Written by Gail Aitken, Professor Emeritus Ryerson, Members of the Children in Limbo Task Force
Apparently no later than May 1st, 2019, the Ontario Ombudsman’s Office will assume many of the responsibilities of the Ontario Child Advocate’s office. This is an additional heavy responsibility to thrust at the Ombudsman. It is essential that the Ombudsman Office is properly funded and well-equipped to accept this additional role.
The Ontario Child Advocate (OCA) has been effectively advocating for the very most disadvantaged children in the province for over 40 years. Since 2007, the OCA has been independent of the Provincial Government, free to go to bat for the over 12,000 children and youth in the care of children’s aid societies and many in the correctional system, who do not have family capable of advocating on their behalf. Many of these children and youth have histories of abuse and neglect, have lived without loving parents and a secure home, and have experienced many traumatic moves. In some instances, they are the children of people facing addiction challenges who are unable to parent effectively and are without relatives to assume the caregiving role. Among those helped by the OCA are many young people with special needs, including those who are blind, deaf or disabled.
The question is, will the Ombudsman’s Office have the resources and expertise to effectively fill the Provincial Advocate’s role of advancing the rights of all children and youth, enabling them to gain independence and to acquire the necessary education to reach their full potential and make a positive contribution to society.
The OCA has been especially adept at hiring staff who are experts in child welfare, often former youth in care, who have grown up in the child welfare system themselves. The staff has the knowledge necessary to implement the provisions of the 1989 U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Canada ratified in 1991. If Ontario must join other parts of this nation without a self-standing independent Child and Youth Advocate Office, let us ensure that the Provincial Ombudsman’s Office is well resourced and staffed with sufficient child welfare experts to protect and promote effectively the rights and interests of Ontario’s most disadvantaged children and youth. Otherwise this supposed cost-cutting measure will leave many of these vulnerable young people in positions of dependency, resulting in the escalation of provincial costs in the long run.