43e législature, 1re session

L149B - Mon 22 Apr 2024 / Lun 22 avr 2024



Monday 22 April 2024 Lundi 22 avril 2024

Supporting Children’s Futures Act, 2024 / Loi de 2024 visant à soutenir l’avenir des enfants


Report continued from volume A.


Supporting Children’s Futures Act, 2024 / Loi de 2024 visant à soutenir l’avenir des enfants

Continuation of debate on the motion for second reading of the following bill:

Bill 188, An Act to amend the Child, Youth and Family Services Act, 2017 and various other Acts / Projet de loi 188, Loi modifiant la Loi de 2017 sur les services à l’enfance, à la jeunesse et à la famille et diverses autres lois.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bhutila Karpoche): Further debate?

Hon. Todd J. McCarthy: I join the debate in this House this afternoon, lending my full support to Bill 188, the Supporting Children’s Futures Act, 2024, proposed by the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services. And I thank the Minister of Children, Community and Social Services for his incredible advocacy and the hard work of that minister and his team on this bill which is designed to keep our children safe across our province.

In my role as the Minister of Public and Business Service Delivery, I have the responsibility and the privilege of helping to protect Ontarians by strengthening consumer protections while we all navigate an ever-evolving digital marketplace. We do this by managing the province’s archival history and safeguarding the personal data of Ontarians. We do this through delivering vital programs, services and products ranging from health cards to drivers’ licences to birth certificates. We also do this by addressing public safety, helping to create a better quality of life for all citizens and residents of Ontario.

My ministry and I also work together with our partners across government—internally and externally—to deliver together on service excellence in a way that puts people at the centre of everything we do. It is important that we all have trust in the equitable, accessible and secure government products and government services that are offered and that we all count on in our daily lives.

It is an honour to work for the people of Ontario in this capacity and a responsibility that I take to heart each and every day. And it is this experience that motivated me to speak to Bill 188 and all the good that it can do to protect our children and our children’s future. This bill represents a critical stride forward in ensuring the well-being and safety as well as future prosperity for the children and youth under our care.

Through a comprehensive set of measures aimed at strengthening oversight, protecting privacy and updating legislative frameworks, this bill lays the groundwork for a more robust and responsive child welfare system. It goes without saying that the child welfare sector in our province plays a pivotal role in safeguarding children and youth who may be vulnerable to abuse or neglect.

As mandated under the Child, Youth and Family Services Act, 2017, our children’s aid societies work tirelessly to provide protection, support and most importantly hope to those who need it most. Ever since the start of our government’s mandate in 2018 and in regard to serving the citizens and residents of Ontario, our government has undertaken a comprehensive redesign of the child welfare system, driven by our steadfast belief that every child deserves a safe and stable home regardless of their particular circumstances.

The introduction of initiatives such as the Ready, Set, Go Program stand as a testament to our unwavering dedication to the well-being and future success of youth in our care. By providing essential life skills, financial support and extended care options, we are equipping our youth with the tools they need to navigate the challenges of adulthood with confidence and with resilience. Now, with the Supporting Children’s Futures Act, we have the opportunity to build upon these efforts and enact meaningful change that will resonate for generations to come.

This bill at its core is about protecting our children and our youth today and ensuring they have the opportunities to flourish tomorrow. By strengthening oversight and enforcement tools for out-of-home care, protecting the privacy of youth formerly in care and by updating our legislative framework, we are taking action. The government is building on lessons learned:

(1) Extensive consultations across the child welfare sector;

(2) Over 30 virtual engagements held by ministry staff with various stakeholder groups including youth with lived experience; and

(3) Stakeholder engagement through the Ontario Regulatory Registry.

This was to lay the groundwork for a brighter, more secure future for all.

Now, one of the key pillars of this bill is strengthening oversight. By implementing a more thorough application process and providing inspectors with enhanced powers, we are sending a clear message: There is no room for inadequate care in our province. The introduction of new enforcement tools, including compliance orders, will ensure that those who fail our children will be held accountable, while, at the same time, we can ensure that every child receives the quality care they deserve.

Additionally, by enhancing privacy protections for youth formerly in care, we are affirming their right to control their own narrative and speak openly about their own experiences. This bill proposes to update the Child, Youth and Family Services Act, 2017, which allowed the interpretation that children and youth formerly in care were breaching their own privacy rights by speaking publicly about their past.

Now, the proposed changes aim to better protect the privacy of those adults who were children and youth formerly in care by restricting access by others to their records, while supporting their right to speak freely about their lived experiences, if it is their choice to do so.

Through clear and consistent practices outlined in the bill, such as enabling information-sharing among children’s aid societies and professional colleges, we are fostering a culture of transparency and accountability that puts the best interests of children first. When I was only in my second year of law school, the idea of putting children’s best interests first was a new concept under then legislation, changing the old Child Welfare Act. This notion of the best interests of the children being put first is a hallmark of this legislation, an important continuation of the legacy of that principle, dating back over four decades.

Furthermore, while this bill represents a significant step forward, it is just one piece of the puzzle. It is neither the beginning nor the end of the child welfare redesign. In tandem with introducing this bill, our government has filed regulations containing a host of new measures aimed at further improving the quality of care in out-of-home settings. From mandating more frequent visits to enhancing rules on financial reporting, these regulations underscore our unwavering commitment to ensuring the well-being of every child in our care.

This bill also proposes to establish clear and consistent practices in the Child, Youth and Family Services Act through a number of measures.

