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Janice Robinson, executive director of the Catholic Children’s Aid Society of Toronto, admits her group’s work can seem “a bit murky.” Photo by Michael Swan

‘People don’t really understand what we do,’ says head of Toronto's Catholic Children’s Aid

  • February 18, 2017

When kids aging out of the child welfare system got together in 2012 to tell the Ontario legislature what they think the system should look like, one of the first things they talked about was how invisible they become — how little the world knows about child protection.

“The public might know about us when we’re Baby M, when we’re abandoned on a doorstep and there’s a CIBC account opened, but they don’t know what happens to us after we come into care,” is how provincial Child Advocate Irwin Elman sums up what kids in care were saying. “We’re not as cute when we’re 17, after we’ve been in the system for 12 years.”

For most people, child protection is a $1.5 billion black box. Beyond vague notions of foster care and group homes, nobody knows what they do.

“Generally, people don’t really understand what we do. Our work is a bit murky to people,” said Catholic Children’s Aid Society of Toronto executive director Janice Robinson.

Most of what happens goes on behind a wall of privacy to protect children and families. Assumptions made by people on the other side of that wall are often negative, which drives Hamilton Catholic Children’s Aid executive director Rocco Gizzarelli nuts.

“There’s lots of good stories. I don’t know why people don’t want to hear about them,” said Gizzarelli. “I guess we’re a negatively focussed society.”

Few people know that more than 90 per cent of cases are handled without resorting to either foster care or group homes. For Toronto’s Catholic Children’s Aid, that number rises to 97 per cent of cases where children and their families are helped and monitored in their own homes.

“The bulk of our work is in the community, with families, community partners — keeping kids in, if not their own home then a kinship circle or some kind of social support network. They never come into care,” said Robinson. “Lots of public perception of children’s aid has to do with taking children away.”

Robinson welcomes more transparency into the society’s work.

“We haven’t done a good job of being transparent about when we are placing children’s best interests at the centre of decision-making,” she said.

“Youth and children who have been in care now have a voice in speaking about what the system should look like,” said Child Welfare League of Canada executive director Gordon Phaneuf. “That’s not a small thing. The history of child welfare wasn’t that. It was, ‘The client is the client and we’re the professionals.’ I think now we have a different ethos.”

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