York Children's Aid Society failed to provide support to teen before her death: Ombudsman (The Trillium)

April 29, 2024

29 April 2024

Ombudsman Paul Dubé issued several recommendations to the York Region Children Aid's Society in a new report released on Monday.

Sneh Duggal
This link opens in a new tabThe Trillium
April 29, 2024

Ombudsman Paul Dubé issued several recommendations to the York Region Children Aid's Society in a new report released on Monday.

The York Region Children’s Aid Society "failed" to provide a 16-year-old with requested supports, including a foster home, in the months before she died — with senior management suggesting she could “stay in a shelter” instead, according to a new report from the province's ombudsman.

"She deserved better, and it is my opinion that York Region Children’s Aid Society provided inadequate services to Mia from October 2019 until her death in January 2020. This conduct was unreasonable and wrong," Ombudsman Paul Dubé wrote in his latest report, Rights Unrecognized: Mia’s Story, which was released on Monday.

The report details Mia's experiences with the York Region Children’s Aid Society (YRCAS) and her family circumstances that led her to seek support.

The ombudsman's report stated that the 16-year-old's two main concerns in the fall of 2019 were finding a place to sleep on a consistent basis and finishing high school. After an argument in September, her mother "kicked her out," and Mia spent the next few months staying with different relatives, including her grandmother and aunt.

"With no other family members willing or able to house her long-term, she entered into a Voluntary Youth Services Agreement (VYSA) with York CAS in December 2019. Such agreements are supposed to give 16- and 17-year-olds the 'full range' of protection services that are available to younger children in care," the ombudsman wrote. But despite the agreement, Mia wasn't given a place to live or other "tangible support."

Following a legislative change, since January 2018, children's aid societies are also able to provide protection services to 16 and 17-year-olds, whereas previously they could only do so if the courts decided children aged 16 and 17 needed protection. This meant that some youth needing protection "were instead being referred to other community services, like shelters," Dubé's report outlined.

It notes that Mia's "ongoing desire for a foster care placement and her willingness to live 'anywhere.'"

"Although an end to Mia’s housing insecurity and couch surfing seemed to be in sight, senior management at York CAS ultimately refused to approve any of the external foster placements. Instead, they encouraged frontline staff to keep exploring family options," the report said. "In one email exchange, the Director of Service even suggested that, rather than the CAS providing her with funding to live in a foster home, Mia could 'stay in a shelter.'"

Provincial law requires all child and youth deaths where any of the 50 children's aid societies or 13 Indigenous child and well-being agencies have been involved with the youth or their family in the 12 months before their death to be reported to the ombudsman's and coroner's offices. A coroner's investigation is also required.

Dubé said even though the coroner's office "determined that Mia’s death was not connected to the child protection services that she received," concerns were raised with his office about her interactions with the YRCAS.

"There is no obvious connection between the services that York CAS provided to Mia and her death," the report said, with Dubé telling The Trillium they didn't disclose the circumstances around her death because it was a "tragic accident that... could happen to another child who was not in care."

He summed up his report as one that "tells a story of a vulnerable girl who was failed by the child welfare system," describing one of the biggest failings as the Children's Aid Society not complying with the right of Mia to participate and have her voice heard in decisions that affected her.

"So the system failed Mia, but I'm pleased that the 20 recommendations that we've made for corrective action have been accepted," he said.

Some of his recommendations to the YRCAS included ensuring youth voices are heard and their views are documented in writing, training staff on how to ensure youth's interests are kept at the forefront when making decisions and not considering shelters as a housing option unless they would provide "significant stability and safety."

In response to the ombudsman's report, the YRCAS said it accepted all the recommendations.

"YRCAS would like to share our deepest condolences over the tragic death of this young person. YRCAS’ commitment to delivering exceptional services to the children, youth and families of York Region is supported by critical feedback and effective accountability measures. We continue to actively seek feedback from our key partners, stakeholders, service recipients, community members and professionals," the organization said in a statement.

The YRCAS said it has also implemented changes over the past four years that were recommended as part of an operational review by the ministry.

Irwin Elman, the province's former child and youth advocate, whose standalone office was shuttered by the Ford government and absorbed by the ombudsman's office, said the system failed Mia.

“It is important to remember that Mia was a child. Mia was a child who reached out for help and protection. Mia articulated what she needed. The system meant to protect her turned its back on Mia and now this child Mia is dead," said Elman, saying the system failure "falls at the feet of the minister and the ministry who in 2019 shuttered the Child Advocate Office meant to ensure Mia would be heard."

“Mia’s death is a tragic deplorable symptom of a child protection system in complete disarray," he said.

Patrick Bissett, spokesperson for Minister of Children, Community and Social Services Michael Parsa, said the government is reviewing the report to "help improve our child welfare system and better protect our most vulnerable youth."

"Every child and youth should have a safe, loving and supportive home, whether or not they are in care," Bissett said, adding that the government acknowledges the "importance of educating the child welfare sector on how and when voluntary youth service agreements should be used."

"The ministry provided information about steps that it has already taken to increase knowledge within the sector, including emphasizing that children’s aid societies are required under a Minister’s Directive to provide the full range of child protection services to youth aged 16 and 17 who are or may be in need of protection," Bissett said, adding that senior ministry staff raised this issue at recent meetings with society board presidents and others.

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