Three Step Proposal- Jeffrey's Law
1. Agencies need to be held accountable for their actions:
a) if a child dies in care, an agent should be required to prove before a committee that they did everything in their power to protect the child including:
- a thorough check of the child’s family for a history of abuse
- a thorough check of child’s foster family regardless of blood ties
- saw the child face to face at every home visit which is currently every 90 days- and should remain every 90 days regardless of ‘kinship’ care
- ensured all appointments were kept if parents or children are receiving social services
- if allegations were made after placement or initial intervention, they are followed up closely
Failing to do any of the above, and found guilty, the agent would not only be dismissed, but they could face criminal charges of negligence causing death. Hopefully this would encourage more concise, thorough investigations and documentation being done.
Currently, all the CCAS agents involved in the Jordan Heikamp, Sara Podniewicz and Jeffrey Baldwin cases are either still actively employed or are on long term disability paid with Ontario public’s taxes- they should be in jail.
b) Agencies need to be responsible for hiring qualified agents who have university or college education to work in the field. Agents should be trained by all levels of professionals including pediatricians, coroners, homicide detectives, sexual abuse workers, and highly experienced social workers so they can be better equipped to notice red flags. More funding definitely needs to be concentrated on children to ensure agents are qualified professionals.
c) These agencies should have to function like a business. Without divulging confidential information about children or families, they should have to publish an in depth annual report available to anyone on their web site that states budget, spending, the number of children placed in foster homes or adopted as well as any deaths and their causes. The agency should have to divulge the details surrounding any deaths and why they were not prevented.
They should have to be accountable to their four stakeholders;
a) their customers- the children,
b) their shareholders- Ontario tax payers;
c) their community- doing fundraising, awareness campaigns, benefits of adoption/ fostering/ volunteering campaigns, etc.,
d) and finally to their employee’s- adequate benefits, salaries and vacation time.
Instead of a monetary bottom line, they will have a ‘successful placement’ bottom line.
They should have goals, budgets and forecasts just like a corporation and should strive to meet these objectives.
e) Agencies must take every call seriously and have someone personally visit the household and see the children face to face before they consult their ‘Risk Assessment Module’. Agents should legally be allowed into any home when an accusation of abuse has been made or if they fear for their safety, an officer go with them. The visit should be a surprise and at the initial meeting, the caller should not be identified. Agents would note various aspects such as the condition of the home, the demeanor of the parents and the condition of the child relative to its age. If the claim is substantiated by the agent, the child be taken immediately and put into emergency foster care. If not, the agent then visits the caller to determine whether or not revenge or malicious intent was the motive for the call. I use the example of the Toronto woman who cut off the hands of her neighbour because she thought the neighbour called the CAS on her.
f) Abuse repeats itself, so family histories should be researched and examined before a child is placed with a relative or back with their parents.
This is all regurgitated information. It’s the same issue over and over again. It is past due time that the Provincial and Federal government step in with more funding and provide more resources to agencies. I’m convinced that the general public wants our future generation to be properly protected. Having said that, agents must be held responsible for their judgement calls and have known and severe consequences for failing to research properly.
‘Why should we cut more slack for professionals than we ever would with a parent? A parent screws up, their kids are taken. When an agency screws up, it’s an honest mistake and everyone has to be understanding.’ - Bruce Hardy
2. Various Laws and Legislation need to be changed as well as the Judicial System:
a) Parents should not have access to children taken and put into foster homes until they can convince the CAS that they are willing to learn how to be better parents. Children should be made crown wards more often than not and available for adoption rather than going from foster home to foster home, or worse, back to their parents
b) Children must come first. The clients of the Children’s Aid Society are the children! Too often the parents are forgiven for their behavior and the child’s best interest is not taken into account. The laws must be revised to state that the child’s welfare is the absolute most important factor the minute a call is placed to the society. The current child- protection legislation in Ontario states that children will benefit more from less intrusive alternative and no longer applies when statistics show that the most dangerous place for a child is in the home, and that abuse most of the time is inflicted by a known person. In a report done in 1998 called The Consequences of Child Maltreatment Canada, the Manitoba Family Services stated that ‘the fatality rate from physical abuse is estimated to be between 4% and 10 % if an injured child is placed back in the family home a second time.’ The rates are most certainly higher now. The system clearly puts the rights of adults before children.
c) A special charge of ‘death by child abuse’ must be included in the Criminal Code of Canada with a minimum sentence of ten years regardless of the child’s age. Currently the trend is that the younger the child, the less the sentence, sometimes parents getting no jail time at all. A year or two later they’re pregnant again and it starts all over.
d) Government has to start taking an interest in Child Welfare because although they can not vote right now, they will eventually. The price of properly caring for a child now is a lot less than the cost of dealing with potential juvenile delinquents
e) Neglect and failing to provide the necessities of life should be considered as significant as physical abuse to the judge
f) Section 43 of the Criminal Code of Canada states that any adult can use force to correct a child under his care as long as the force does not exceed what is reasonable under the circumstances. This is so out of date it shouldn’t need fighting to be changed, however, both the Provincial and Supreme Court of Canada believe it should still be in effect.
In all, there are too many loopholes in many aspects of both the Criminal Code and Child and Family Act of Canada to mention. Why haven’t the other four adults living in the house with Jeffrey been charged with Criminal Negligence causing death? Their actions, or rather lack thereof, clearly fall under that law. Why are some laws enforced while others are abandoned?
3. The public CAS and CCAS should be amalgamated:
a) Both agencies are competing for the same funding but if both agencies cleaned house so to speak and became one public agency, it would function much more effectively. The public CAS on a whole seems to performing much better than the CCAS
b) A single case manager for each child for the full duration of their lifetime in care would be beneficial and help prevent fatal miscommunication mistakes.
In conclusion, our current system is not working and requires a complete overhaul that I don’t believe would take millions of dollars to accomplish. It’s logic that should guide agencies, ministries, judges, and foster parents. Consulting some professionals on how the laws should be revised, what signs to look for when determining potential abuse and an agency set up to watch the Children’s Aid Society is all that should be required. It needs to happen now, too many silent victims have lived in torture and died alone and needlessly. Coroners inquests don’t carry much weight anymore, the recommendations aren’t implemented, it costs a lot of money and places empty blame. No one can be charged, fired or serve jail time as a result of the jury’s decision. We know what happened, we know who’s to blame, we know what should happen, there’s no point spending thousands or millions of dollars on finding that out. Use the money to overhaul the system, it would be much more beneficial.