Ombudsman rebukes Toronto children’s aid in first child protection investigation

Agency 'repeatedly failed to comply with child protection standards'

Ombudsman rebukes Toronto children’s aid in first child protection investigation
Paul Dubé, Ontario Ombudsman

The Children’s Aid Society of Toronto has accepted all 18 recommendations of the Ontario Ombudsman following its first child-welfare investigation since assuming oversight of the province’s child protection agencies.

In its report, released Dec. 19, the Ombudsman examined the case of one young boy, referred to by the pseudonym, Brandon, and found that the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto fell short of child protection standards and failed to act in the child’s best interests.

“A Voice Unheard: Brandon’s Story” looks at the time from Dec. 30, 2015, to Oct. 26, 2018, when Brandon was between the ages of seven and 10. At the end of that period, after finding Brandon on a “urine-soiled futon inside a family member’s filthy and bug-infested apartment” and learning that the CAS did not plan to apprehend him, police brought him to a foster home, where he has remained.

“Brandon, in shocking fashion, failed to receive the services and the attention that he deserved, once he was receiving services from the Toronto CAS,” says Ombudsman Paul Dubé. “If I had to point to one cause, it was because they failed to adhere to those provincial protection standards that are designed to keep children and youth safe when they're in risky situations.

“What we found was, during the course of many years, instead of a sense of urgency, the Children's Aid Society displayed a sense of complacency.”

According to the report, one doctor credited the police’s intervention with saving Brandon’s life.

The CAS had been involved with Brandon throughout his life. By mid-October in 2018, he had been late to school 34 times and missed 9.5 days since the beginning of the school year. He was under the care of his great-uncle, who had missed a scheduled meeting with Brandon’s CAS worker and the school principal.

The CAS decided to visit the home, where they found Brandon in a “catatonic state.” The apartment was infested with bedbugs and cockroaches, there were feces, cat litter, and “urine-soaked pull-up diapers” all over the floor.

Brandon suffered from a chronic urinary problem and mental health issues, and the report said Brandon’s family “had not followed through on getting him the necessary care.”

The CAS worker on the scene believed Brandon was at immediate risk of harm, called to request permission to apprehend him, but was rebuffed because her supervisor said that Brandon’s family had been working cooperatively with the agency, he was under court-ordered supervision, and the supervisor was worried that the apprehension would be premature if a court had not weighed in. Once it was clear that CAS was not taking him, the police formally apprehended him.

Brandon was then examined at a hospital and the doctors found that he was malnourished, 15 pounds underweight, nearly anemic, had an enlarged kidney, which was infected, and had low hemoglobin and a low red blood cell count.

But the CAS wanted Brandon returned to his family, and the police contacted the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth, which launched an investigation into CAS’s handling of the case. In May 2019, the Child Advocate’s investigative authority was transferred to the Ombudsman, which continued the investigation.

The Ombudsman found that CAS had not complied with Ontario Child Protection Standards “on many occasions.” It “disregarded the regulatory requirements relating to the timing of safety assessments,” did not always carefully consider reports from professionals worried about Brandon’s welfare, and delayed investigations longer than standards permit.

The Ombudsman also found that the CAS delayed meeting with Brandon’s family; “routinely failed” to meet Brandon privately; and the agency did not “ensure that timely and meaningful service plans were prepared, reviewed and revised.” CAS supervisors deviated from provincial standards “as a matter of convenience” and delayed supervisory reviews.

While Brandon’s situation deteriorated “to the point of crisis,” the CAS “was distracted by the assurances of Brandon’s family,” said the report, which found, in Brandon’s case, CAS’s services were “contrary to law, unreasonable, and wrong under subsections 21(1)(a), (b) and (d) of the Ombudsman Act.”

“The good news is that we've had an exemplary response from the Children's Aid Society,” says Dubé. “They've taken this as a learning experience. They're going to incorporate Brandon's story into their training – as one of our recommendations called for.”

“I wish it could always be that way… the genuine response, the acknowledgement of the failures and the shortcomings, and a very clearly stated commitment to make things better going forward.”

In operation for 45 years, originally the Ontario Ombudsman’s mandate included provincial ministries, agencies, tribunals, and departments. In 2015, it was expanded to included municipalities, universities, and school boards, bringing the number of public sector bodies under its watch to around 1,000. Then in 2019, the office was given the investigative function of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth.

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