Hamilton

COVID-19 costs interfering with court-ordered child visits, YWCA Hamilton says

Hamilton's YWCA says a combination of COVID-19 and no new government funding has left it cash strapped and scrambling to reopen a centre that kids from 30 families rely on to see their parents and grandparents.

YWCA Hamilton says its pandemic costs are steep, and the province won't help

YWCA Hamilton has run the supervised family access centre since 2000. The province says there's no new money to run it, and no money to help with COVID-19. (YWCA Hamilton)

Hamilton's YWCA says a combination of COVID-19 and no new government funding has left it cash strapped and struggling to reopen a centre that kids from 30 families rely on to see their parents and grandparents.

The family access centre is a supervised space where kids see relatives through custody arrangements or court orders, says Daniella Bozur, YWCA Hamilton manager of supervised access services. The downtown space is like a living room with couches, chairs and games.

Kids who use it haven't seen their non-custodial parents — and in some cases, grandparents — since March. They've introduced pets via video conferencing. They've hugged computer screens.

"We're hearing every single visit how much the kids miss their parents, and how much they want to have that contact with them," she said. And the heartache goes both ways.

But right now, Bozur said, there's no reopening date. YWCA Hamilton has no budget for COVID-19 measures at the access centre. 

Bringing several households together

"It's incredibly difficult because this is essentially bringing various households together," Bozur said.

"In some cases, there are grandparents who are court ordered as guests. In one visit, you could have a non-custodial parent, a child, a grandparent, and an interpreter."

COVID-19 will mean fewer families served per day, and more staffing. Furniture, toys and other surfaces will need to be rotated out and wiped down between visits,  she said.

"We need to change the entire model of how we do things," she said. 

The centre gets $178,000 in provincial base funding annually, an amount that hasn't changed since 2008, Bozur said. That means there's a wait time of as long as two years for the service. 

Last year, she said, the centre oversaw 546 family visits. There have been no new requests for service since the pandemic hit in March, but when kids go back to school and are able to report abuse to trusted adults, she expects the demand will explode.

'This is not new'

For its part, the ministry says it's given the YWCA one-time funding increases to shorten its wait list and pay for interpreters. Otherwise, it confirms what Bozur says. There's no new base funding, and no pandemic money.

"The ministry has advised YWCA Hamilton that there are no additional funds available on an annualized basis," a spokesperson said in an email.

As for COVID-19, the ministry has provided "flexibility in their contractual agreement," which means if YWCA Hamilton has any money left from last year's budget, it can put that toward the pandemic.

On Wednesday, the province announced a $83 million Resilient Communities Fund through the Ontario Trillium Foundation, designed to provide the non-profit sector — including child and youth programs — with one-time funding to get through COVID-19. Non-profits can apply for up to $150,000 for grant terms up to a year.

Yet Monique Taylor, Hamilton Mountain MPP and NDP critic for child and youth services, said the YWCA Hamilton family access centre program has been underfunded for a long time. She hears from families who sit on waiting lists for months.

"This is not new," she said.

More single-use crafts, toys needed

"[The province] needs to give these organizations. It's not just the YWCA. This is a province-wide program."

Bozur said YWCA Hamilton is looking for donations of toys, board games and DVDs — "things that can be wiped down and sanitized."

"We need single-use craft activities exclusive to the families," she said. 

"We're looking at shifting what play looks like."

As of Wednesday, 20 Hamiltonians are known to have COVID-19 right now, up slightly from about 17 cases last week. All told, the city has seen 903 confirmed or probable cases, and 45 people have died. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Samantha Craggs is a CBC News reporter based in Hamilton, Ont. She often tweets about Hamilton city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca

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