As I touched upon earlier, Bill 188 proposes to enable information-sharing between and among children’s aid societies and the College of Early Childhood Educators and the Ontario College of Teachers which allows for timely action when there is an allegation of a risk to children involving a teacher or early childhood educator. Information-sharing would support investigations or hearings by the professional colleges. This would expand the current list of professions that can receive personal information from children’s aid societies beyond regulated health professions, social workers and social service workers to include teachers and early childhood educators.

Our government does understand the vital role that the early childhood educators play, especially in the early stages of lives in education and ensuring the safety of many young children.

Currently, only certain early childhood educators with specific designations have an explicit duty to report on the treatment of children. Again, this duty to report was a new concept just over four decades ago. We have proposed, with this bill, to broaden that duty. If passed, this bill would make a clarification that early childhood educators in any role or capacity would have a duty to report in relation to a child’s protection.

The change would also enable penalties for early childhood educators who failed to report a child in need of protection. This bill is a landmark change that will expand, if it is passed, the range of workers who deal with children daily that can and must actively report risks and dangers to those children.

Another element of the bill is to enable the College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers to share information about its members with bodies that govern other professions and with others, such as children’s aid societies. Currently, the College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers is not permitted to inform other parties that an investigation against a member is under way, unless, of course, the member consents or until the investigation concludes. The college, Speaker, has requested this change to be more consistent with other health professionals, whose professional colleges are able to disclose information in a timelier manner to reduce or eliminate risks of harm. Now, our government takes this feedback very seriously, and we will continue to work with children’s aid groups to provide the best service and to make sure that our youth remain safe and can live a prosperous life.

Once again, Speaker, I would like to emphasize the importance of child safety throughout the province of Ontario. No child should ever be subjected to poor treatment or neglect. Keeping children and youth informed about their options if they are being mistreated is important, and they must be educated and feel safe with reporting any wrongdoing that may be occurring to them.


One major proposal in this bill is to clarify the circumstances when children and youth must be informed about their rights to complain to the Office of the Ombudsman. It is important to acknowledge that this change, in terms of the move of the office of the children’s advocate to the Office of the Ombudsman, was a deliberate move. It was the investigative function of the children’s advocate that was folded into the Office of the Ombudsman and continues to this day—a deliberate decision of this government that streamlined the process and made common sense. It is, perhaps, one of the elements of the bill, like many, that even members of the New Democratic Party have suggested represents positive changes in this announcement and this bill.

Children and youth in care have the right to complain to the Ombudsman, and this bill would improve and clarify and ensure they know about that right. Currently, Speaker, the Ombudsman Act guides how and when children in care are informed about the Ombudsman and the services that are available to them.

The Child, Youth and Family Services Act, 2017, is what many service providers use as their steadfast guideline to determine their responsibilities to children and to youth in care, creating, unfortunately, a potential gap where not all service providers—let alone children—are aware of their rights to contact the Ombudsman. As the service providers do not usually affiliate with the Ombudsman Act to determine their responsibilities to children in care, this divide can create a gap where even service providers are unaware of their rights, and this in turn can cause an even further disconnect for our children.

Setting out these obligations formally in the Child, Youth and Family Services Act, 2017, would, I submit, create formal requirements which will provide a solid framework to all licensed care providers. Our government wants to ensure that children understand their rights. We want to make sure they know that they are cared for and that they are safe, but above all, that they can have the confidence to speak up in situations where they are in need.

Speaker, another piece of Bill 188 that is a testament, I submit, to our government’s commitment to making life easier for those children in care is our intention to keep siblings together when it is possible to do so. Our government understands the importance of family and how impactful the relationships between siblings are. One of my godchildren happens to have been adopted by my brother-in-law and sister-in-law, and his relationships with his siblings are very, very important to this day. I can speak frankly that my brothers and I—my brother Gerry and my younger brother, John; I’m the middle child—we are brothers, of course, but we are among each others’ best friends for life.

This notion of the importance of siblings and their relationship with each other is enshrined as a key feature of this bill, and how important it is from a common-sense perspective, from a lived experience perspective, to, as I submit, keep siblings together when it is possible to do so, because when we do that, we are creating a lifetime legacy of friendship and the love of one’s siblings. They are often among our best friends, as is the case with my brothers and I. And the thought of splitting up children from each other, I submit, is detrimental to their growth and to their well-being. That is why, through this bill, we will ensure that, when possible, all siblings in child care facilities will remain and be protected together. I applaud the minister for making Bill 188 a priority, and I know our government will continue to work tirelessly to accommodate any situations where siblings are involved.

Speaker, every member of this House, I would assume, can agree with me that this bill is an important step in the right direction—or, as members of the NDP have suggested, there are many positive aspects to this bill and to this announcement associated with the bill. We will continue to work to ensure the well-being of all children in our province. This bill is a testament to our government’s continued commitment to every child or youth in care, to receive high-quality services that are truly responsive to their needs.

Children are our future. They are the future of our province. They are the future of Canada. It is our duty to do all we can to protect them and to prepare them to be contributing citizens and adults in our society.

Speaker, the Supporting Children’s Futures Act, 2024, is not just legislation, it is a promise to the children and youth of Ontario. It is a promise that we will do everything in our power to protect them, to support them and to empower them to reach their full potential. As we embark on this journey of reform and renewal, let us never lose sight of the profound impact our actions will have on the lives of those we serve. Each provision, each amendment, represents an opportunity to make a tangible difference in the lives of children and youth in our province. Let us seize this opportunity with courage, compassion and conviction, knowing that the future of our children is in our hands. Let us approach it from a purely non-partisan perspective, to do right by our children and their future.

I urge all members of this House to join me in supporting the passage of Bill 188, the Supporting Children’s Futures Act, 2024. The act is formally entitled, An Act to amend the Child, Youth and Family Services Act, 2017 and various other Acts, but as the last section of the bill indicates, the name of the act is to be, if passed, the Supporting Children’s Futures Act, 2024.

