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Kids in London Children’s Aid care being placed in hotels, motels: Union

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Child welfare workers are sounding an alarm that children in CAS care are being placed in hotels and motels and even sleeping in office space because of chronic underfunding and a lack of treatment options.

The Children’s Aid Society London and Middlesex has five youth aged 13 to 16 in hotels, a placement that puts the youths at risk of being trafficked, said Chris Tremeer, executive director of the local agency.

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“Despite staff support, hotel settings are not stable, and may expose vulnerable youth to a heightened risk of being trafficked. These placements are used only in the most urgent and exceptional circumstances in London, however the need is growing,” he said in a statement.

“There is a critical shortage of licensed, quality care providers and therapeutic treatment options. Most significantly there continues to be an urgent lack of community based live-in mental health treatment services for children and youth with complex needs.”

The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) released an Ontario-wide study on Tuesday that found 20 children’s aid agencies across Ontario, where they represent staff, placed children and youth in short-term living spaces. One of the agencies is Family and Children’s Services St. Thomas-Elgin.

Other CAS agencies not represented by CUPE were not part of the survey.

The CUPE study found:

  • Nine agencies placed children from newborn to 13 in a hotel or motel
  • One agency placed youth in a CAS office
  • Four were in unlicensed group homes
  • Five were in a variety of settings including licensed group homes
  • Three agencies placed children two to five years old in unlicensed care
  • Five agencies placed children five to 10 years old in unlicensed settings
  • Nine agencies placed youth 10 to 13 years in unlicensed spaces

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In some cases the stays were for a few nights but for others it was for several months.

“The underfunding across the board, across the province is a huge crisis,” said Bruce Fleming, a youth worker with Children’s Aid Society London and Middlesex and president of Local 116 of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union that represents London staff. 

“Provincial funding is a huge problem, this government does not want to fund child care and it is not just our agency, this is across the province,” he said.

More funding would mean CAS could buy or rent spaces to house and treat youth in need, Fleming said.

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Two youths lived in a trailer in the parking lot of a CAS facility in Southwestern Ontario last summer, said Chrisy Tremblay, who sits on the provincial executive board of OPSEU.

“They were in the CAS building but staff complained, that ended it,” said Tremblay, who declined to identify the CAS office.

“It is absolutely a crisis. We are not provided sufficient funding to meet children’s needs. We have children moving from one end of the province to the other. They are not getting treatment and support.” 

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Anastasiya Romanska, spokesperson for the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services, said the ministry does not direct agencies on where to place youth. The provincial government has increased funding for agencies, she said.

“What we do require is for children’s aid societies to make placements that are safe, appropriate, and meet the child’s needs. That’s not an option: it’s the law,” she said in an email.

“The government invests more than $1.5 billion in 50 child welfare societies across Ontario, including 13 Indigenous societies to support children and youth.”

The ministry has increased funding this year by about $14 million for child protection services in addition to last year’s $76.3 million increase, Romanska said. The ministry also is giving an additional $109 million for children and youth services in addition to last year’s $92.4 million increase.

The ministry is also providing an additional $13.5 million over three years to enhance initiatives that support women, children, youth and others who are at increased risk of violence or exploitation, Romanska said.

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 “We expect every CAS to make safe and appropriate placements that meet the individual needs of a child.”

But Tremblay countered some CAS offices pay $70,000 a month on boarding fees and the money would be better spent on direct care.

“Some of these youth have severe mental health and behaviour issues, and the system is not serving them properly,” Fleming said.

“We cannot turn them away. We cannot say the store is closed.”

Fleming said he is concerned a lack of investment in early intervention for youth means it will cost more for the justice, police and health care systems in the future.

“We will see more issues on the street,” he said.

 In addition, staff at short-term rental spaces are contracted from private agencies.

“They are not trained for this,” Fleming said of working with children in need.

 “They are keeping an eye on youth, but they are not delivering programs.”

Family and Children’s Services St. Thomas-Elgin could not be reached for comment.

The survey also questioned staff, most of which are child protection workers, and found:

  •  More than 80 per cent of staff fear children and youth are being returned to unsafe homes, or suffering emotional or mental harm as a result of lack of treatment.
  •  More than 87 per cent fear youth would suffer verbal assault, and 85 per cent physical assault, due to their living conditions.

There are about 485 children in the care of the Children’s Aid Society London and Middlesex and 121 foster homes.

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