|A key recommendation from the recent coroner’s inquest jury verdict in the tragic death of five-year old Jeffrey Baldwin in 2002 is that all of us (as a community) have a collective responsibility to protect at-risk children. This important responsibility, extends to government, says the union representing the majority of Ontario’s child welfare staff. And why today the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Ontario called on the province to honour Jeffrey and the months of dedication on the part of the coroner’s jury, by taking immediate action to better safeguard at-risk children in the care of children’s aid societies (CASs).
It is no accident, says CUPE Ontario president Fred Hahn, that nearly half the inquest jury’s 103 recommendations are directed to the Ministry of Children and Youth Services (MCYS). “The ministry’s role as child welfare system planner and funder is not divorced from child protection on the ground and in practice. It’s clear from the recommendations that the inquest jury understands this. I do want to acknowledge the tremendous efforts of the jury. Their dedication over several months at a challenging inquest, is truly appreciated. Their significant recommendations – many of which are aimed squarely on MCYS and focused on needed system changes, must be lauded,” says Hahn.
The jury recommendations call for broad changes to the child-welfare system. These include improvements to information-sharing between agencies through a long-promised provincial data base and immediate access for all CAS workers to existing information sharing systems; co-teaming for child-protection workers in situations where a worker’s safety is threatened; a provincially-funded campaign to increase awareness among the public about spotting and reporting abuse; a review of the impacts on services of a new provincial funding formula; and additional funding for community agencies for mental health services.
“These are incredibly valuable recommendations. They should not just gather dust, which is unfortunately how MCYS has dealt with past inquest recommendations. This time they must be acted on. So we agree with the minister’s comments following the jury recommendations, there is indeed more her ministry can do,” says Hahn. With the upcoming provincial budget, Hahn says the minister and her government have an immediate opportunity to act. “To that end we are calling on the minister to act swiftly, before another tragedy strikes our community.”
In the decade following Jeffrey’s homicide, which occurred while in the care of his maternal grandparents, the province made substantive changes to the child protection system that many sector stakeholders – including CUPE Ontario – agree, help better safeguard vulnerable children and youth. But recent policy and funding decisions by MCYS are threatening that progress, says Hahn, who points to another Jeffrey Baldwin inquest jury recommendation for all the parties with standing at the inquest, to report to the court within a year on the progress the organizations have made on acting on the jury recommendations. “This too, will ensure MCYS and others’ accountability,” says Hahn.
Nancy Simone, the president of CUPE 2190 (representing child protection staff at Toronto Catholic CAS) whose members had standing at the inquest says, “Many child welfare staff have been forever changed by Jeffrey’s homicide. I want to personally thank the jury for the compassion they showed the child welfare staff who testified at the inquest. These workers have never forgotten Jeffrey, the pain he must have endured and they are dedicated to never have this happen again to another child.”