April 13, 2011
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
There is nothing more critical to a child’s well being than knowing he or she will always have a place to call home.
At any given time in Ontario, 18,000 children and youth are receiving services from a children’s aid society. Roughly 9,000 of them are Crown wards in the care of the province.
These kids come into the care of a CAS for a variety of reasons, but they all have one thing in common…their best chance of success is with a safe, stable and permanent family to call their own.
Unfortunately, Mr. Speaker, 75 per cent have access orders that, for more than 30 years, have legally prevented children and youth from being eligible for adoption.
At the same time, we have many prospective parents who long to bring a child into their lives to love and support.
That is why I rise in the House today to introduce the Building Families and Supporting Youth to be Successful Act, 2011. Because, as a government, we must make it easier to bring these children and these parents together.
Together with other initiatives being announced today, we are taking an important step toward improving the lives of children and youth in the care of a CAS and making it easier for Ontario families to adopt a child.
These amendments to the Child and Family Services Act would remove the legal barriers I mentioned earlier that prevent Crown wards from being eligible for adoption.
This will make a difference in the lives of thousands of kids who want forever families; who want to come home from school and hug a mom or play catch with a dad.
Adoptive parents and prospective adoptive parents have also told us that finding reliable information, no matter what adoption stream they are interested in – public, private or international – is a challenge.
With that in mind, we will provide online information that is easy to navigate - and guidance about all types of adoption, so parents know what option is right for them.
To match adoptive parents with Ontario children who need a permanent home, we will double the number of Adoption Resource Exchanges – forums that help match adoptive families with children needing adoption – from two to four across the province.
We know that adoption home studies should be completed in a time frame that is clear and without delay. So, we will reduce the waitlist for homestudies and establish timelines.
We will train all CASs to ensure Aboriginal children are cared for AND stay connected to their culture and traditions through customary care.
In fact, customary care will be a central part of the discussion we will be having at a Summit on Aboriginal Child Welfare at Fort William First Nation next week.
Mr. Speaker, while we aspire to secure permanent homes for every child in our care, we know that for some, adoption may not be in their future and we need to support them into adulthood.
Think about it.
We know that almost half of Canadians in their twenties live at home and enjoy all the support that comes with that. Yet, right now, a youth who leaves the care of a CAS is not allowed to come back for services.
The Act, if passed, would allow those youth whose CAS care or customary care ended at age 16 or 17, to return to their CAS and be eligible to receive benefits until age 21.
We will also make it easier for a youth receiving financial support from a CAS to go to college or university by exempting that income from the OSAP assessment.
Mr. Speaker, these are important steps. But we will work to do more. We have seen many innovative approaches from CASs and we want to build on them.
Some CASs are currently providing targeted subsidies to make it possible for families to adopt children in care. We will seek their advice and that of other experts and consider how we can best build on this experience across the province in a fiscally neutral way.
We began transforming the child protection sector and strengthening adoption in 2006.
Thanks to the hard work of children’s aid societies, fewer kids are now coming into care and more kids are getting the chance to succeed in a permanent home.
Last year, we increased adoptions in the public system by 21 per cent over the year before. With these proposed changes, we strive to increase that number.
Finally, Mr. Speaker, I want to take this opportunity to call on all families in Ontario to consider whether they have room in their hearts and in their lives to give a child a forever family.
Today, I call on all members to support this important legislation that will improve the lives of thousands of kids and families across this province.