appointed Senator, Dr. Wanda Thomas-Bernard, Dalhousie’s first African Nova Scotian tenured professor. Dr. Bernard provided in-depth information about the history of the African Diaspora in Nova Scotia. Our next stop was The Black Loyalist Heritage Centre to uncover the roles Black Loyalists had in the building and development of Nova Scotia, including their involvement in the construction of the Citadel Hill. The Loyalist Heritage Centre also has a tool that allow individuals to trace their family names on slave ships that brought their ancestors from Africa. It was a startling and painful experience for many who were able to locate their family name in the records.
There were many powerful moments that occurred on this Soul Journey, including our visit to AKOMA Family Centre, a child residential care facility in Nova Scotia. AKOMA was previously named ‘Nova Scotia Home for Coloured Children,’ which opened in 1921. In accordance with segregation, Black children were placed in mental health facilities, rather than in care, separating them from the white children. We visited Africville, the former Halifax suburb where Blacks lived beginning in the early 1800s, that was systematically dismantled and eventually bulldozed by the government in the 1940s. Today this historical site is now a ‘leash-free” dog park. Here, we had the privilege of meeting and speaking to loyalist descendants who had left their imprint on Canadian Black history. One particular gentleman who made a powerful impact on our youth during this trip was Eddie Carvey. Eddie has been protesting the illegal removal of his family for over 50 years, and shared his and his family’s experiences and struggles. The youth were so moved by Eddie’s testimony they raised and donated over $100 of their own money to him.
The Soul Journey experience was enriched by activities including team building exercises, wagon rides, a community bbq and the celebration of one of the travellers’ birthday. Soul Journey 2016 was our third to Nova Scotia, and for good reason. Each trip there continues to yield a wealth of life-changing and self-affirming discoveries and adventures for each of the youth involved.
Communicate: Why does CAS of Toronto need a Director of Diversity?
Nicole Bonnie: CAS of Toronto (CAST) has a long-standing commitment to equity. However, it was recognized that there was a need for some strategic direction and leadership to ensure consistency, as well as successful and systematic implementation of the work.
Diversity and Anti-Oppression are core values in the organization and allocating resources to creating a role like this at a Director level demonstrates the agency’s commitment to meaningful sustainable change.
C: What does your role encompass?
NB: My role involves creating and managing strategic oversight of our Anti-Oppression equity plan, community development agenda and our Out and Proud program.
C: What has changed in child welfare that makes a role like yours important?
NB: The demographics of our community are constantly changing. It is becoming increasingly diverse with the landscape of our society making it increasingly complex. Various social determinants continue to adversely influence racialized and marginalized families, which often bring many communities to the attention of child welfare. However, most importantly there has been a major change in the acknowledgement of our responsibility and contribution to overrepresentation and disparities for vulnerable communities and a desire to impact positive change.
C: How will your work be guided or directed by the agency’s Anti- Oppression Anti-Racism (AOAR) policy?
NB: My work will be 100% informed and guided by the AOAR policy. This policy speaks to our commitment to creating a work environment, policies and practices that are free from racism and oppression. My role is to ensure that every area of our AOAR strategy and implementation operationalizes our AOAR policies.
C: What communities will be impacted the most by your work?
NB: My desire and aim is that all marginalized communities who come in contact with CAS of Toronto will be positively impacted by the AOAR work in our agency. Currently we have a particular issue with disproportionality, the amount of Black families, children and youth involved with CAST, and my hope is to see effective race equity practices implemented within service delivery, to reduce the disparities we see in decision-making and outcomes. It will be important that we continue to take an intersectional approach to our work in recognizing all parts of our clients’ identity, including gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, ability, beliefs and practices.
C: Will the public notice a difference in their interactions with CAST as a result of your work?
NB: One of the principles of AOAR work is it should not only be seen in our outcomes, but also within processes. This means that in the daily experience of casework or staff interactions, AOAR principles should be evident. Through this, service users and staff will have a more positive experience when interacting with our agency. I aim to have AOAR live beyond a policy statement, and become expressively integrated within the front line, management practice and decision-making. This provides a great opportunity for our agency to ‘walk the talk’ in all that we do. This will take time and a lot of hard work on the part of every staff member in this organization to get there.