Let us stand united, then, in our commitment to protect the most vulnerable among us; to ensure that every child has the opportunity to thrive and succeed; to ensure that no child is left behind, regardless or her or his circumstances. It is about the future, and that’s because it’s about our children.

There are matters before this House, as we’ve seen—I’ve only been here a short time—that rise above partisanship, that can bring us together, that can unite every member of this House toward a common cause. Our children can and should be that common cause. Our children should unite us.

Together, then, for the sake of our children—for all children—let us build a brighter, more inclusive future for generations to come, for the good of our province and the good of Canada.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bhutila Karpoche): Questions?

Mr. Wayne Gates: It’s nice to rise, and I can actually say that I agree with you that our children should be our future. But the one thing I don’t understand with your government—today, right now, more children are using food banks than at any time in our history. So we should have that discussion, as well.

The province cut funding to the unity program at the Niagara Regional Native Centre. This program helped the centre complete the incredible and important work of unifying Indigenous families and protecting youth, in partnership with FACS Niagara.

Why would the government believe stripping local Native centres of crucial funding to assist with children, youth and family reunification issues was the right decision?

Hon. Todd J. McCarthy: I thank the member for the question. I know he brings great passion to his position. And congratulations—I believe the member is entering his 11th year, having been elected 10 years ago, in 2014.

I look at all that our government is doing: legislative initiatives; the budget initiatives of the Minister of Finance; regulatory changes. I look within my own ministry and I look beyond, and I see investment after investment—supports for worthy causes, support for our children, investments in social services—and we do that because the Minister of Finance has led with, “We could stop spending. We could cut spending. But we choose to invest and increase spending in all areas, including social services,” and I’m proud of that.


The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bhutila Karpoche): Next question?

Mr. Trevor Jones: I really appreciated the minister sharing some of his experiences as a young law student and the legal framework as it existed at that time and, most importantly, how it has evolved.

This bill is clearly not the first step in child welfare redesign, nor the last. Our government will consistently work to improve life for all children in Ontario, especially those in care.

When this bill was tabled, it was accompanied by a suite of amendments to the regulations. Can the minister please share some examples of those measures?

Hon. Todd J. McCarthy: The regulatory changes are extremely important, under the Supporting Children’s Futures Act. We believe that these regulatory changes, particularly, promote safety, stability and access to resources to help children succeed and thrive. Since 2020, to be specific, our government has been redesigning Ontario’s child welfare system to enhance early intervention, improve outcomes for children and address barriers to supports. That’s what the regulatory implementation, I believe, has done and will do, and the legislative framework around it is an update and an improvement on what we’ve learned from the past, while maintaining all of the core principles and the investments.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bhutila Karpoche): Next question?

MPP Kristyn Wong-Tam: Thank you very much, Speaker, for the opportunity to rise and ask this question.

To the member across: Thank you for your presentation.

It has been noted that the number of complaints going into the system through the reports has significantly decreased since the departure of the children and youth advocate. What used to be 2,000 complaints every year has now dropped to 200. I’m just curious to know, with respect to the reforms proposed in Bill 188—which, of course, we all recognize is a good start; there’s always room for improvement—what we also are seeing is that 50% of the residential home cares are for-profit facilities.

So with respect to the under-reporting of complaints and also the fact that we’re still seeing quite a bit of abuse in the for-profit system, how does your bill address those concerns?

Hon. Todd J. McCarthy: I thank the member for the question.

Just as every child and youth, each and every child and youth among us, is different, it’s not one-size-fits-all—and the delivery of services and support of the children and the youth is not one-size-fits-all. All of them provide excellent care and supports.

This bill and its regulations purport to improve and learn from the past. One example, of course, of improving from the past is the fact that from 2008 to 2019, the office of the child advocate wrote 79 reports totalling 4,644 pages—and that’s just from one source. We believe the NDP could have done something about that waste and that bureaucracy when they were holding the balance of power for three of the years between 2008 and 2018. So our government merged the function of that office into the Ombudsman, and it’s working very, very well to serve the children and the youth, in my submission.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bhutila Karpoche): Next question?

Mr. Billy Pang: To the minister: It’s already been said that this bill is not the first step in child welfare redesign, nor is it the last step. Our government continues to constantly work to improve life for all children and youth in Ontario, and especially for those in care. When this bill was tabled, it was accompanied by the filing of a suite of amendments through regulations. Can the minister give us some examples of these measures?

Hon. Todd J. McCarthy: Thank you to the excellent member for that thoughtful question. I can point out very clearly that these filings include numerous measures that will improve the quality of care in the child welfare sector. They include mandating information-sharing, as I indicated in my remarks, between and among children’s aid societies and the ministry about specific health and safety risks to children in licensed out-of-home care settings; requiring children’s aid societies to visit children in their care, placed in out-of-home care more frequently—that’s every 30 days instead of every 90 days—that’s a major improvement; requiring unannounced in-person visits by children’s aid societies in certain circumstances; and requirements to give youth in children’s residences and foster homes greater guarantees of privacy.

I’m proud of those measures. I believe they will make a difference for the better.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bhutila Karpoche): Next question?

Miss Monique Taylor: It’s difficult to sit and to listen to the member opposite talk about the waste of reports that came from the child advocates office—reports that literally have changed the way that child welfare was working. Is it perfect? No, but so many things came from My Real Life Book, Feathers of Hope, children with disabilities, children of colour, children of LGBTSQ2+—lives have changed due to that, and to call that a waste is absolutely disgraceful.

