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Modernizing Ontario's legislation for child and youth services

Ontario has proposed the Child, Youth and Family Services Act, 2016. The bill, if passed, would put children at the centre of decision-making, and support more accountable, responsive and accessible child and youth services. It would also strengthen oversight for children’s aid societies and licensed residential services.

Key changes include:

  • raising the age of protection from 16 to 18 to increase protection services for more vulnerable youth in unsafe living conditions, to support their education and to reduce homelessness and human trafficking
  • strengthening the focus on early intervention, helping prevent children and families from reaching crisis situations at home
  • making services more culturally appropriate for all children and youth in the child welfare system, including Indigenous and Black children and youth, to help ensure they receive the best possible support
  • improving oversight of service providers, including children’s aid societies, so that children and youth receive consistent, high-quality services across Ontario

These changes build upon feedback received through the 2015 review of the Children and Family Services Act, and will enable Ontario to respond to emerging issues and the changing needs of children, youth and their families.

Supporting children, youth and families

Ontario’s proposed legislation aims to make improvements in several areas of the current child welfare system. The chart below outlines the proposed changes that will impact four key areas: prevention and protection, quality improvement, governance and accountability, and relationships with First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.

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Prevention and Protection

Supporting child-focused, proactive and culturally appropriate services that protect vulnerable young people and prevent crisis situations for children and families.

Challenge Change Impact

Current legislation does not sufficiently recognize the rights of children and youth.

The proposed legislation affirms and strengthens the rights of children and youth receiving services, including their right to have their views heard in decisions regarding the services they receive.

Children and youth will be made aware of their rights when receiving services, and will have a voice in their service decisions.

Clear expectations for service providers on how to work with children, youth and families.

Current legislation does not sufficiently address the diversity (culture, race, gender identity, sexual orientation) of children, youth and families across Ontario who receive services.

The proposed legislation affirms Ontario’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, and seeks to address systemic racism and barriers.

In addition to the legislation, the ministry will support the implementation of the One Vision One Voice framework, developed by the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies in partnership with leaders from the Black community, to support culturally appropriate child welfare services for Black children, youth and families.

Better information through public reporting and data collection will inform policies and programs and enhance service planning and delivery for all children and youth.

Services will be more inclusive and culturally appropriate for all communities in Ontario, supporting better outcomes for children and youth of all cultural backgrounds.

Some youth aged 16 and 17 have limited access to child protection services.

The age of protection will be raised to include all children under the age of 18.

All 16 and 17-year-olds will have access to protection services, reducing their risk of homelessness, human trafficking and involvement in crime.

Need for greater focus on prevention services.

The proposed legislation confirms Ontario’s commitment to prevention, early intervention, community support services and strengths-based services.

Focus on early intervention and prevention will help children and families avoid crisis situations as well as future involvement with child protection services.

Need for greater clarity around expectations of service providers and protection measures.

The proposed legislation provides:

  • greater authority to ensure the safety of children in welfare cases outside Ontario’s borders
  • regulation-making authority to prescribe police record check requirements for service providers to further protect the safety and wellbeing of children and youth
  • clear authority and limits on the use of mechanical restraints and the use of searches in youth justice facilities

Stronger rules and regulations will help ensure service providers are giving high-quality care and protecting children’s safety and wellbeing.


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Quality Improvement

Improving the quality and consistency of services across the province to better address the needs of children, youth, and their families.

Challenge Change Impact

The adoption system would benefit from better coordination and transparency.

The proposed legislation includes provisions to clarify and enhance openness in adoption processes. It will better align inter-country adoption requirements with The Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption.

In addition to the legislation, the government is examining options for improving the adoption service delivery system, including the option of establishing a single provincial adoption agency.

Children will have a stronger voice in adoption proceedings.

Indigenous children will have increased opportunities to maintain connections to their culture and community through openness orders.

Children involved in inter-country adoptions will be better protected.

Improving the adoption service delivery system will help more children find stability through permanent homes.

Information-sharing requires clearer guidelines.

The proposed legislation sets out clear rules for the collection, use, disclosure and access to personal information held by government-funded and licensed providers.

The legislation also includes the Minister’s authority to request the collection of information, including race-based data, from clients of service providers.

These changes will enable the government to enhance service planning, delivery and evaluation to help children, youth and their families receive the services they need. This also supports the full implementation of Ontario’s Child Protection Information Network in children’s aid societies.

