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STRATFORD, Ont. – “Provincial under-resourcing of child welfare agencies like the Huron-Perth Children’s Aid Society (CAS) is wreaking havoc across the child welfare sector in Ontario,” says Lynn Gauthier-Baxter, President of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 1427 at the Huron-Perth CAS agency. She goes on to explain how her local’s slow and difficult contract negotiations with the agency can be best viewed against the backdrop of the provincial government cutbacks to child welfare funding.
Recent changes to Ontario’s child welfare funding formula are resulting in deep cuts at agencies across the province and jeopardizing the ability of agencies to meet their mandate to protect kids. In the spring, the province’s Liberal government approved a new funding formula within a fixed funding envelope which fails to account for changes in service volume needs or in-year “mitigation” funding provided in previous years. The resulting crisis is a $50.6 million provincial shortfall this year alone. Adds Gauthier-Baxter, “How can they cut funding when they know there is no way for them to limit the growing needs in our communities?
For an agency like Huron-Perth CAS, a government-directed $700,000 cut leaves at-risk kids and families on the losing end. Due to funding cuts at the agency in recent months, approximately 15 front-line child protection positions and a Kin Finder position will not be staffed. The Kin Finder helps caseworkers to locate family and unite family with crown wards and to locate kin for kids in care. Additional reductions have seen foster parents’ per diems frozen, and specialized supports to foster parents and volunteers cut in order to balance the budget.
The decision to leave front-line child protection worker positions unfilled is especially worrying to staff. “Delivery of services and programs is threatened because positions are not being filled and caseloads are being redistributed to already overtaxed workers. Understaffing as a response to budget cuts threatens the agency’s ability to meet its legislative mandate to protect vulnerable at-risk children and youth in our communities, and can lead to disastrous consequences,” warns Gauthier-Baxter.
“It is a mistake for the Liberal government to be cutting funding at the expense of supports to at-risk kids and families, foster parents and volunteers,” says Gauthier-Baxter. Returning to events closer to home, she feels it is a mistake for Huron-Perth to threaten further instability by adopting an acrimonious approach to negotiations. “We hope they’ll see the wisdom of accepting a settlement pattern across agencies in Ontario which has ensured labour stability across our sector. They’ve nothing to gain from being an outlier in this process.”
Gauthier-Baxter wants to make her local’s position crystal clear, both to the agency and the communities it serves. “Our priority is making sure there’s stability at a time of great change in the sector. Other agencies have found a way to a pattern of settlements that is ensuring stability. We urge the Huron-Perth Children’s Aid Society to work with us and continue bargaining a settlement that respects front-line staff and protects services.”
For more information please contact:
Lynn Gauthier-Baxter, President, CUPE Local 1427 (226) 222-1037
Catherine Robinson, CUPE National Representative (226) 236-2735
Barry Blake, CUPE Communications (613) 852-3279