How can young people who may need residential services, their families and helping professionals who work with them find out what kinds of options are available and might best meet their needs? How do service providers, the Ministry and the public know how well young people in residential care are doing? What types of planning activities are completed to ensure that high quality residential services are being delivered in an optimal fashion on the basis of the best available evidence? These are the kinds of information and data access questions that are fundamental to the design of any public service delivery system in order to: (1) inform choice and facilitate access to services; (2) monitor service trends and outcomes; and (3) support innovation and implementation of quality of care enhancements and evidence based practices. Access to such information is particularly important in the context of a highly decentralized service system that includes a mix of over 600 locally operated transfer payment agencies, directly operated residential services, and private for-profit and not-for-profit residential service organizations. To build effectively on the strengths of such a diversified service delivery model, it is essential that service users, operators, funders and oversight bodies have access to accurate, relevant and timely information.

Every review of residential services that has been conducted in Ontario has cited the lack of information and data as core concerns. In a 2003 report, the Ombudsman’s investigation revealed that “the Ministry did not have the necessary data to decide what level of residential service was required in Ontario for children with special needs and had no set timetable for consideration of this issue” (Ombudsman Ontario, 2003, p.17). The 2006 Children and Youth Residential Services Review conducted by the Bay Consulting Group concluded that “there is a lack of consistent, centralized information for planning and managing the overall system and for monitoring, evaluating and improving system performance and outcomes” (Bay Consulting Group, 2006, p. 86). In the 2012 My Real Life Book: Report from the Youth Leaving Care Hearings, it was recommended that the Ministry “commit to collecting and publishing information on how children and youth in care are doing” (Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth, 2012, p. 32). In its 2013 Blueprint for Fundamental Change, the Ministry Youth Leaving Care Working Group stressed the critical importance of tracking “outcome data about children and youth in and from care” (MCYS, 2013, p. 20). Most recently, the 2015 Auditor General review found that despite a clear need to better assess outcomes following child welfare services, the Ministry “does not have sufficient information to monitor the performance of the Child Protection Services Program,” further noting that the data collected for the newly established child welfare performance indicators “is not sufficient to adequately monitor and assess” performance (Office of the Auditor General of Ontario, 2015, p. 147, p. 150).

In addition to considering the data and information issues raised in previous reports and echoed further in many of our consultations, the Panel reviewed a range of government, agency, association and researcher reports describing residential services and service outcomes, and examined various data collection systems in place across different service delivery and monitoring systems. The Panel also examined several information tracking, outcome reporting systems and research and analysis infrastructures in other jurisdictions in Canada and internationally.

While many of the information and data collection gaps identified in previous reviews were confirmed in our own review, we also came across some very promising initiatives and were generally struck by the rich potential of many existing sources of data. We have therefore tried to focus our review of information and data issues beyond simply identifying gaps but also examining data access, sharing, and analysis issues. In a sector where staff and, to a lesser extent, youth already spend a lot of time documenting, assessing, and responding to questionnaires and information requests, our approach has been to understand whether existing data and information are being used in an optimal fashion, while also identifying important information gaps that may require new forms of data collection.