Ontario children's aid societies misspent money, auditors allege

Luxury vehicles for executives, trips abroad and personal trainers are among the "questionable" expenditures made by certain children's aid societies in Ontario, the auditor general says.

Luxury vehicles for executives, trips abroad and personal trainers are just a few of the "questionable" expenditures made by certain children's aid societies in Ontario, the provincial auditor general says.

CBC News has obtained a final draft of the province's first value-for-money audit of children's aid societies, scheduled to be released next week.

The report focuses on four agencies— in Thunder Bay, Toronto, the Peel region and the York region— that account for almost 25 per cent, or $310 million, of the $1.42 billion spent annually on all 53 children's aid societies in the province.

The report details a number of troubling expenditures, including:

  • Senior managers receiving high-end SUVs to use for work — worth tens of thousands more than the maximum allowances that provincial deputy ministers are allowed.
  • Scores of trips by the children being cared for and staff members to the Caribbean.
  • A week-long stay at resort.

However, the reportdoes not name the agencies in connection with the alleged actions — leaving it unclear which of thechildren's aid societies are at issue.

Retired homicide detective Michael Davis said the report makes him angry and disappointed.He hasreviewed the deaths of hundreds of children who died while in the care of children's aid societies.

"I think the public is going to be outraged when they hear this," said Davis. "When they look at these perks being used by children's aid societies."

Agencies saw findings, hired public relations firm

When CBC News called several of the agencies, they said all queries had to go throughthe Ontario Association of the Children's Aid Societies. The association, however, refused to commenton the report before its official release.

Ontario Minister of Children and Youth Services Mary Anne Chambers stonewalled reporters when peppered with questions about the CBC report on Thursday afternoon.

"I'm going to waituntil the auditor general releases his report,"Chambers told reporters,refusing to "speculate" onadocument she said she hadn't seen.

However, the report contains responses to the auditor general's findings from all four children's aid societies and the provincialbody responsible for all the agencies.

And the CBC has also obtained an internal document showing that an outsidepublic relations agency has been hired to develop a response to the damaging report and "to preserve the reputation of children's aid societies and their leadership."

Luxury SUVs among agency's 50-vehicle fleet

At one of the four agencies, the auditors said they made a number of disturbing discoveries regarding the massive fleet of company vehicles and improper use by staff.

The report states that senior management staff received luxury vehicles, including two SUVs worth $53,000 and $59,000.

It notes that not even the province's deputy ministers, who have a maximum allowance of $30,000, receive such expensive cars.

Those two SUVs were among a fleet of 50 vehicles owned or leased by one agency.

But that auditor found that almost half of those vehicles were underused, logging fewer than 10,000 kilometres a year. Some of them even were below 4,000 kilometres a year, the report says.

Those numbers were far below usage levels of above 22,000 kilometres per year considered economical by the Ministry of Transportation.

There was one instance at that agency where an individual not only had exclusive use of a society-owned vehicle but also received a tax-free allowance of $600 per month for use of his personal vehicle.

Personal trips, all-inclusive resorts

The auditor general alleges in the report that an employee at one agency made a personal trip on the taxpayers' tab.

In that case, a senior staff member allegedly attended an international conference in Beijing, China that was "unrelated to his duties or society business," the report states.

At the same society, the report notes that an executive assistant and executive director travelled to a conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

The three other agencies were also found to have scores of unusual trips abroad, with a number of "questionable" trips by children and staff members to the Caribbean.

There were a number of instances where the agencies bought return tickets for children to visit families in the Caribbean, the report states.

One of the societies paid $1,700 for a seven-day all-inclusive trip to a resort in St. Martin and another $4,000 one-week trip to St. Lucia for a caseworker to accompany a child returning to their biological family.

Auditor questions funding

Other findings allege the societies aren't following the law to protect children.

In one-third of cases reviewed, initial visits to children at risk were late by an average of three weeks. Some children weren't seen at all.

In the report, the auditorasks why government funding for Ontario's children'said societies has more than doubled over six years, while the number of families served increased by 40 per cent.