According to the 2012 report From One System to Another: Crossover Children in Waterloo Region, “Children living in the care of the child welfare system have a higher likelihood of justice system involvement in comparison to children living with their biological parents” (WRCPC, pg.2). Children who enter out-of-home care often come from disadvantaged families and have been subjected to maltreatment and neglect. The impact of trauma experienced from abuse, neglect, and being removed from their family home can affect a child’s cognitive functioning and may also result in challenging behaviors that jeopardize their development (Reid & Dudding, 2006; Stone, 2007; Trout et al., 2008). As a result youth-in-care are often at higher risk of:
- Involvement in the youth justice system
- Substance use
- Becoming parents earlier
- Living in poverty
- Using social assistance
- Experience emotional and behavioural difficulties
Four out of ten young people in care have a parent who was a client of the child welfare system as a child. (Leschied et al. London Study, 2003)
Family and Children’s Services of Waterloo Region (FCS) is keenly aware of these research results and is working hard to help improve outcomes for children and youth in care. Admitting a child into care is always a last resort for workers, however when a child is not able to remain safely in their own home, FCS must provide a safe alternative. One of our FCS key service priorities is to ensure that all children have the permanent support of a safe, loving and nurturing family (preferably their own family) in which they can grow and develop towards successful adulthood.
Children in care numbers remained fairly consistent with some modest increases and decreases between the years 2007/08 to 2010/11. However, in the year 2011/12 the agency experienced a significant increase in children in care numbers – 6% over the previous year. As part of a regular review of our service trends, we examined the increase in child admissions to care in 2011/12. Despite the increase, many of these admissions were for short period of time (i.e. five days or less). The increased number of children in care was driven by a number of factors. The economic downturn is felt to have contributed to an increase in referrals and protection applications. The agency also experienced an increase in parents abandoning their children to society care due to lack of resources in the community – particularly resources related to respite services for teens and children with complex developmental/medical needs. In 2011/12 there was also a lack of regional subsidized day care spaces in the community – daycare is often viewed as a protective factor for young vulnerable children who are more visible in the community when they regularly attend daycare.
Agency and Provincial Response to Youth in Care Outcomes
For those children who do require out of home care, Family and Children’s Services works hard to ensure that these children have every opportunity to develop to their full potential. Each child in care has an individual plan developed by the youth, the family, the worker, and key supports in the youth’s life. The plan of care focuses on improving a child/youth’s well-being and resilience. Family and Children’s Services of the Waterloo Region, along with other CAS’s across the province, use The Ontario Looking after Children (OnLAC) model to help improve the outcomes for children placed in out of home care. A key focus of OnLAC is the assessment, documentation and tracking of a child’s developmental progress through an annual assessment (AAR-C2: Flynn, Ghazal, & Legault, 2006).
In addition to planning for individual children, the data gathered through OnLAC is useful at the agency and provincial level to inform service planning on many different levels. Review of data by staff, foster parents and community partners provides assistance with evaluation and future planning and helps raise awareness and increases the attention given to improving outcomes for children in care.
Prevention of Adolescent Admissions
FCS is attempting to work collaboratively with our community partners to reduce adolescent admissions to care. While we recognize the stress that many parents face when dealing with challenging teens, admission to care is rarely the best answer. There are numerous unintended consequences of admitting adolescents to care. Once admitted, youth are;
- Less likely to return home to their family
- Less likely to successfully work through family issues
In addition, having an adolescent youth in care may lead to decreased feelings of competence and confidence for the parents and may lead to decreased feelings of safety and security for youth.
What Can be done by the Community?
- When for whatever reason, parents/caregivers of youth do not feel capable of responding to the youth’s behaviour the caregivers turn to the larger systems to help contain that behaviour
- The larger systems available to them are education, child welfare, youth justice
- Those systems need to be able to come together in a way that helps support the family in responding to the youth’s distress, rather than taking a punitive stance or removing the youth from their (wider) system of support
- It is important for these systems to respond from a trauma and attachment informed lens (i.e look to what is underneath the behaviour, help parents understand the impact of trauma and disrupted attachments in their own livesw). This will guide the systems in helping the family to maintain the youth
- Interventions need to be aimed at helping the family to return to a place of emotional and physical safety
Jill Stoddart is the Senior Manager of Innovation, Research and Development at Family and Children’s Services of the Waterloo Region. Jill has a Master’s degree in Social Work from Wilfrid Laurier University and is currently engaged in her Doctoral studies. Jill has spent the last 25 years in the Waterloo Region working with children and families in Developmental Services, Mental Health and Child Welfare.