Sadly, on November 15th, 2018, the government, without fair warning I might add, announced the plan to close the office of the Ontario Child Advocate.
Is this a consequence of Ontario’s cheap beer?
I have spent the better part of my adult life working alongside the system of child welfare and it’s many branches, mostly as a Foster Parent and at times as a Child and Youth Counsellor. This system is built from love and compassion to help children and youth in need of protection.
Regardless of how compassionate, robust, and strong our child welfare system is in Ontario, like all systems, there are gaps, cracks, and at times downright system failures. All systems have gaps, cracks and weak-points, but in Child Welfare, when things fall through the cracks, it can actually put lives at risk – the lives of children and youth who have already experienced profound levels of trauma often due to abuse, neglect, poverty, and/or mental health.
In 2007, Ontario strategically and intelligently built a line of defense against such system gaps by implementing an independent office called Ontario Child Advocate (The Advocate’s Office). At the forefront of this office, the Advocate himself, Irwin Elman brought to the position a wealth of experience and knowledge with an extensive background as an educator, counsellor, youth worker, and program manager. For over 20 years Irwin held the position of manager of the Pape Adolescent Resource Centre (PARC) in Toronto, a program of the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto and the Catholic Children’s Aid Society of Toronto, clearly Irwin is qualified.
For those of you who may be unfamiliar with the Ontario Child Advocate, let me explain. The Advocate’s office is an independent office of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario guided by the principles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). This office was brought about by the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth Act2007.
The Ontario Child Advocate website states the purpose of the office:
- To provide an independent voice for children and youth, including First Nations children and those with special needs, by partnering with them to bring issues forward;
- To encourage communication and understanding between children and their families and the people who provide them with services;
- To educate children, youth and their caregivers regarding the rights of children and youth; and
- To conduct investigations about matters concerning a child or group of children under the care of a children’s aid society (CAS) or a residential licensee where the CAS is the placing agency and make recommendations.
All of this, gone in a reckless decision to save money.
Take a moment to wrap your head around this. The system’s safety net has been ripped from underneath our province’s most vulnerable children. Children of indigenous backgrounds, children with disabilities, those suffering abuse and neglect, all now without a safety net while in care. How dangerous this could become. When an accident happens because of the inevitable gaps in the system, children and youth will no longer have the passion and care of the Advocate’s Office behind them.
The plan is to have the Ontario Ombudsman assume the duties of the Advocate which is utterly insulting to the experience and expertise of the true Advocate, as it pertains to upholding the voice and protection of vulnerable children. This hasty act is not honouring the integrity and the many years of hard work that have gone into building the Ontario Child Advocate and the safety net that it has provided over the years for many.
If you feel as strongly as I do about this grave mistake, let people know how you feel, educate others on what the Advocate’s office does and the safety if offers children and youth in care.
I urge you to join me in writing to Premier Doug Ford, to encourage him to reconsider this nonsense. You can click here to contact the Premier. Below I have provided a sample letter.
Now, let’s not allow cheap beer to get in the way of our integrity!
Sample letter to Premier Doug Ford:
To: The Honourable Doug Ford Premier of Ontario
Minister Lisa MacLeod MPP
RE: Unacceptable closure of the office of The Ontario Advocate
Dear Premier Ford and Minister MacLeod:
I wish to express my deep concerns about the Progressive Conservative government’s decision to close the Advocate’s office. This places our province’s most vulnerable children and youth in potential danger and is of great concern.
I firmly believe that repealing the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth Actis an act of haste and pure dismissal of the need for systemic accountability of Ontario’s child welfare system.
As a resident of Ontario, I expect your government to deliver services in a fair and safe manner. I expect you to keep safe the children who are in need of protection, not only from harm in the community but also with avenues to reach out for help under the care of the system itself.
With this repeal, your government is putting at risk the wellbeing of children and youth of Ontario’s child welfare system.
I expect your response via return mail.
Resident and Taxpayer, <insert your municipality here> Provincial Voter – <your riding>
c.c. <your MPP>