Child Welfare in Ontario

“Child welfare” refers to the system of services provided to children and youth in need of protection because they have been or are at risk of being abused and/or neglected, as well as services provided to families to prevent their child or youth from coming into care, or to facilitate reunification with a child or youth in care.

In Ontario, these services are delivered by children’s aid societies (societies), which are independent, non-profit organizations. At the time of writing, there were 49 societies, including 11 Indigenous societies, in Ontario. The Ministry of Children and Youth Services funds and oversees societies.

The paramount purpose of the legislation governing child welfare in Ontario is “to promote the best interests, protection, and well being of children.” Societies have the exclusive mandate under Ontario legislation to deliver child protection services.

To determine whether a child is in need of protection, societies apply a standardized tool called the Ontario Child Welfare Eligibility Spectrum.12 If a society determines that an investigation is required, they must apply the Ontario Child Protection Standards.13 The Child Protection Standards guide the child protection worker throughout the life of the case— from intake, through the investigation, to ongoing case management and closure. When a determination is made that a child is in need of protection, societies provide families with services and supports, and/or referrals to community partners to try, where possible, to prevent children and youth from entering into care, and to address identified protection concerns. The primary goal when any child comes into the care of a society is for the child to be returned home whenever possible, and work is focused on achieving this objective.

Children and youth come to be in the care of societies for a variety of reasons. Children and youth in the care of a society who cannot be returned home are placed in out-of-home care with a caregiver(s) selected based on the child or youth’s needs and the options available in the child or youth’s extended network and community. Finding permanent homes for children and youth in care is a key contributor to improving their outcomes by providing them with safe, nurturing, and stable relationships, as well as opportunities for growth and development. Some children and youth in care will grow up in society care if a permanent home that meets their needs does not become available.

The range of placement options includes:

To support youth transitioning out of the care of a society, the Youth-in-Transition Worker program, which is delivered by community agencies across the province, links young people as they transition out of care to resources and supports including housing support, education resources, employment services, and life skills training available in the community.vi

RESOURCE: Information on child welfare service delivery in Ontario


v Referred to as a Crown ward under the Child and Family Services Act.

vi A list of supports and services for youth who have been in the care of a society, or who are leaving the care of a society, is available at: http://www.children.gov.on.ca/htdocs/English/childrensaid/leavingcare.aspx.