A private member's bill initiated by Taylor, MPP for Hamilton Mountain and the NDP's critic for Ministry of Child and Youth Services, passed second reading Thursday afternoon. If made law, it would give Ontario's Ombudsman, André Marin, independent oversight over the societies' decisions.
“Children's aid societies are charged with the responsibility to make decisions that can turn the lives of children and their families upside down,” Taylor said in a media release Thursday. “They have the authority to remove children from their family home and put them into the care of others.
“Unfortunately, sometimes they get it wrong, mistakes get made and lives are ruined forever.”
The Ombudsman has been calling for oversight of children's aid societies since the office began 35 years ago, spokesperson Linda Williamson said. This is not the first private member's bill about it.
“Every year in our annual report, we discuss how we get hundreds of complains about children's aid societies and we're not able to deal with them,” she said. “We have nothing to do with the movement that's been happening, but we've seen it.”
Children's aid societies already have “considerable oversight” on several levels, said Dominic Verticchio, executive director of the Hamilton Children's Aid Society (CAS).
They are accountable to the courts when children are apprehended. They are also accountable to the province via the Child and Family Services Review Board — which falls under the oversight of the Ontario Ombudsman, he said. But complaints are often settled before they reach that level.
Of the 50 complaints lodged against the Hamilton CAS during the 2011/2012 fiscal year, all but nine were settled internally, Verticchio said. The remainder went to the Child and Family Services Review Board.
“We really believe we're highly accountable for the services we deliver,” he said.
At the Catholic Children's Aid Society of Hamilton, there were 10 complaints in the last fiscal year and one went to the review board, said executive director Ersilia DiNardo.
Parents with complaints against the society have a number of options, including taking the case to the review board, DiNardo said.
“Whenever anyone has a complaint about our service, we provide them with an information booklet that outlines for them the steps involved for resolving a complaint,“
Children's aid societies are also audited by the province each year. This, combined with the court system, makes for a “well defined system,“ she said.
Taylor told CBC Hamilton she first noticed the issue as assistant to Coun. Scott Duvall, she said. Issues ranged from parents “jumping through hoops” to meet criteria that suddenly changed, to court dates being unexpectedly cancelled.
Now that she's NDP critic, “the calls have been pouring in.” This private member's bill — Taylor's first — was “a no brainer for me.”
“This is not about wearing a helmet while driving your bike,” she said. “These are life-altering decisions.”
Laura Reid is a former facilitator with the Aboriginal Healing and Outreach Program, which until March was offered through the Native Women's Centre. Reid worked with many women dealing with children's aid societies and said she's happy to see Taylor's bill.
Court systems are often too overwhelmed to pay close attention to each case, and with the current system, complaints often go through children's aid societies themselves.
”The Ombudsman would be a great step forward,” she said. ”Before, you could write to the Ombudsman's office but there was nothing they could do.”
Taylor's bill will now be examined at the committee level.