Toronto woman welcomes child welfare program that would have kept her family together
Anna Amy Ho says the Journey to Zero pilot would have 'absolutely' helped her and her brother
When Anna Amy Ho first heard of the new pilot program launched by the Children's Aid Society, she immediately wished it had been available when she was younger.
Ho was placed into the child welfare system in Toronto at the age of 13, after her mother and grandmother were killed by her mother's partner.
"I know that I was suffering in silence," Ho told As It Happens host Carol Off.
On Wednesday, the Children's Aid Foundation of Canada and the Children's Aid Society of Toronto launched a $7.3-million program for children and families in Toronto neighbourhoods.
The four-year program is designed to intervene earlier to help children stay with their families and out of the child welfare system.
Ho says a program like this would have "absolutely" helped in her situation.
'Little to no support'
Ho's brother had turned 18 just before they lost their family, so the Children's Aid Society offered to let them live together. She was still under the care of the society, but her brother acted as her guardian.
"Of course we wanted to stay together. We were the only family members that we had left," she said.
But her brother struggled. He was working nearly seven days a week, Ho says, and was missing a lot of school. He was expelled for missing too many classes.
"I can't imagine any 18 year old knowing how to become a parent overnight, with no warning and little-to-no support," she said.
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While Ho says she did receive some help from the Children's Aid Society, "it was definitely fragmented and I definitely didn't feel well-supported," she said.
About two years later, on Ho's 16th birthday, it became clear the arrangement with her brother wasn't working, and Ho moved out on her own.
Hoping for better outcomes
Ho, now an ambassador for the Children's Aid Foundation, wanted to do whatever she could to help the Journey to Zero program launch when she found out about it.
She says she knew right away the difference it could have made for her, and for friends she knows who also went through the system.
One aspect of the program provides resources for families of children under the age of six or between 12 and 17, which are the ages that go into care most often, according to the program information. It also supports caregivers who may be struggling.
"We want to achieve better outcomes for at-risk families and lay the groundwork for permanent change in the child welfare sector," Valerie McMurtry, president and CEO of the Children's Aid Foundation of Canada, said in a press release.
Ho says that with a program like this, her brother could have had mental health support and financial aid so he didn't have to work so often, and courses or training on how to be a caregiver.
"I know for a fact that there will be different and better outcomes as a result of this program," Ho said.
'Death by pilot'
The Ontario government has provided about $2 million to the program, and the two organizations fundraised the rest.
We have seen so many death-by-pilot projects and I just don't want Journey to Zero to be one of those.- Anna Amy Ho
Ontario's Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services says it will review the program to see if it can be replicated across the province.
Ho says she's hoping the government will find specific, positive outcomes from the program and decide to keep it going.
"We have seen so many death-by-pilot projects and I just don't want Journey to Zero to be one of those," she said.
Written by Rachel Levy-McLaughlin. Interview with Anna Amy Ho produced by Chloe Shantz-Hilkes.