This government: CAS underfunded; autism: 60,000 on wait-lists; mental health for kids, 30,000 kids on wait-lists. Where is all that extra money going because it’s definitely not going to kids. Is this what you call safety, stability and access to service?

Hon. Todd J. McCarthy: The member opposite and her party, I submit, may well have good intentions, but what we see typically from that side of the House are proposals for more offices, more bureaucracy, more reports—they don’t make a difference to the lives of individuals, children and youth.

On-the-ground access to better services is what this is about. So that includes, as I’ve already indicated, the unannounced in-person visits by children’s aid societies in certain circumstances, for example, if a visit cannot be scheduled because the society was unable to contact the child or the caregivers. That type of on-the-ground difference-making approach is better than more reports and more bureaucracy, in my submission—


The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bhutila Karpoche): The member for Hamilton Mountain will come to order.

Hon. Todd J. McCarthy: —the requirements that give youth in children’s residences and foster homes greater guarantees of privacy, that’s the kind of thing that makes the difference over endless reports and endless bureaucratic offices, I submit.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bhutila Karpoche): Final, quick question?

Mr. Logan Kanapathi: Thank you to the minister for that passionate presentation. I’ve known about your social justice advocacy for a long time, not only on this file but there are many files when it comes to children and youth rights. You mentioned how this is not just a bill, this is about giving more hopes and dreams to the children in our care.

Could the minister speak to how this bill complements and builds on the work done by the child welfare redesign that you mentioned?

Hon. Todd J. McCarthy: I thank the member for his thoughtful debate, contribution today and his question just now.

I want to answer his question by addressing one of the last comments from the member from Hamilton Mountain who suggests that I’m out of touch. Look, I have nephews and nieces and grandnieces who are special-needs children. I’ve read this bill carefully. I have volunteered to assist underprivileged children—


The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bhutila Karpoche): The member from Hamilton Mountain will come to order.

Hon. Todd J. McCarthy: I am in touch, I have been in touch and I will be in touch—

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bhutila Karpoche): Thank you very much.

The House will come to order.

Further debate?

Mrs. Lisa Gretzky: It’s my honour to rise to speak to the government’s Bill 188.

I had a different direction I was going to start with, but I can’t help but address some of the things that the member from Durham just said.

The independent Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth was circulating a report that raised alarm bells about what was going on in child protection services in 2018. It wasn’t a waste of money. It wasn’t a waste of time. It was an in-depth report raising alarm bells, from people who work within the system, from kids in the system. And for the member from Durham to get up and say, “Well, that was a waste of time and a waste of money”—now we understand clearly why, not long after that independent Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth in this province was circulating that report, this Conservative government decided to fire him and shutter that office. They don’t want to be held accountable.

While there are some things in this bill that are a very small step forward, there are literally children in this province today, right now, while we debate this bill, who are being neglected, who are being abused, who are in physical restraints and chemical restraints, who are being trafficked, who are being used as drug mules, who are dying by suicide. That’s happening right now.

So instead of the member for Durham getting up and trying to be so dismissive of the work that has already been done, that was handed to you when you formed government nearly six years ago—instead of dismissing that, you should have been listening to all those voices, because it would have saved lives. Frankly, it’s insulting that the member for Durham would say something like that.

And I’m going to address this political nonsense really briefly—the “Well, you guys should have done something when you were in power.” I want to point out to the member, because he seems to have forgotten, that you were the official opposition for 15 years.

Mr. Wayne Gates: Long years.

Mrs. Lisa Gretzky: Long years.

And you’ve had an opportunity, for almost six years now, to do something about the system—to stop the neglect, to stop the abuse, to stop the deaths, to take the profit out of the child protective services sector—and you’ve not done it. So the fact that you stand there in your place and try to abdicate responsibility, throw it on somebody else, is completely irresponsible and incredibly dangerous.


In 2018, that report was being circulated, and this government decided to fire the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth. And where has that gotten us? It got us Cassidy Franck, who was a resident—I raised this two years ago with this government. There was a whole series, a big Global News investigation—and I believe APTN also did several episodes—talking to workers who work in these homes, taking to kids who have managed to survive the system that this government continues to prop up and allow to happen. Cassidy Franck was in Hatts Off, a for-profit care home. She was supposedly there for her own safety and well-being. The conditions were so bad—because this was a for-profit agency—that she ran away from the home. One of the workers took her in. She was forced to deal drugs. She was trafficked. I suppose the member opposite is going to say that that in-depth series that was done, speaking to survivors like Cassidy, was a waste of time and doesn’t do anything. And when you have a majority government, when you could be doing something, perhaps you should not be wasting your time attacking the folks on this side of the House when you actually have the power to do something.

My colleague from Hamilton Mountain had tabled Katelynn’s Principle. Where is that in this bill? And for those of you on that side that have been elected since that bill was tabled, I remember—because you were the official opposition—I was standing in my place at the other end of this aisle here, while her mum sat up there crying, sobbing. I remember. I was sobbing while I was up speaking about it, about the abuse that Katelynn suffered at the hands of people that were supposed to be taking care of her. And I’m not going to get into the details of what it was, because it was absolutely horrific. Just the thought of it, I’m on the verge of tears again—that any child would be subjected to that, under any circumstance, but especially when, technically, they’re the ward of the government.

And I remember what I said that day. I said that when I was young, for a period of time, I was a ward of the government of Ontario. I didn’t have a permanent home. I lived in a foster home. Eventually, I was adopted, and at the time I remember saying—although my childhood was probably not the best, it was better than what would have been had I been left in that system—I would not be here today if it wasn’t for the family that I have, warts and all—and there were warts. And I remember saying, because of government inaction—and the issue was that nobody was actually checking in on Katelynn. They would go to the foster parents and say, “How is she doing? How is everything going?”—but never laid eyes on Katelynn.

