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Introduction

The Ministry of Children and Youth Services’ 2013-2018 Strategic Plan entitled “Growing Together” rests on five foundations, three of which are particularly relevant to their commitment to providing good governance. Foundation 2, “Knowledge and Information Management”, Foundation 3, “System Stewardship and Partnership” and Foundation 4, “Robust Internal Controls and Resource Oversight” articulate the Ministry’s commitments. These include respectively a commitment to an integrated approach to managing and sharing data and information; strong stewardship, leadership and partnership; and robust controls and oversight to ensure the best outcomes for children and youth.

The Child and Family Services Act (CFSA) sets out requirements specific to residential care and licensing of residential care in Ontario. The Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA) sets out sentences ordered by the courts, including open or secure custody. Access to residential services for mental health is not legislatively mandated, with the exception of secure treatment programs under Part VI of the CFSA. Children’s Residences (group homes) and residential care (foster homes) are licensed and, in many cases, funded under the authority of the CFSA.

The residential care system for children and youth in Ontario has grown organically. It is a large, complex collection of a diverse mix of service providers, including ministry directly operated, transfer payment operated, private non-profit and for-profit operators. As of January 2016, there were approximately 16,115 residential beds for children and youth across Ontario, approximately 6,000 of which were being utilized by Crown Wards. There were over 600 licences issued by the Ministry to residential service providers including Children’s Residences and Foster Care Agencies (both transfer payment funded and private per diem funded operators). The Ministry invests approximately 1 billion dollars in residential care, approximately one-third of the Ministry’s expenditures (MCYS, nd).

In all sectors, service is highly decentralized and the size of service providers varies widely. Diversity is the primary potential strength of a decentralized approach. In theory, there can be significant benefits to locally developed and delivered services that leverage community resources to meet the specific needs of children and youth. Varying areas of specialization across providers and a mixed funding model that balances the stability of providers funded through annual-base budgets, with the nimbleness of per diem funded providers that can scale to meet demand are also potential strengths. However, from a governance perspective, it is challenging to ensure that there is appropriate oversight and accountability, access, coordination, communication and information sharing at both the system (Ministry) and daily operations (service provider) levels. Strong governance is critical to ensuring that there is a relentless focus on quality and consistent standards of care and accountability. Integrated oversight is necessary to ensure alignment with strategic directions across sectors and for service providers to operate together as a system. Clear access mechanisms, transparency and evidence of service provider strengths, as well as the active participation of young people themselves, are necessary for families, caregivers, Children’s Aid Societies and young people to navigate the complex but potentially rich landscape.