A strong community takes ownership for ensuring that all children grow up in safe and healthy environments. The saying “It takes a whole village to raise a child” is especially true when it comes to child protection. The identification and support of children who may be in need of protection can be done well only when the whole community takes responsibility for its children. An effective response depends on each service or discipline working as part of a team, understanding each other’s roles and mandates and ensuring that these roles complement one another. A collaborative response blends the skills and expertise of everyone involved with the aim of enhancing the well-being and protection of every child.
The Children’s Aid Society (CAS) is the largest “parent” group in the province—there are over 18,000 children in care in Ontario. Across our eight counties, there are four CASs with a total of approximately 900 children in their care. Most of these children are attending school, and in such cases CAS is generally acting as the parent with respect to educational issues. At any given time, the four CASs in our area are also working with another 3,000 to 4,000 children living with their parents or extended family (kinship service). CAS is not acting as the parent in these cases.
CAS works with far more children living with family or kin than with children in care.
CASs have a continuum of relationships with families and children from an entirely voluntary service to a range of legally mandated interventions for children remaining in their own homes (Supervision Order) or varying levels of legal status if they are in CAS care. The following table summarizes these relationships.
Any of the 53 CASs across the province may have placed a child in a foster home or group home in this area. In addition to CAS group homes, there are hundreds of beds in privately operated or for-profit group homes (not CAS group homes) within our area that may have children and youth placed there. The local CAS will not have knowledge of or any decision-making responsibility for that child or youth. The parent CAS, which could be from the Greater Toronto Area or as far away as James Bay or even out of province, retains decision-making authority for these children. The parent society may or may not request that the local CAS formally supervise the youth in the group home. Supporting children in these circumstances requires cooperation and effective communication between the parent society, the local CAS, the school, and any other local agencies involved in their care.
Because of trauma and losses in their lives, children in care of CASs across the country have considerably higher rates of learning disabilities or behavioural issues than their cohorts who have lived continuously with their families. In addition, children in care experience far more school transfers, both before they come into care as a result of family mobility and after they come into care as a result of placement breakdowns.
By virtue of living in foster or group care, these children feel and face the stigma of being different from their classmates, and some feel a sense of being less than others as a result. To help them achieve, we need to understand the implications of their situation:
With a little support and encouragement, many children display remarkable RESILIENCE despite serious challenges. RESILIENCE is defined as “good outcomes in spite of serious threats to adaptation or development” (Masten, 2001)*
Bandura (2001)* writes that psychological theories “grossly overpredict psychopathology”. He then adds, “Our theories lead one to expect that most of the children living in … impoverished, risky environments, will be heavily involved in crime, addicted to drugs, or physically impaired for normal life. In fact, most of the children make it through the developmental hazards. As adults most support themselves through legitimate jobs, form partnerships, and stay clear of criminal activities.” RESILIENCE is about ordinary magic. It is about hope and a positive vision for the future. Here are some things to know about building RESILIENCE:
Quoted in Raymond Lemay, “Why is RESILIENCE important?” (PowerPoint presentation, RESILIENCE Congress, Melbourne, Australia, August 2006) Available at:
http://www.cyf.vic.gov.au /__data/assets/pdf_file/0016/ 17161/raymond_lemay_why_ resilience_important.pdf
Teachers are key to the long-term success of children in care and can make a difference in a variety of ways:
But it is important to remember that teachers are not alone. We have to work together to ensure that our “village” provides everything possible for the success of our children in care.
Each CAS has responsibilities for responding to concerns that any child may be in need of protection. A child could be in need of protection as a result of physical, sexual, emotional abuse (including witnessing family violence), neglect and risk of harm. Every person has a duty to report to the CAS any suspicion that a child may be in need of protection. The threshold for the duty to report is clearly defined in the Child and Family Services Act: professionals who have reasonable grounds for suspecting that a child may be in need of protection must report directly to the CAS. The professional must report directly and not rely on any other person to relay that information. Once the professional has passed the “reasonable grounds to suspect” threshold, it is important to avoid any further interviewing of the child as this can contaminate the investigative process required by the CAS and police under the CFSA and Criminal Code.