This bill, as the member opposite was just talking about—talking about education workers and how it extends not just to teachers, but to other education workers. The people that Katelynn was interacting with every day at school, those teachers and those education workers, were sounding the alarm bells. Nothing was done. They were reporting. They were doing their thing, so I certainly hope—because it seems like there was a bit of a tone that the government is implying that those within the education sector don’t do their job and report suspected abuse.

Speaker, in this case, they did it several times—several times—but nobody bothered to insist on actually talking to Katelynn. And she died under—it doesn’t matter what the conditions were, but they were horrific. It was torture. It was torture, Speaker.

I don’t see anything in this bill around enforcement. And we know that during the pandemic, about 7,000 seniors died in long-term care. The vast majority of them were in for-profit homes. There was no real oversight; there was no real enforcement. Do you know what did happen? The government brought in a bill to protect themselves from being sued, and those for-profit long-term-care operators from being sued. So what we need is enforcement.

I remember November 2022, when I was talking about Hatts Off, that for-profit child protection provider. I started off asking the government to do an investigation into Hatts Off—do an investigation. And do you know what they said? “We know some things might need to change, but they’re pretty good.” I just heard that from the other side now. “The system is great”—kids are literally dying, but the system is great. The system is great.

And the minister, back in November 2022, said the same thing. “Well, we know that we need to make some changes.” That was November 2022. How many kids have died since then? There was no investigation into Hatts Off.

I want to mention Dwayne Ferguson, who was also a youth in care, who died by suicide because the conditions were so bad. The government has done very little to change those conditions. In fact, I think it was Connor Homes in eastern Ontario, another for-profit numbered company—a corporation that runs homes—that actually has it set up so the vast majority of any money they receive goes into their pockets and not to the care of the kids they’re supposed to be looking after. That’s also been documented and raised. And there were numerous workers that came forward and kids that had previously been in care there, and at the time were in care there, who had all come forward and said, “They’re not putting the money into the care of the kids, into the welfare of the kids. The vast majority of it is going into the profits of these owners, into this corporation.” But I see little in this bill that’s changing that. Actually, that’s generous, Speaker: I see nothing in this bill that’s changing that. And as long as we have profit driving a system, whether that’s in health care or long-term care or whether that’s in the child protection system or any system, as long as you have profit driving something that’s supposed to be for the broader public good, it is not the public good that is going to be served. It’s going to be the shareholders and the owners’ bank accounts.

Speaker, I’ve also talked in this House a couple of times about a time in my life as a teen where I was homeless. It was a women’s shelter in London—I’ve explained I was at an age—I was 17—and at the time in London, you either had to be a teen boy, a young man, or, if you were female, you had to be pregnant, and I didn’t fit either of those categories. And so it was a women’s shelter that took me in. I wasn’t really qualified to be there and didn’t fit the government definition of someone who would qualify to be there, or for the home to be funded for me to be there. But after a while of couch surfing and then living on the street, we found this shelter who took me in.

The way the system was set up, it was that you started off with a roommate and then, over time, seniority—I, for one, believe in seniority rights. So as you were there longer, if a single room became open, you would get a single room. I remember my first roommate that I had—and remember, these are all adult women and I was a teenager—and she finally took the incredibly brave and, frankly, risky move of fleeing a partner who was abusive. She was fleeing intimate partner violence, and she had children. And because she took that move—and I call it risky because they risk their financial well-being, their physical well-being—because often perpetrators of IPV don’t just stop; it escalates when someone leaves—mental, emotional, physical and financial well-being, but on top of that, she lost her children because she made the move to leave. Imagine that, that we live in a province where we say, “If you are in an abusive relationship”—I mean, it can happen to anybody, but it’s disproportionately women that it happens to. So we say to women, “If you’re in an abusive relationship, reach out for help. We’re there for you. We want you to leave.” And then say, “Oh, whoa, whoa, wait a minute, though, but you can’t have your children.” You get punished for leaving that relationship.

And so, one of my roommates was a woman who fled the violence and lost her children, and she was trying to figure out how she was going to get the financial independence to be able to not only get an affordable roof over her own head and be able to pay the bills and get food for herself but to save up enough money to get a lawyer to fight to get her children from her abusive partner.

And then I got another roommate—because of seniority, she was there longer than me, so she moved into a single room—and guess what? The exact same story: The man almost killed her, and yet, when she fled, they took her children from her, said she was unfit, couldn’t prove that she could financially support them, that she could put a roof over their head, that she could take care of them.


So that’s the lived reality for many women in this province. And there is nothing in this bill that addresses that. Speaker, there were many women in that shelter who were in the exact same circumstances. Over and over and over again, the story was the same. And yet there are people in this House that wonder why women don’t leave or why they go back. Imagine the threat of losing your children because someone chooses to abuse you. It’s almost unfathomable, but it happens far, far too often. And there is nothing in this bill that addresses that.

And in some cases, when the children are also taken away from the abusive partner, they end up in the child protective system, and they get put in a home like Hatts Off or Connor, and they turn into another Dwayne Ferguson, where the conditions are so bad they die by suicide. Or they end up like another Cassidy, who is being trafficked or used as a drug mule.

And those numbers increase when we are talking about Indigenous kids, when we’re talking about racialized kids. Those numbers increase. It’s no fault of the children; it’s a fault of the system, and there’s really not much in this bill that’s going to address that either.

So, again, like I said, there are some good incremental steps forward, but there is a lot of heavy lifting that this government should have been doing six years ago, when the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth was circulating that report—the heavy lifting they should have done that didn’t include firing him for bringing that report forward.

