Toronto

Ontario vows to improve care of youth in foster homes, justice facilities

Ontario is promising to improve standards of care for nearly 16,000 young people in foster and group homes, youth justice facilities and mental health residential treatment following a scathing report from an expert panel.

'Change has been very slow. It is time to shift gears,' says government-appointed panel

The framework for a national help line may be released at the end of this year to further help those in crisis. (Peerayot/Shutterstock)

Ontario is promising to improve standards of care for nearly 16,000 young people in foster and group homes, youth justice facilities and mental health residential treatment following a scathing report from an expert panel.

The report focuses on a scattered system with no common standards of care for the children or set qualifications for staff who look after them in institutions that "need significant security controls" because of gangs and peer-to-peer violence.

"There is an urgent need to address the existing and longstanding challenges in the current model of residential service delivery," concludes the government-appointed panel. "Change has been very slow. It is time to shift gears."

The experts say there are significant variations in the use of secure isolation or solitary confinement at youth justice facilities, and warns the government will have to make a sustained effort to mitigate its impact and develop alternatives.

The panel complains about "unco-ordinated oversight" of a system that has grown to more than 600 different agencies and operators, including 47 Children's Aid Societies and a mix of for profit and non-profit service providers.

It concludes "the current system has evolved without much oversight, accountability or incentives to consistently focus on quality of care considerations and the every day experiences of young people living in out-of-home care."