October 24, 2017

Statement from the Minister of Children and Youth Services on Child Abuse Prevention Month

Minister of Children and Youth Services

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to recognize October as Child Abuse Prevention Month in Ontario and to help draw attention to the annual Purple Ribbon Campaign.

This campaign encourages everyone to learn the signs of child abuse and neglect and reminds us that we all have a duty – a legal duty – to report any cases we know of, or suspect.

Thank you to the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies and the Toronto Child Abuse Prevention Committee for your work in raising awareness.

I also thank the members of the House who are joining me today in bringing awareness to the cause by dressing in purple or wearing a purple ribbon.

We believe every child deserves a safe, loving and nurturing home. Sadly, not all children have one.

To everyone gathered in the House today, and to everyone in this province, please hear this:

If you suspect a child is being abused or neglected, you must report it immediately to a children’s aid society.

You don’t have to be sure that a child is – or may be – in need of protection to make a report to a children's aid society.

You only need reasonable grounds for your suspicion.

We often talk in generalities about something as troubling as child abuse. Or we use symbols, like purple ribbons, to represent it. But sometimes it’s necessary to describe exactly what we mean when we talk about abuse, even though it’s hard to hear.

Because in order to report it, we all need to recognize abuse, and the signs of abuse.

Child abuse knows no boundaries, and it can take many forms. It can be physical, emotional or sexual.

Physical abuse includes deliberate physical force or action by a parent or caregiver, which results – or could result – in harm to a child.

It can include bruising, cutting, punching, slapping, shaking, burning, biting or throwing a child. Using belts, sticks or other objects to punish a child can cause serious harm and is also considered abuse.

Emotional abuse is a pattern of behaviour that attacks a child’s emotional development and sense of self-worth. It can include belittling, insulting, rejecting, ignoring or isolating a child. It may also include exposure to domestic violence.

Sexual abuse occurs when a child is used for the sexual gratification of an adult or an older child.

Finally, abuse can take the form of neglect: the failure to provide a child with basic needs, such as food, sleep, shelter, safety, clothing or medical treatment. It may also include leaving a child alone, without providing for the child’s care and custody.

Recent figures collected by UNICEF and the World Health Organization are distressing:

Children in Ontario are not exempt from these troubling statistics. Every year, children’s aid societies across this province receive many reports of alleged abuse and neglect.

In 2013 alone, there were 43,000 cases of child abuse in Ontario. This sobering reality is what drives our government to be there for children in need of protection.

As part of Child Abuse Prevention Month, I’m calling on neighbours, colleagues, coaches, friends, and professionals working with children to be vigilant and to report any reasonable suspicions you may have to a children’s aid society.

We’re also providing all MPPs with materials for their constituency offices. These materials should already be on their way to your offices. I encourage you to post them, and distribute them to members of your community.

Members of the public, including professionals who work with children and youth can call their local children’s aid society 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and can report anonymously.

They can also visit the Ministry of Children and Youth Services' website at Ontario.ca/stopchildabuse for more information.

We also continue to fund the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies to train child protection staff so they can respond quickly to reports of suspected child abuse or neglect.

I salute all of Ontario’s children’s aid societies and Indigenous child-well-being societies along with their board members, managers and compassionate staff including the hard-working people who’ve joined us in the gallery today who work to serve the 14,000 children and youth who are or who may be in need of protection.

Thank you for making a real difference in the lives of those at risk.

Like children’s aid societies, our government is committed to improving the lives of all young people in this province, including those receiving services from a children’s aid society.

Over the years, we’ve made many improvements to the child welfare system:

This Act provides a modern framework to strengthen the quality and oversight of a wide range of services funded, licensed or delivered by my ministry, including child welfare and licensed residential services.

When children are in care, they should feel safe. The places where they live should be welcoming and should meet their needs. And young people should have a say in planning their care.

That’s why the new legislation builds on the goals of Katelynn’s Principle by putting children at the centre of decision-making. It focuses on the voices, opinions and goals of the children and youth themselves, not just the issues they face.