Speaker, in the couple of minutes that I have left, I want to talk about another issue, and my colleague from London–Fanshawe had raised it in her riding, in London. It’s happening in Windsor. It’s happening in ridings all around this province: the lack of funding for children’s aid societies as the need increases. The complexity of the needs of the youth that are coming into care is increasing, and yet funding is not keeping up with that.

But the other piece of that is the number of families in my riding and in London and ridings all around Ontario who cannot access the supports and services they need for their kids that have severe mental health concerns. And for some, add on top of that that their child has a developmental or intellectual disability. Sometimes they’re two separate things; sometimes they’re together.

And in my riding, what’s happening is this government, because of the lack of supports for children’s mental health and the access to mental health or the other supports and services these kids need, therapies and such—these families are being forced by the government to surrender their children to the children’s aid society, thinking that if they give up their rights to their children, basically, to the crown, to the government, that their children will then be taken care of and get the supports and services they need. And that’s not happening, because that is not what CAS is meant to do. That is not their mandate. That is not what they’re funding for. They have no additional access to those supports and services that these families need.

As my colleagues have stated, there is nothing in here that will help mitigate the factors that actually get families to the point of their children being surrendered or taken into care with CAS. There’s nothing to mitigate those factors in this bill.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bhutila Karpoche): Questions?

Mr. Rick Byers: I thank the member for her comments. Again, I appreciate her sharing her own story, and as I said earlier, it makes it impactful for all of us.

I also acknowledge the member’s comments about many issues with many children that she noted, so I appreciate that. And certainly, the government has done a lot, but there’s always more to do.

The goals of this bill are to support better compliance with requirements designed to protect safety and security of children and youth in out-of-home care. Also, the goal is to protect privacy of children and youth with a history in the child welfare system, that would further restrict access by other—and measures would also enable individuals who grew up in care to speak freely about their experiences.

I just wonder whether those measures are ones that would allow the member to support this bill.

Mrs. Lisa Gretzky: I appreciate the question from my colleague opposite.

I will say that the role of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth did just that—it took away the need for children to have to relive their experience over and over again and tell that story over and over again. It’s traumatic to have to repeat your story over and over again, especially when you see that nothing is changing. So that is an important piece, obviously—that children have a voice—but we have to make sure that we’re not re-traumatizing them. The role of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth was a role that gave them a safe place to share their stories and to advocate on their behalf. So I would respectfully ask the government to reinstate that position because it was a really important position.

I will also say that in November 2022, I heard the same thing about Hatts Off—“We know there’s more work to do”—and that hasn’t changed. We need action and enforcement, not just words.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bhutila Karpoche): Next question?

Mr. Wayne Gates: Just this weekend, I joined teachers from OSSTF in Niagara to raise funds for youth mental health. We all spoke about the lack of funding and the pressing need for additional mental health resources.

Do you not think it would be helpful to look at all ways to increase mental health funding for youth and families to maybe prevent these issues in the first place?

Mrs. Lisa Gretzky: I appreciate the question from my colleague.

Absolutely. I talked about my riding, and my colleague from London–Fanshawe talked about it too—how, in my riding, there are no intensive supports for kids with severe mental illness; they’re not able to access the supports and the therapies that they need for kids with intellectual or developmental disabilities. And do you know what happens? They get told to go to London. They get sent two hours up the highway to London, for London to say, “Well, we have a wait-list,” or “We can’t take you because we are over capacity and can’t provide those supports.”

If the government was actually addressing the needs in each community and making those investments—and we’re talking about human lives, so I don’t want to break it down just to dollars and cents, but I know this government likes to do that. When you invest in people on the front end, when you make sure that they have the supports and services they need on the front end, the savings to the health care system, the justice system, the education system is much, much bigger than the initial investment you made—not only that, again, it’s a human rights issue.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bhutila Karpoche): Next question?

Hon. Todd J. McCarthy: The member for Windsor West spoke about what she says is not in the bill, including enforcement measures.

Has the member not considered section 279.2, with the powers of the inspector or director on reasonable, probable grounds to make orders on a number of matters that can lead to a certified copy of that order being filed in the Superior Court of Justice under subsection (5) of 279.2, to be enforceable as an order of the court; or the administrative penalties provisions; or the fact that on review, there cannot be a further review because the decision of the designated senior employee is final and no judicial review or other type of review beyond that is available under the Statutory Powers Procedure Act.


That’s what I call strong enforcement measures, those three aspects of this bill, right in the bill. Why has the member not spoken of that or considered that in her submission?

Mrs. Lisa Gretzky: To the member opposite, the answer to that question is “can” is very different than “will”—very different words, very different meanings, very different actions. We have seen in long-term care how your government brought in legislation to protect your own back ends and those of the for-profit long-term-care operators where 7,000 seniors died. We’re talking people couldn’t get a glass of water, and your government, instead of enforcing and going after those operators, brought in legislation to protect them from prosecution. So “can” do something and “will” do something are very different things.

I will look to Fiera Foods here in this area, where workers continue to get injured or killed on the job, yet this government does not enforce basic health and safety standards. They look the other way.

So, no, if you’re just saying “can,” much better is possible. “Will” is what should be in the bill: “We will do it.”

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bhutila Karpoche): Next question?

Mr. Joel Harden: I just want to ask a particular question to my friend from Windsor West. In our community, we have a program called Counselling Connect. It comes from the Pinecrest-Queensway Community Health Centre. What it does for youth who are in crisis is it allows them to have immediate access to three psychotherapy sessions that are culturally appropriate, networked to 33 different agencies in our city. It is now serving over 700 people a month, and our office worked with one mom who got her son who was in distress in our emergency room at the children’s hospital an appointment within 48 hours.

