Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies Summit for Franco-Ontarian Professionals
On February 19 and 20, I attended the very first Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies (OACAS) Summit for Franco-Ontarian Professionals, entitled Call to Action: Together to Serve in French. The Summit was an opportunity for Franco-Ontarian social service professionals in fields such as child welfare, children’s mental health services, and developmental services to come together to advance an action plan to improve access to French-language services in Ontario. More than 21 of the province’s 47 Children’s Aid Societies (CASs) were represented, some by professionals, others by executives.
The Summit’s objectives were for Franco-Ontarian professionals to gain a better understanding of the issues surrounding the provision of French-language services across the province, to discuss solutions and strategies for the local, regional and provincial levels, and to create a work plan to move forward with recommendations by Summit participants. Another objective, of course, was to establish a network of professionals and to help some of them feel less alone and isolated in their respective domains.
For me, it was an opportunity in particular to return to the fifth recommendation in my 2009-2010 Annual Report. In that recommendation, I suggested that the Ministry of Children and Youth Services should “ensure that Children’s Aid Societies actively offer French-language services throughout the province; and, in cooperation with the Children’s Aid Societies, create a network or, at the very least a directory, of French-language service providers for the benefit of those Children’s Aid Societies that are currently unable to offer these services themselves.”
In this context, we discussed the importance of creating an environment that encourages the demand and anticipates the specific needs of Francophone children and families. Since they are a disadvantaged group, it is not always easy for them (1) to know their rights regarding access to French-language services (for example, children, young teenagers in trouble, and families who have just arrived in Canada), and (2) to demand service in French when they are in a vulnerable situation. In some cases, the situations are highly complex, requiring the full attention of Children Aid Society professionals.
I congratulate the OACAS for holding this Summit. It should be noted that the OACAS has already taken a number of other measures to address the provision of French-language services, including the formation of an advisory group on French-language services. In any case, the more professionals there are who recognize the importance of actively offering French-language services to the children and families who need their support in difficult situations, the more tools those children and families will have to help them overcome their challenges and have a better life. I am grateful to the OACAS for inviting me to this very special Summit, and I look forward to hearing about the conference’s repercussions and ramifications.
Lastly, I would like to close by mentioning one of the commitments I made during the day. As I indicated at the beginning of this posting, not all CAS decision-makers and managers were present. Even though it is perfectly clear that access to French-language services is a right and that those services must be actively offered in the interests of the children, some administrators sometimes consider only their own interests. They don’t necessarily do so in bad faith, but rather for administrative reasons. I often hear people wondering whether there’s enough funding, whether French-language services are more expensive. That’s the wrong question to ask. People should instead be asking themselves how much it costs not to offer French-language services at first contact with the system. And that’s especially true when it comes to the well-being of our children! It is hard to imagine what a traumatic experience it might be for a child to be removed from his or her home at a very young age. It is inconceivable that Francophone children would not be in the care of people who speak to them in French, that they would not be guided by experts, psychologists or other professionals able to talk to them in their language.
Consequently, I will accept any invitation from a CAS to meet with managers, members of the board of directors or other groups and organizations and explain to them the importance of serving our population – which is already disadvantaged – in French, anywhere in Ontario.