Education, Children and Youth
Children’s aid societies
Ontario’s children’s aid societies do a remarkable job of protecting some of the most vulnerable members of our society: children and teenagers. The Commissioner is pleased with the excellent relations he has had with these organizations over the last several years.
There are 46 children’s aid societies in Ontario, more than 20 of which are in designated areas. They are regarded as non-profit organizations run by independent boards of directors.
The Ministry of Children and Youth Services is responsible for children’s aid societies. In addition to providing funding, it has a duty to monitor them under the Act, and it even has the power to dismiss board members.
With regard to status, children’s aid societies and their suppliers are expressly included in the group of agencies subject to the French Language Services Act, i.e., “service provider[s] as defined in the Child and Family Services Act”. Moreover, subsection 2(1) of the Child and Family Services Act states that “[s]ervice providers shall, where appropriate, make services to children and their families available in the French language.”
The position of the Commissioner’s Office with respect to the Act is clear: the Act’s paramount purpose is to promote the best interests of children and parents’ desire to speak to their children in their mother tongue and thus preserve an emotional attachment to their children. The phrase “where appropriate” applies to all cases involving Francophone children or parents, with no exceptions, even if these people are located in a designated area under the FLSA or not.
Since its establishment, the Commissioner’s Office has paid special attention to the provision of services to children and parents, particularly when they are members of disadvantaged groups, such as Francophone children with autism or Francophone children placed in unilingual-English foster homes. These types of complaints and others gave rise to a recommendation in 2010.
In 2010, the Commissioner recommended in his annual report that children’s aid societies incorporate the active offer of French-language services in their service delivery throughout the province, not just in designated areas. More often than not, complainants contact the Commissioner’s Office only after being made aware of its existence by a community agency. This uncovers the alarming truth that members of the public are not always aware that French-language services can be made available or that they can complain when their rights are not upheld. It is all about children. Never in a million years will children complain about the lack of French-Language services!
A lack of French-language services can have serious consequences. This is reflected in the recommendations made in 2009 by the Honourable G. Normand Glaude, Commissioner of the Cornwall Public Inquiry: “At the time, C-17 was seventeen years old. He alleged that Mr. Leduc had abused him. Throughout the interview, C-17 had difficulty describing the abuse, in part because of language issues. It is unfortunate that this interview was not conducted in French. As I have discussed, disclosing incidents of sexual abuse can be extremely stressful for victims, and efforts should be made to ensure that they are comfortable. In my view, this should include, at a minimum, conducting the interview in the language in which the complainant is most at ease.”
In that recommendation, the Commissioner also suggested that the Ministry of Children and Youth Services, 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 which are currently unable to offer these services themselves.
The aim was to be able to provide service in French to children who are already in difficult situations. So far, although things are not perfect and there is still work to be done, the recommendation has met with a positive response from the Ministry and the children’s aid societies, and an excellent collaborative relationship has been formed with them.
A good start
In 2009, the Ministry established the Commission to Promote Sustainable Child Welfare and gave it a three-year mandate to identify solutions for providing services in French to children in critical need of assistance.
The Commissioner was very pleased with the work carried out by the Commission, whose members were almost all perfectly bilingual. The frank, productive meetings between the Commissioner’s Office and Commission members have certainly helped advance the issue since then.
Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies (OACAS)
The OACAS has already taken a number of measures to address the provision of services in French, including the formation of an advisory group on French-language services. In 2013, it held the very first Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies Summit for Franco-Ontarian Professionals. In fact, the Commissioner’s Office attended the summit and talked about the importance of creating an environment that encourages the demand and anticipates the specific needs of Francophone children and families.
Obviously, the more professionals there are who recognize the importance of actively offering French-language services to children and families who are in difficult situations, the more tools those children and families will have to help them overcome their challenges.
Commitment by the Commissioner
The Commissioner has pledged to accept any invitation from a children’s aid society to meet with managers, members of the board of directors or other groups and organizations and explain to them the importance of serving the population – which is already disadvantaged – in French, anywhere in Ontario.
While the collaborative work continues, the complaints have not stopped coming in. It therefore behooves the Commissioner’s Office, which cares about the well-being of disadvantaged Francophone populations, to pay special attention to them.
Thus, Ontario is still a long way from full integration of active offer in the delivery of children’s aid services in every part of the province. Moreover, some reports point to fundamental issues in the delivery of high-quality French-language services in the children’s aid sector: the constant message about “doing more with less”, a burden imposed on bilingual social workers.
Clearly, then, the Commissioner’s Office is committed to keeping tabs on the children’s aid sector over the coming years, with the aim of helping all parties involved to improve their services in the greater interest of the children.