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Introduction

The Residential Services Panel (the Panel) was brought together by the Ministry of Children and Youth Services in July 2015 to conduct a system-wide review of the Province’s child and youth residential services system, including foster and group care, children and youth mental health residential treatment, and youth justice facilities. The Panel reviewed foundational materials supplied by the Ministry, including previous reviews, background briefing documents, as well as publicly available information about comparator systems and sectors in Ontario, across Canada, and international jurisdictions. Consultations were also held with stakeholders and partners across the province representing young people, families, caregivers, front line and agency management staff, professional associations and government staff. A total of 865 people participated in the consultations, including 264 young people.

The Panel’s report presents findings and recommendations aiming to improve the experience and outcomes of young people living in residential care. Our review and recommendations are centered on improving the everyday experience of young people living in residential services and on developing a meaningful, sustainable and consistent framework for developing outcome measures based on relevant and cross-sector outcome indicators.

The provision of residential services for some of the most vulnerable children and youth in our society is fundamentally important. Collectively and collaboratively we must ensure that the experience of young people in out-of-home care and their long term outcomes are such that the opportunities for a rich and meaningful life are just as real for young people facing enormous adversities as they are for those living in the relative comfort and safety of their family homes.

Throughout its review and consultations the Panel encountered many individuals who are dedicated to the ideals of high quality residential care. Many service providers strive to provide the best care possible, and government staff are committed to designing a system that delivers positive outcomes for children and youth. We acknowledge the efforts and interests of the Ministry in improving residential services in Ontario. The Ministry has demonstrated a commitment to improvement, implementing significant changes in recent years to the non-residential settings of the child welfare, children and youth mental health and youth justice sectors. The Ministry has consulted broadly over the past ten years and has further demonstrated its commitment to seek excellence by commissioning an independent Residential Services Review Panel.

Despite the best intentions of those working in the sector, and the recommendations received over the years, the quality of young people’s everyday experiences, and their outcomes remain uncertain. The Panel learned of significant systemic and cultural barriers to fostering the quality of care required to contribute to positive everyday experiences and long term outcomes, and identified a lack of consistent mechanisms embedded in residential services across sectors that would ensure the highest possible quality of care for children and youth.

Nine key themes emerged throughout the review and consultation process that highlighted these barriers and framed the recommendations of the Panel.