Changes at Children's Aid worry foster parents

Foster parents in communities outside Ottawa warn they may no longer take children into their homes, saying they have lost trust in their local Children's Aid Society.

Families just outside Ottawa say they've lost trust in the local group

Foster parents in communities just outside of Ottawa say they have lost trust in their local Children's Aid Society. 2:28

Foster parents in communities just outside of Ottawa warn they may no longer take children into their homes, saying they have lost trust in their local Children's Aid Society.

The foster parents said their relationship with Family and Children's Services of Lanark, Leeds and Grenville has changed significantly under a new administrator.

"The supports just aren't there," said Tricia Booker, a sentiment echoed by many people at a gathering of foster parents Monday night in Smiths Falls.

In February, Family and Children's Services of Lanark, Leeds and Grenville presented foster families with a plan to change the designations it assigns to children based on their medical needs, behavioural problems and required supervision.

Traditionally, Children's Aid Societies in Ontario have used three categories for children in foster care: regular, specialized and treatment.

Each category comes with a daily rate to compensate foster parents for the costs and skills needed to look after children under the agency's protection.

The proposed change that most concerned the foster parents was a plan to end the "treatment" designation for the most troubled children.

They said they’re concerned this means the children could stop getting the psychological or school support that comes with that designation.

Demands mean some can't work full time

Foster parents were also told they would receive a lower "regular" rate of $30 a day, which is half of what they now receive.

"It's not sustainable," said Booker, who started fostering teenagers with high needs because she was inspired by a friend who had gone through foster care as a child.

Tricia Booker says foster parents can't keep jobs when caring for children who need constant supervision. (CBC)

Booker said foster parents can't hold down jobs when they're looking after children who need constant supervision.

"Many of these children just can't be at home by themselves. It would just be a nightmare," adds Doug Martin, who’s been fostering children for 37 years.

"There are kids who set fires or kids who are incredibly sexually damaged. There are all kinds of things going on there and it just wouldn't be right to have them unsupervised."

Many foster parents say they don't foster kids for the money. Martin said he began because he felt it was his way, as a trained social worker, to give back to society.

"I think historically societies often are gauged by how they deal with their disenfranchised and impoverished and in this particular case, what better than the children?" he said.

And yet they say they still need to receive a certain amount from Children's Aid to be able to raise children in their care.

"I mean, we're not here to subsidize the province and yet we do. Many of us do," said Martin.

"Many of us take our kids on trips and do lots of things for which we don't get any remuneration."

Aimed to de-stigmatize

The idea to no longer use the "treatment" designation was rooted in an attempt not to stigmatize children, said Allan Hogan, executive director of Family and Children's Services of Lanark, Leeds and Grenville.

"What the agency wants to do, and what other Children's Aid societies in the province have done already, is move away from the labelling of children," said Hogan, adding that rather than assessing a child's behaviour to determine compensation, the agency could look instead at the foster parent's skill or experience.

Hogan adds that the 2011 merger of two smaller children's aid societies based in Brockville and Perth presented an opportunity to change the approach.

And while Ontario's child welfare system is dealing with tighter budgets, Hogan said his agency isn't looking for savings in foster care.

"We are not decreasing any of the overall funding that goes into the foster care system," said Hogan. "We recognize that that needs to be there and we need to invest in that."

Many foster parents say recent changes at the amalgamated agency have been eroding their trust in the leadership to help them when they run into challenges with the children in their care.

Doug Martin said he's a foster parent to give back to society, not for the money. (CBC)

"These kids - because of their damagedness - will often strike out at you if you don't give them a raise in their allowance, or something like that. They'll make an allegation, and it's very difficult to have to deal with," said Doug Martin.

CUPE says it too has trust issues

Foster parents aren’t the only ones who have struggled with the administration of the new Family and Children's Services of Lanark, Leeds and Grenville.

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"We have had issues with trust, we still do," said Mike Burt, president of CUPE Local 2577, which represents 135 of the employees at Family and Children's Services of Lanark, Leeds and Grenville.

Burt said after the merger, the administration tried to start negotiations from scratch, rather than honouring the agreements made in the past, and nearly led employees to strike.

As far as the foster parents are concerned, the Children's Aid society said it needs to rebuild their trust.

"We take responsibility for how the initial process unfolded and we recognize that it has caused a great deal of emotion, uncertainty, lack of trust, " said Hogan.

He says the new daily rates for foster parents are not yet settled, and says managers and foster parents are now holding productive meetings on the issue.

While Martin agrees headway is now being made, he and other foster parents are still wary that the outcome will match the talk.

"I think it comes down to having the trust in our leadership and knowing that they really are on board for us," said Martin.