We said in the pre-budget hearings that we want every community to have this program, but it needs to be funded. This program costs $600,000. Do you think there’s a case to take this everywhere and to make sure we have a program like this—mental health first aid—to kids and families who need it?

Mrs. Lisa Gretzky: I appreciate my colleague from Ottawa asking that question. Absolutely I think there is a case for the government to be making those investments. And they are investments. They are investments. When children and youth have access to the supports and services that they need, when they can get immediate mental health supports, if they have a developmental or intellectual disability, when they can access the supports and the therapies that they need, it makes a huge impact. It stops it from becoming a crisis situation.

What we are finding more and more across this province—it’s not getting less; it’s growing—is that we have a crisis in the health care system. We have a crisis in mental health care. We have a crisis with addictions. Younger and younger kids are becoming addicted to substances, are dying from overdoses, while this government does nothing to address that. They come into connection with the justice system. They end up with CAS.

When you invest in the funding at the front end, in the people at the front end, there is a huge impact to not only save money at the back end but to actually save lives.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bhutila Karpoche): Next question?

Mr. Sam Oosterhoff: My thanks to the member for Windsor West for her participation this afternoon in debate. I want to thank the member for speaking from, clearly, a position of deep personal interest and also deep passion. I appreciate the member’s willingness to bring forward the stories of others, as so many of our colleagues have spoken about the importance of that.

I wanted to ask about the change in this legislation that any appeals of decisions of the Licence Appeal Tribunal to the Divisional Court will no longer result in a stay of the decision, which means, for example, that if the Licence Appeal Tribunal decides a licence is suspended, it stays suspended even if the licence holder disagrees with that decision. In this case, the Divisional Court would now need to be satisfied that a stay would not pose a risk to the health, safety or welfare of a child. I’m wondering if the member opposite agrees with that change to the legislation.

Mrs. Lisa Gretzky: My answer to that is a previous answer, which is, right now, the language is weaselly language: “We can.” It can happen. It could happen. Maybe it will happen. As opposed to, “It will happen.”

The member opposite from Durham just rolled his eyes at me, but the reality is, when we look at what happened in long-term care—prime example. When we look at what’s happening at places like Fiera Foods, where workers continue to get injured and die and this government does nothing to enforce, then those of us on this side of the House, the families who are impacted, the kids who are impacted, the workers within the system who are impacted, will have a very hard time believing that the government is actually going to take the steps necessary to save the lives of these kids.

As I said, in November 2022, I asked a question about Hatts Off: “Will you do an investigation?” Do you know what I was told? “Everything’s fine. I know we’ve got some changes we’ve got to make. Everything’s fine.” Almost two years later, and very little has changed. So until we bring forward legislation that says we will enforce and you actually enforce, then while there are supportable measures in this, it’s very hard for us to believe you’re going to do it.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bhutila Karpoche): Further debate?

Mr. Joel Harden: Speaker, this is a difficult subject to talk about. I’m sure we all feel the same way listening to the debate this afternoon, but some of the most important conversations we have in this House are the ones that are the most difficult. That’s my belief. In the six years I’ve prepped research for debate in this House, this has been one of the more difficult preps, I’ll be very honest with you, because reading the reports of the children who are continuing to suffer in the children protection system we have is really rough, and reading the reports of the staff who have talked either anonymously or on the record about what they see and the lack of support they have, that’s also tough.

So let’s just look top-line at the system that we have. There’s just over 8,600 children and youth in the child protection system in Ontario; 60% of those in care or receiving supports were youth aged 16 to 20. The system has about 7,200 full-time-equivalent staff dispersed around the province. And in the last report of which I’m aware there were 117,500 calls made for referral to the children’s aid service; 61,000 of those required a full child protection investigation. It’s not a trivial matter.

Where did I get those numbers from, Speaker? Who did I ask? I asked the talented Irwin Elman, who used to be the advocate for children in this province and who I think has done this province enormous public service. It’s disappointing that I wasn’t contacting Mr. Elman in his current capacity in that role and that that office has been folded into the Ombudsman’s office, because what I’ve heard from Mr. Elman and what I’ve heard from others since is that the efficacy of the work has dropped, not because of the lack of the commitment—let me be clear—not because of the lack of the commitment of people charged with this critical responsibility but because the resources aren’t there, because many people, particularly youth at risk, Indigenous youth, in particular, who I’m going to talk about this afternoon, those youth do not have access to the resources to know where they can find out about their rights nor do they feel safe in seeking them out.

And the social workers: We heard the member for Kitchener Centre earlier this afternoon, who comes from a background of social work, who has worked directly with children and families who interact with child protection services. We are losing talented social workers in this province, and that’s a critical priority we have to talk about.

Mr. Elman shared with me seven themes that kept being repeated from youth when they were talking about their interaction in child protection systems. There was a report; many of the members here in the House have talked about the report Mr. Elman produced in 2019. Here were some of the themes he noted for me: First, we are vulnerable; second, we are isolated; third, we are left out of our lives; fourth, no one is really there for us; care is unpredictable, fifth; care ends, and we struggle; and, lastly, we keep losing who we are.

So can we imagine what it must feel like to be a young person growing up in a challenging context already, having those feelings after interacting with the very system that is supposed to be there to protect them?

I think about the APTN report that was produced recently that showed that over the course of five years, 102 youth interacting with child protection services, Indigenous youth, died. That’s a rate of almost every three days a child connected to care dies, sometimes by suicide, sometimes by neglect. It’s astounding. This is one of the numbers that, in the six years I’ve been doing work in this place—it’s hard to reckon with that figure. It’s hard to reckon with the figure that—I serve in a democracy, and we fight in this House over the scope of services that go one place or another, but as we do that work, there are people falling through the cracks before our very eyes.


