The majority of the new Child, Youth and Family Services Act (CYFSA) was proclaimed in the Ontario legislature on April 30, 2018. The Minister responsible for this legislation, Michael Coteau, has rightly said about the new Act that, “The real work is not going to happen in the walls of the legislature. It’s going to happen on the streets of Hamilton and Kapuskasing.”
For Children’s Aid Societies operating in Hamilton and Kapuskasing, as well as the rest of Ontario, the new Act means transformational change with significant resource implications. It is critical, if the legislation is truly going to benefit children and families, that the government meaningfully support the child welfare sector as it embarks on this exciting journey.
In the last five years Children’s Aid Societies have undertaken many initiatives to improve the child welfare system. These include a new training and authorization process for child protection workers, a Shared Services program, and projects to support reconciliation with Indigenous communities and to address disproportional involvement of African-Canadian families. We have also collaborated closely with the Ministry of Child and Youth Services on a province-wide information system and the restoration of jurisdiction to new Indigenous Child Well-Being Societies.
The new CYFSA will help to continue this much needed system transformation. The Act – which is 640 pages long - empowers Indigenous communities to look after their children and youth, enhances early prevention supports for struggling families, increases accountability of Children’s Aid Societies, and raises the age of protection. Until this year, Ontario was the only province in Canada that did not offer protection services to youth who are 16 and 17-years-old.
The new age of protection and new accountability rules around information privacy and disclosure are just two of the many significant ways that the CYFSA will significantly impact child welfare services and resources.
Since January (the amendment was introduced in advance of the rest of the legislation) hundreds of youth who are 16 and 17-years-old have applied for and started to receive protection services, a testament to the profound need this legislation is helping to meet. Through Children’s Aid Societies, this vulnerable age group is now able to access housing, counselling, financial supports, and help to connect to the social and cultural services they need.
The new rules around information privacy and governance, including new oversight powers by the Information and Privacy Commissioner, will also have a huge impact on Children’s Aid Society operations. Disclosing child welfare records to clients requires a great deal more preparatory work than health care files because they include substantial information about third parties, who also have a right to information privacy.
The child welfare sector awaits the proclamation of the new Child, Youth and Family Services Act with great anticipation. We have advocated for the changes it includes for decades. As we embark on this historic initiative we ask that the Ontario government accompany us, so that children, youth, and families can truly benefit.
The above was submitted by the Ontario Association of Children's Aid Societies.