The Hamilton Spectator

CAS cuts putting families at risk


The news last week of the closing of Catholic Family Services and the cutbacks at the Children’s Aid Society came as a shock to people who depend on these services.

While it’s good to hear that other agencies will step in and pick up the load from CFS, the cutbacks at CAS are concerning and I’m wondering what is the plan to deal with the loss of front-line workers, those who actually meet with families.

Cutbacks of front-line staff will increase the risk of children living in precarious environmen­ts. Something tragic, but preventabl­e, will happen, the overstress­ed worker will be blamed and CAS will get dumped on, maybe even cause an inquiry to occur. So says my crystal ball that peers into the future, reflecting what’s over my shoulder in the past. It’s nowhere near rocket science.

CAS has never been funded adequately to address the challenges facing families in crisis. It has, however, been funded to pay senior management very good salaries. I looked them up on the Sunshine List. That’s true not just for CAS, but Catholic Children’s Aid, and many other social service entities as well. There is a very healthy income stream for middle-class people sitting behind a desk managing resources for the poor and marginaliz­ed. I often wonder how they reconcile that dissonance. Honest question.

And this is where I have a difficult time when decisions are made to reduce services or cut back frontline personnel due to funding cuts. Is the director taking a pay cut? Is senior management? Or maybe they’ll be taking on the cases of the laid-off workers? Decision-makers tend to protect themselves.

A true leader walks among their people and shares their burden. Is leadership sharing the financial pain?

That’s somewhat of an aside, but not really, since what’s needed to help people in crisis is usually money, and if money is going to bloated salaries that could be filling a fridge, I have to ask why? Money works like magic in feeding children, paying rent, buying clothes, living in a warm house and getting any kind of help from anybody. Money is what the CAS needs.

So the real problem is the funding cuts. While COVID-19 has exacerbate­d the situation for everyone, it’s also had a devastatin­g effect on the budgets of societies across Ontario that have had to shell out more and more money to help families in need. The caseloads may be reduced, but the needs of the cases have increased. The number of cases is a false measure.

The government has not been helpful in assisting with more money, going in the other direction by cutting funding. The Ford government has an abysmal record on the needs of children, from special needs to education to child welfare, families are underserve­d and struggling trying to do the best they can, and many of them not doing very well.

The challenge of child welfare isn’t going away, no matter how the government chooses to calculate funding, they’re going to calculate it in their favour. But it won’t address the needs in the homes of families with children who are struggling.

It’s a big topic, child welfare. Writ large it covers everything from prenatal care to schooling to parks and recreation.

Most people can manage parenthood without crisis, although I paused before I wrote that thinking how parenthood is a crash course in managing crisis. But most crises parents can handle. Especially if they have access to the resources they need. For those that need help, what do they do?

There isn’t enough room left to go into more of what I’d like to say. The child-welfare system is in crisis; it needs attention and meaningful reform to address gaps in funding and service provision. Before another child dies because someone is too busy to look out for them.

 ?? THE HAMILTON SPECTATOR FILE PHOTO ?? The Children’s Aid Society building on Aerosmith Drive. Margaret Shkimba worries about the impact of staff cuts there on families who need the support and services.
THE HAMILTON SPECTATOR FILE PHOTO The Children’s Aid Society building on Aerosmith Drive. Margaret Shkimba worries about the impact of staff cuts there on families who need the support and services.
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