Ontario vows to stop 'disturbing' spending at children's aid societies

Last Updated: Tuesday, December 5, 2006 | 6:03 PM ET

The Ontario government said Tuesday it is creating an accountability office to oversee children's aid societies after an audit released earlier in the day cited a litany of spending abuses at several agencies.

Auditor General Jim McCarter, who tabled his report at the legislature, reported questionable expenditures at some of the 53 children's aid societies in the province. They included spending by some executives on trips abroad, luxury vehicles and even a gym membership in one case.

Mary Anne Chambers, the provincial minister of children and youth services, called the report "disappointing" and "disturbing."

She said the province is creating an accountability office to monitor whether children's aid societies are meeting requirements for care and protection of children.

"There is an attitudinal change that is occurring," said Chambers. "There is an understanding that it is a new day, and that there are higher standards to be met."

Children not monitored enough in third of cases

McCarter emphasized that his report focused on only four children's aid societies, with most of the troubles stemming from one particular agency.

'I would characterize it as, 'We're concerned.' How could you not be concerned?'-Auditor General Jim McCarter

He refused to reveal which one, stating that the purpose of the audit is to highlight systemic issues.

While McCarter stressed his findings don't mean there are problems at all agencies, he said every children's aid society in the province should be asking questions to make sure proper safeguards are in place.

McCarter said the most disturbing example was that in 30 per cent of the cases, CAS workers were not seeing children in their care in a timely fashion.

Case workers were on average three weeks later than their own guidelines called for, and in one case 165 days late.

"I would characterize it as, 'We're concerned,'" said McCarter. "How could you not be concerned?"

Questions also arose about human resource issues.

McCarter noted one incident: A case worker fell behind on paperwork, in what the report attributes partially to "questionable competency," then was allegedly allowed to catch up by working 800 hours of overtime in six months, collecting $21,000 above her regular pay.

The agencies said in the draft report that those types of incidents are "rare" because most societies are highly unionized with rigid salary policies, but agreed to monitor overtime.

Province vows to heed recommendations

Chambers has vowed that all 20 of the auditor general's recommendations will be implemented.

They include:

  • Drafting policies for international travel by staff and children in care.
  • Tightening controls on staff use of vehicles.
  • Establishing formal policies and procedures for staff spending.

She added that some changes have already been put in place in recent weeks, although specifics were not provided.

To ensure the new higher standards are met, the minister is inviting the auditor to perform a followup audit of the societies in 2007.

It was the first year that Ontario's auditor general has been able to probe the books of broader public sector organizations such as the children's aid societies, hospitals, universities and school boards.


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