C: What do you hope to accomplish?
NB: My role as Director of Diversity provides me the opportunity to lead and support the AOAR vision of the organization. This work however cannot be accomplished without the help and support from everyone in the organization, especially my colleagues in senior leadership.
My desire is for us to accomplish the following:
• Embed equity principles within our hiring practice, which will lead to increased diversity in our frontline and management staff, in order to better reflect the community we serve.
• Integrate the AOAR policy with our service framework to improve service delivery outcomes for all families, especially those families who experience marginalization and dispirit outcomes.
• We would also like to better the collection and use of data so that we can ensure that we are being responsive to the needs of those we serve.
C: What are some of the challenges you expect to encounter in your role?
NB: Like every initiative, change is sometimes difficult because it involves thinking differently and practising differently. How the agency manages the change will be very important. It will be critical that the entire agency embrace this work in a meaningful way in their day-to-day practice so that change is noticeable and sustainable for the clients we serve.
C: What excites you most about your future as the Director of Diversity?
NB: What excites me most is our capacity and potential for change as an organization. Staff in our agency have a genuine desire to make a difference and that makes me hopeful that we can truly have ‘equity-focused’ practice that makes a difference to those who are most vulnerable and on the margins, as well as our staff.
By Deborah Goodman,
Director, Child Welfare Institute, Children’s Aid Society of Toronto
We know poverty is not a sufficient or necessary factor on its own to cause child maltreatment. The burden that comes with being poor affects families differently. Poverty can place families under a considerable amount of stress; directly, due to ongoing material hardship or the inability to pay for resources such as food or housing, or indirectly, due to chronic lack of resources, the burden of shame and stigma that accompanies poverty, or from the effects of living in low-income neighbourhoods.
For some parents, stress is expressed in the form of poor health, increased mental illness, substance use or domestic violence. We know poverty intersects with unemployment and housing challenges, children in those families are more vulnerable and are at a greater risk for child maltreatment, as their caregiver(s) is under considerable stress. We know racism intersects with all of these factors, further challenging equity and access, and creating more barriers. In Toronto, this is especially true for the Black and Indigenous communities.
Is poverty a factor in children becoming involved with child welfare in Ontario? Is it a factor in children entering care? A 2013 study of nearly 5,000 Ontario child welfare cases by University of Toronto PhD student and CAS of Toronto Family Service Worker Kofi Antwi-Boasiako explored for the first time in Canada the relationship of poverty and ethno-racial status to the decision to transfer an investigation of child maltreatment to ongoing services and the decision to place a child in out-of-home care. We know there is significant overrepresentation of our Black and Indigenous children in care – is poverty a factor? Analysis found that caregiver risk and household poverty were significant and meaningful drivers of the decision to transfer Black children to ongoing services and place them in care but even after controlling for caregiver risk and household poverty, the ethno-racial factor appears to still be contributing to the decision to place a child in care for Indigenous children. We now know that running out of money for food, housing and utilities approximately double the odds of a placement of a child in care and that caregiver risk and household poverty are significantly related to the decision to place a child. While we know now more about poverty’s role – we have much still to learn about what we can do to significantly reduce the disproportionality and disparity and poverty’s impact on our Black and Indigenous children.
Judy Brady was a foster parent from 1964 – 1965. Just before the first foster child was transitioned from Judy’s home, she decided to make something warm for that child to wear.
This, Judy hoped, would continue the warmth the child received in her home. So, she knitted 2 outfits for that child.
She has been knitting for children ever since. She started the trend of knitting two garments for each child who was placed in her home. While fostering and knitting, Judy had time to raise two children of her own and care for several children in the neighbourhood.
In 1966 Judy formally became a volunteer knitter. She tries to continue her routine of knitting daily, as she sees it as therapy for her soul even though it might be difficult on her hands now. Over the years she has spent thousands of dollars on yarn in order to give this much needed and appreciated support. Judy continues to scout garage sales, flea markets and anywhere else for the best deals; the days of 99 cents for a ball of yarn at Zellers is over. Her quality of work is noticeable with the great detail in her knitting demonstrating her thoughtfulness and caring.