What we can’t do any longer—thanks to Mr. Elman’s work and the work of the member for Hamilton Mountain and the work of so many people in this place, the member from Windsor West, others—we can’t say we didn’t know anymore. That rationale has long since been convincing. It’s not convincing—we know, and particularly for Indigenous youth.

I live in Ottawa, on ceded Algonquin Anishinaabe territory, and I am often thinking about the significance of a ruling that was made by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal against the federal government on January 26, 2016, and reflecting upon what the great Cindy Blackstock said after she doggedly pursued federal governments for years about their lack of investment in children’s welfare organizations, for Indigenous youth. Ms. Blackstock kept trying to draw our attention as a country to the fact that you couldn’t say this was an absentee policy mindset. She was making the case—and it’s important for this House to hear—that there was conscious neglect coming from Ottawa out to on-reserve child welfare agencies, and that conscious neglect was leading to consequences. I want to quote her again for the record; I did it earlier this afternoon in a question. Ms. Blackstock said, when the ruling came down on January 26, 2016, “Nothing the government can do can make up for the wrongs it consciously perpetrated against kids. And I want to emphasize that it was conscious. It wasn’t an accident.” What was the context for those remarks? The context is this: The federal government is responsible for funding at least 93% of on-reserve child welfare, but the Ontario government—that is the place in which we are having this debate—created the system where the children died and provides the law within which the child welfare agencies operate.

I remember Ms. Blackstock telling me very clearly, as I made my train travels down here to Queen’s Park, that we actually have an obligation to make sure that the child welfare system that exists in this province, the child protection system we have in this province, is robust enough and strong enough and funded enough so we stop continuing the pattern of neglect that no member in this House—I believe it in my heart—wants to have continue.

What Ms. Blackstock has told me on several occasions, from her organization, the First Nations Caring society—she has said, “Words are wonderful,” and she has heard it from politicians of every stripe, but what matters to her more and certainly what matters to me more, as I rise to participate in this debate, are the dollars that we allocate to the organizations responsible for the protection of children at risk. As the member from Windsor West said very clearly, as the member for Hamilton Mountain said very clearly, as the member for Kitchener Centre said very clearly, we rank last, on a per capita basis, in funding children’s aid services in our province. So we’re speaking with our words and our deeds, and I don’t like the deeds as much as I like the words.

I want to talk about two stories that affected me as I did the research for this afternoon. I want to talk about Amy Owen. Amy Owen grew up in Poplar Hill First Nation, in the far northeastern part of Ontario. She was relocated to my city, to part of a group home. Her family had various forms of trauma, and she was brought into the system. Amy would beg, on a regular basis, for support for mental health. She had a plan with a fellow resident of this particular home that they were going to run away together, but, sadly, she took her own life. She took her own life on April 17, 2017. Her parents are obviously traumatized. They’re pursuing their rights in court, but no pursuit in court can get your child back.

I’ve talked to the unionized workers in Ottawa at the children’s aid society, and they knew Amy, and they said she had a lot of energy. It’s funny; I’ve noticed a trend with child protection advocates of some of the kids that end up in care. Hyperactivity is a very big trait—hyperactivity, difficult to calm, disruptive, leading to discord in the family home, leading to violence in the family home, leading to apprehension and leading to relocation into child protection care. This was Amy’s story.

But what I struggle to understand is how we failed her, because every day as I walk around my riding, as I ride around my riding, I see wonderful opportunities for children at our public schools. I see wonderful opportunities for families despite all the struggles that are out there. But 94% of my riding is white; people look like me. Some of my neighbours have great jobs working for the federal government, private business. They do important work for our country, but our reality is very different from Amy’s.

We also have, in my community, the highest proportion of rooming houses. We have deep pockets of poverty. We have a lot of suffering as well.

But in our city, we have a program that I talked about in a question to the member for Windsor West called Counselling Connect that comes from the Pinecrest-Queensway Community Health Centre. I’m very proud to say that this program can get people access to cognitive behavioural therapy that is culturally appropriate within 48 hours. That’s the goal. It’s currently serving over 700 people a month. Many of them have been kids in crisis. Our office interacted with one mom and one family who, after her son was admitted to the ER for violent, disruptive behaviour again, we managed to connect her, in her language of Arabic, to a service provider that helped get her child back on track.

So this is an organization, Counselling Connect, that has a budget of just over $600,000 a year, cobbled together from various community agencies. I want to believe that if we can do that in Ottawa and the surrounding Ottawa area, we could have done that at Poplar Hill First Nation in northeastern Ontario. We could have and should have done that.

I want to talk about David Roman, too. Hopefully I can get through this. I don’t think I’ll be able to forget about David Roman from Barrie, Ontario. David was a hyperactive young man and a child of Russian immigrants who came to Canada, like so many of our families, looking for a better life. He fell into behaviours that were self-harming. His mom and dad were beside themselves and wanted David to have a place to go where he could find himself again. He was brought to a private, for-profit group home in Barrie, Ontario, and he died there. I want to believe we can actually build a child protection system where that doesn’t have to ever happen again.

So for Amy and for David and for all the child protection workers out there, for all the great foster families out there trying to give people a better life, thank you. But we can—

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bhutila Karpoche): Thank you.

Second reading debate deemed adjourned.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bhutila Karpoche): It is now 6 o’clock. The House is adjourned until tomorrow morning at 9 a.m.

The House adjourned at 1800.