Implications for Recommendations

The Panel is concerned that ever-increasing demands related to the claim of greater complexity of child and youth profiles in residential services, the evidence-based interventions required, and the challenges associated with navigating systems both within larger organizations and between service providers embedded in different sectors are incongruent with the current lack of regulation in terms of pre-service qualifications for residential staff. The evolving context of residential care service provision in all sectors demands more highly qualified staff with an in-depth understanding of the fundamental models, approaches, theories, children’s rights, cultural and system contexts of residential service provision. After many years and many calls for the introduction of formal, pre-service post­secondary educational qualifications for residential staff, it is time to make a move in this direction.

The Panel has a long term vision of designating a diploma or degree in Child and Youth Care Practice as the mandatory pre-service requirement for all residential staff. Child and Youth Care Practice is the only field that is explicitly built on the foundations of relational practices, life space intervention, and ecological and developmental perspectives. With 22 college-based diploma programs and two degree programs, including one about to be launched at the graduate level at Ryerson University, Ontario is well served with graduates in this discipline, with reasonable geographic coverage across the province. However, the Panel is cognizant that the implementation of this vision will take time. In the short and medium terms, therefore, the Panel would like to ensure that all staff in residential services across all sectors hold at minimum a college diploma in a field in the human services. The Panel would not be satisfied with lesser levels of qualifications similar to, for example, the Personal Support Worker context, where post-secondary certificates are required.

Furthermore, the Panel is very concerned that significant numbers of staff employed in relief or casual positions or in one-to-one positions to care for particularly vulnerable young people are often exempt from even the minimal qualifications currently required of full-time staff, as well as from in-service training and supervision. Therefore, the Panel seeks to eliminate any differentiation in required qualifications for any staff who are directly engaged with young people, regardless of employment context.

Given frequently high turnover of front line staff in residential group care, and the challenges associated with ensuring staff teams are able to manage the complexities of young people’s needs while also maintaining their own well­being and capacity to act as therapeutic supports, the supervisory position(s) in any residential group care setting is/ are of critical importance. The absence of any criteria that acknowledge this central importance in the appointment of supervisors in residential group care is disturbing. Supervision has long been recognized as a vital component of providing high quality residential service to young people. The potential for harm to occur to young people (and also to staff) in environments where an appropriate, child and youth-centered, relational practice informed supervision model either is absent or poorly executed is high. The Panel therefore will move to recommend standardized, high quality, and externally provided certification for eligibility to serve in supervisory positions in residential group care across sectors.

While post-secondary education requirements for residential group care staff, including relief and casual staff as well as one-on-one staff, will elevate the quality of staffing, the Panel recognizes that such pre-service education does not provide sufficient preparation to work effectively, and in accordance with the principles of relational practices, life space intervention, and an emphasis on care, therapeutic practice and the engagement of youth voice in a residential group care context. Therefore, the Panel will move to recommend, in partnership with the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, the development of training modules for new workers, similar in concept to what is already in place in the directly operated youth justice sector, as well as in the context of child welfare-based child protection workers. Furthermore, the Panel is concerned that in-service training activities and professional development opportunities for residential group care staff vary significantly across sectors and service providers, and therefore will move to recommend verifiable standards related to on-going training and professional development with a mix of in-house and externally facilitated opportunities in order to mitigate the over-embedding of organizational cultures in the everyday practices of staff.

The current per diem rate setting process in the OPR sector provides for no planned increases to ensure that operators can adjust staff salaries at least in line with increases in the cost of living. Recruitment for staff in the private sector is significantly disadvantaged compared to other employment opportunities for child and youth care practitioners in residential and non-residential settings. Given that private residential group care represents by far the largest group care sector in Ontario, the structurally embedded obstacle to the hiring of qualified staff within this sector is highly problematic. The Panel will therefore move to recommend a re-assessment of the per diem rate setting process to take account of the need to address compensation inequities for group care staff.

With respect to foster care, the Panel believes that a modernization of foster care in Ontario is needed. Such modernization will require a collaborative process involving a range of stakeholders, including foster parents themselves but also young people and staff supporting foster parents, in order to ensure that fostering in Ontario is consistent with current system capacity and needs. The Panel therefore seeks to ensure that pre-service training for foster parents is consistent across the province, and additionally that criteria for eligibility to foster be considered in relation to the full diversity of potential caregivers and what they can offer to young people, without material obstacles that in effect exclude valuable foster resources from being recruited.

In addition to the modernization of foster care in Ontario, the Panel believes that a provincial recruitment strategy for foster care parents is needed. In the current residential system, the recruitment of foster care parents is agency-based. Every agency that offers foster care services is recruiting foster care parents individually and not in collaboration with other agencies. It is an inefficient way of raising the profile of foster care, and therefore of attracting new and younger caregivers to this incredibly valuable pursuit. A provincial recruitment strategy for foster caregivers will provide a consistent and meaningful understanding of fostering across the province. The Panel has confidence that this provincial recruitment strategy, along with the modernization of foster care in Ontario, has the potential to create a renewed and vibrant foster care system.