‘Thanks, Judy,’ for your continued support and determination in keeping the children at CAS of Toronto warm and cared for.
The Crystal Heart Volunteer Award is presented annually to honour a volunteer who has demonstrated an outstanding commitment to the agency through years of service and active volunteering in a variety of different volunteer positions, and is someone who is a goodwill ambassador for the work that we do here at the Society.
Gutama has been a volunteer for over 3.5 years: Special Friend; CAP; BEAC events, including chaperone on Soul Journey 2016; AGM; Child and Youth in Care Day; PRIDE; and he is a co-presenter at information sessions for new volunteer applicants. Most importantly he is a father of four-year-old twin boys.
Committed, dedicated, deter-mined, flexible, team worker, kind hearted, good listener and non-judgemental are all words to describe him.
‘Thank you, Gutama,’ for your time and dedication to our children, youth, families and the organization. You are an incredible ambassador.
By Molly Barnes,
Community Development Worker
The Furniture Bank is a non-profit organization created by concerned community members in 1998 and is funded by the United Way of Greater Toronto. For a small delivery fee, gently used furniture is delivered to low-income families and individuals. All revenues collected go back to the Furniture Bank. The service is staffed mostly by volunteers.
Why is a furniture bank needed in Toronto?
With the high cost of living and housing in Toronto, many low-income families do not have adequate funds to purchase furniture. This can be especially difficult for vulnerable families who are leaving shelters to move into a new apartment, have migrated to Canada, have fled their homes due to domestic violence or have lost furniture due to bedbug infestations.
CAS of Toronto’s role
CAS of Toronto coordinates referrals to the Furniture Bank for families who are involved with the Society, as well as for youth in care who are transitioning into the community. Referrals to the Furniture Bank continue to rise, having gone up from 35 families in 2008 to 216 families in 2015. In the past five years, CAS of Toronto has made referrals to the Furniture Bank benefitting over 2,000 children.
As poverty levels deepen in our city, child protection workers occasionally visit homes where families some-times have no furniture and both parents and children are sleeping on the floor. This can be very distressing and demoralizing to all involved. While the Furniture Bank provides free-of-charge furniture, even the nominal delivery fee can be out of reach of some families. Child protection workers have requested through their supervisors that CAS of Toronto approve payment for the delivery of furniture in cases where a family cannot afford it, thereby helping a family achieve some well-being and stability.
CAS of Toronto Community Development Team connection
As a Community Development Worker, I coordinate all CAS of Toronto service team referrals and manage the relationship with the Furniture Bank. This support role fits in the agency’s strategic priority to support income security and poverty alleviation. In addition to this partnership, we work together to support families to stabilize their housing needs, which in some cases supports or leads to family reunification. The Furniture Bank is a great resource among youth leaving care and transitioning into rental housing in the community who require this housing support as an important part of that transition.
Impact of the furniture bank on children and families
The Furniture Bank has been an important service to CAS of Toronto families. The value per dollar to provide this service is without a question tremendously affordable and much needed.
CAS workers and families have expressed gratitude about the difference securing furniture has meant to them. The poster above was drawn by children who received furniture from the Furniture Bank. This family was involved with CAS of Toronto and we made the referral and paid delivery charge. The picture shows the children’s sadness eating dinner on the floor before they received their furniture and their huge smiles now.
You can help
The trend is pointing to an increased need in the community for a Furniture Bank service. We urgently appeal for furniture donations or funding support. Tax receipts are provided for donated furniture. You can help by contacting the Furniture Bank at 416.934.1229,
or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Communicate is produced by the Communications Department of the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto.
Comments, letters to the editor and submissions may be forwarded to:
Fajir Sunba and Rob Thompson, Editors, Communicate.
Children’s Aid Society of Toronto
30 Isabella Street
Toronto, ON M4Y 1N1
phone: (416) 924-4646 / fax (416) 324-2485
The opinions expressed in articles appearing in this publication do not necessarily reflect the policy, views or opinions of the board, executive or members of the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto or the Children’s Aid Foundation.
Design & Layout: Aby Philipson
The Children’s Aid Society of Toronto is governed by a volunteer Board of Directors and funded by the Province of Ontario.