While these reforms are a big step forward, there’s still much more work ahead to improve the lives of vulnerable children and youth in Ontario. It takes partnership and commitment – and an open ear to the children, youth and families who use child welfare services.

Our first priority is to support families in the home to prevent abuse or neglect from happening in the first place. That’s why we’re strengthening the focus on early intervention, to prevent children and families from reaching crisis situations at home. This is crucial, since children and youth who leave home with nowhere to go are often left acutely vulnerable to abuse.

As a father of two young girls, I’m especially troubled by the fact that so many girls in Ontario end up being sexually exploited and trafficked. There’s a common misconception that sex trafficking mainly involves girls and women from overseas. But it’s predominantly a home-grown problem mainly affecting vulnerable girls right here in Ontario – girls as young as 14 years old.

We need to remember that sex trafficking is a form of child abuse. By raising the age of protection from 16 to 18, the new legislation extends access to child protection services to all 16- and 17-year-olds so that youth in need of protection can access services to help them successfully transition to adulthood.

The goals of this policy include reducing homelessness and better helping victims of human trafficking. The new legislation is also clear that systemic racism must continue to be addressed. We know that Black children and youth are over-represented in the child welfare system. This is one reason why my ministry is supporting the implementation of the One Vision One Voice practice framework in children’s aid societies across the province.

This framework was co-developed by the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies, with leaders from the African Canadian community, to support culturally appropriate service delivery for African-Canadian children, youth and families. Indigenous children and youth are also over-represented in the child welfare system.

To help prevent crisis situations from arising – situations that often land children in care – we’ve launched the Family Well-Being program to provide culturally appropriate support. Indigenous child well-being societies play an important role in delivering culturally appropriate services to families in their communities.

By investing in Indigenous well-being societies, children and youth receiving child welfare services remain connected to their families, communities and cultures.

My ministry will also be requiring children’s aid societies to collect identity-based data, and to provide aggregate reports to us in the near future. With better information, we will have a deeper understanding of the children, youth and families receiving services. This will make services more inclusive and culturally appropriate for all communities in Ontario, which will in turn support better outcomes for children and youth of all cultural backgrounds.

Another important focus of the new Act is to increase accountability and oversight. We’ve heard that more monitoring, oversight and transparency are needed in the child welfare sector. The public expects – and deserves – the best from those whose job it is to protect children and youth.

That’s why the new legislation provides the framework to strengthen and modernize oversight of licensed residential settings for children and youth, and for enhancing the quality of care provided in those places. By making it easier for us to conduct unannounced and targeted inspections, we can better monitor residential services to make sure they comply with licencing requirements.

The Act also enhances the criteria to get, and keep, a licence to provide residential care, as well as the criteria to refuse, renew and revoke a licence. These enhanced rules and regulations will ensure that service providers are offering high-quality care and are protecting children’s safety and well-being. But we can’t make important decisions about a child’s life without the full picture.

It’s critical that, no matter where a child lives, or moves to, in the province, their information is available to children’s aid societies if they need protection.

That’s why we’re implementing the Child Protection Information Network (CPIN), which modernizes and replaces the legacy information systems used by children’s aid societies.

This provincial database will enhance child safety by providing societies with the capacity to consistently track children’s outcomes as well as the ability to seamlessly transfer critical case-history information across societies.

My ministry has also engaged a third party to lead the children’s aid society performance-indicator project and consideration of additional indicators to measure outcomes for youth leaving care.

Mr. Speaker: While we want every child in Ontario to grow up safe, nurtured and healthy too many children are abused or neglected at the hands of people they should be able to trust.

Our government is working hard to protect those children. We are committed to ensuring families at home have access to the services and supports they need. We are committed to transforming the child welfare sector. But ending child abuse and neglect is a collective responsibility.

I urge all members of this House – and everyone in this province – to do your part. Please learn the signs of child abuse and neglect.

If you see it, or suspect it, please report it to your local children’s aid society. The safety and well-being of our children depend on your vigilance.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Honourable Michael Coteau
Minister of Children and Youth Services