Toronto Star

Bill proposed to protect former foster children

Records would be sealed until after 21, accessible by court order only


Former foster children have little privacy — their files accessible to thousands of child welfare employees across the province, even after they have aged out of the system — which a new private member’s bill aims to fix.

Believed to be a first in Canada, the amendments to the Child and Youth Family Services Act would remove a person’s name from the database and redact it from any sibling or family files.

“Having grown up in foster care myself, my most intimate and traumatic childhood experience­s and personal characteri­stics have been recorded in a file that remains available electronic­ally to child protection workers in Ontario for my whole life,” said Jane Kovarikova, founder of the non-profit Child Welfare Political Action Committee.

“This has unfortunat­ely resulted in many cases where the data has been unfairly exploited to undermine us in adult life when seeking jobs or board positions in child protection, when seeking to adopt, when reporting crimes or in divorce court.”

Kovarikova worked with Sarnia-Lambton MPP Bob Bailey on the bill, the Fostering Privacy Fairness Act, which is to be introduced Thursday and has the support of Associate Minister of Children and Women’s Issues Jill Dunlop.

“We are trying to clean this up,” Kovarikova said. “My history is no one’s business.”

The legislativ­e changes would remove the names of former wards from the general database after age 21, but would still give access to third parties via the courts.

Bailey said children are placed in care through no fault of their own.

He had previously heard from acouple in the process of adopting a child when red flags were raised because one of the prospectiv­e parents had been a foster child.

“I never knew it was so systemic,” he said. “And I don’t know why this hasn’t been charter-challenged in the past.”

He said he understand­s opposition parties are also in support — “I don’t think you can be against this” — and “once it gets passed in Ontario, it’s a lot easier to go to other provinces and get changes there. If you can make it happen here in Ontario, you can have fairness and equality all across the country.”

While the previous Liberal government did address some privacy rights in its 2017 child and youth legislatio­n, it “did not catch this glitch,” said Kovarikova.

Kovarikova, who is now finishing up a PhD at Western University and is also board chair of a Children’s Aid Society, noted that the records of juvenile offenders are sealed when they turn 18, and this new legislatio­n is modelled on that.

She has heard from critics “who suggest it’s a question of safety, and our files should remain accessible for the rest of our lives on the off-chance that we have children and the chance that we harm them.”

However, she added, “there is no scientific, academic data that supports the fact that we are more likely to harm our children.”

Liberal MPP Michael Coteau, a former minister of children and youth services, said he would support such legislatio­n and that easy access to files needs to stop.

“We don’t do that for schools, we don’t do that for youth justice,” he said. “So why is that happening for child welfare?”

While the previous Liberal government did address some privacy rights in its 2017 child and youth legislatio­n, it ‘did not catch this glitch’

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