Unique Geographies

The geography of Ontario presents significant challenges pursuant to the distribution and accessibility of residential services for young people across the province. Vast distances between communities in the north of Ontario make it very difficult to ensure that young people have access to residential services close to home. The Panel identifies with the particular challenges for northern Aboriginal communities, who are forced to send their young people vast distances to the south for programs and services. Even in the more populated south of the province, there are significant differences and challenges for residential services related to the recruitment of qualified staffing, the mitigation of isolation of young people while living in rural residential services, and issues related to the high cost of real estate in urban areas where diversity in foster care resources is urgently needed.

The Panel understands the challenges associated with vast distances. It is generally not desirable to provide residential services to young people outside of their home communities, and at distances where family connections become difficult to maintain or support. It is also understood that whenever young people are served in residential care far from their home community, reintegration becomes enormously challenging, and the sustainability of whatever services were received becomes precarious. The Panel heard from parents involved with a children and youth mental health facility, for example, that the experience of their children while living in the residential services offered by this facility was excellent, but these services ultimately made little difference to the family or the young person because upon discharge, appropriate supports in line with the facility’s recommendations simply were not available in the home community.

Many service providers located in rural areas of Ontario face challenges recruiting qualified staff. The Panel heard repeatedly that front line residential staff in group care programs are often individuals using these positions as a stepping stone to other careers, often policing. Farm- or nature-based programs typically are able to recruit very young staff members who stay for a short while before the life style of isolated work contexts no longer fits.

While all of these issues and challenges are understandable and therefore predictable, the Panel does not believe that these unique geographies provide cause to lessen the expectations related to quality of care, qualifications of staffing, and requirements for service providers across all sectors to demonstrate on-going developmental growth and learning. Since young people have very limited input into where they receive residential services, it is incumbent upon the service system and central leadership through government to ensure that the quality of experience is maintained regardless of the geography of the placement.