Changes will support improved service delivery and evaluation through a better understanding of how particular groups are being served. Children will only have to tell their story once, and will receive integrated services across the province.

Need for a modernized licensing framework for child and youth residential services.

The proposed legislation improves the licensing framework for child and youth residential services.

It introduces new and enhanced accountability mechanisms. The licensing model includes unannounced inspections and new authority to publish certain licensing and compliance information.

Better oversight of licensed residential services will help to improve quality of care for children and youth.

Limited ability for the government to intervene in children’s aid societies, if needed (for example: in the public interest).

Ontario will continue partnering with children’s aid societies to strategically design and implement amalgamations. The proposed legislation introduces the legal authority to compel amalgamations and dissolutions of societies when it is in the public interest to do so.

More efficient and consistent service experiences for children, youth and their families.


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Accountability and Oversight

Strengthening governance and accountability by improving monitoring, oversight and transparency across the child welfare and licensed residential services sectors.

Challenge Change Impact

Need for independent advice on child welfare.

The proposed legislation provides legal authority for the Minister of Children and Youth Services to appoint members to an advisory group to provide guidance on child and family wellbeing, including child welfare.

The Minister’s working group will include partners across the child welfare and residential services.

Better information will lead to more effective policy development and programs to improve services and outcomes for children and youth.

Current legislation provides limited tools to hold children’s aid societies and transfer payment agencies accountable.

The proposed legislation allows the Minister of Children and Youth Services to appoint or replace a minority of children’s aid society board members, including the chair, and appoint a supervisor to temporarily operate and manage a society in certain circumstances.
It also enables the designation of lead agencies, including child and youth mental health agencies, and authority to prescribe their functions.

The proposed legislation provides personal liability protection to members of children’s aid societies’ boards of directors when they have acted in good faith.

In addition to the legislation, the government also intends to require children’s aid societies to:

  • begin collecting identity-based and disaggregated data and provide aggregated data reports to the government
  • promote responsible executive compensation in the sector
  • share annual budgets and board members’ annual expenses publicly
  • report publicly on activities to better serve diverse communities in annual reports
  • partner with Ontario’s Anti-Racism Directorate when conducting the next review of Child Protection Standards
  • require societies to report on the composition of boards and how they reflect the diversity of the communities they serve
  • implement a standard complaint form across all children’s aid societies

The government also intends to take factors such as remoteness and community diversity, including racialized and Indigenous populations, into consideration in the child welfare funding model review.

Increased accountability and financial oversight helps allow for a stronger, more efficient children and youth services system, with more resources going toward the provision of services.

Creating lead agencies for core services will help to improve the service experience for families by improving access to services for children, youth and families.
Personal liability protection helps support the recruitment and retention of skilled directors to govern children’s aid societies.


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Relationships with First Nations, Inuit and Métis Peoples

Supporting the best possible outcomes for Indigenous children and youth through culturally-appropriate supports, and working in partnership with First Nations, Inuit, and Métis community leaders.

Challenge Change Impact

Current legislation does not reflect the unique relationships between Indigenous peoples living in Ontario and the Government of Ontario.

The proposed legislation acknowledges that First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples are constitutionally recognized peoples in Canada, with their own laws, and distinct cultural, political and historical ties to Ontario.

The proposed legislation also references Jordan’s Principle and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples’ acknowledgment of the importance of belonging to a community or nation.

The proposed changes expand and modernize language throughout the legislation by:

  • replacing outdated terms such as “Indian” and “native person” with expanded and more inclusive terms such as “First Nations, Inuk or Métis child,” as well as allowing for self-identification
  • replacing outdated terms “Indian Band” and Native community” with “Band,” and “First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities,” respectively.

It also requires children’s aid societies to make all reasonable efforts to pursue a plan for customary care for First Nations, Inuit and Métis children and youth in need of protection.

This supports the Ontario Indigenous Children and Youth Strategy, with the goal of improving outcomes and opportunities for Indigenous children, youth and their families and communities by making services more community driven, integrated and culturally appropriate.

These changes recognize the importance of culturally appropriate services in connecting Indigenous children and youth to their cultures, communities and heritage, and in promoting improved life outcomes.

The changes also support the increased participation of First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities in child and family services for their children and youth.


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