When young people must face the enormous burden of living life away from home, saddled with often traumatic experiences of abuse, neglect, and abandonment, they rely on out-of-home care settings to provide them not only with the necessities of life, but also with the love, nurture, sense of belonging and safety that will allow them to grow, to dream and to excel. There is no room for complacency and mediocrity in the provision of residential care to some of the most vulnerable members of our society. Collectively and collaboratively we must ensure that the experience of young people in out-of­home 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.

There is an urgent need to address the existing and longstanding challenges in the current model of residential service delivery in Ontario. Notwithstanding the efforts of many dedicated public servants, human service professionals and child and youth serving organizations across the Province, and many years of seeking advice and commissioning reports, change has been very slow. It is time to shift gears. To improve residential services, we must act boldly; to move efficiently and with purpose; and to focus our energies on the core of the matter – the everyday experience of young people on the one hand, and improving their outcomes on the other hand.

We look to the Ministry of Children and Youth Services to provide leadership in residential services commensurate with what is at stake – the lives of young people. In its role as steward of the system, the Ministry must be equipped to provide the overarching, integrated oversight for its large and complex residential services system. It must hold accountable all service providers entrusted with the care of young people to provide consistently high quality care. MCYS must ensure transparency within all processes related to the residential care system – the well being of young people facing adversity is a priority concern for Ontarians; public dissemination of what happens in residential services serves as the most compelling incentive to provide the highest quality of service. This will require a renewed effort to collect meaningful data, to analyze such data in real time, and to use the feedback of transparent dissemination for constant service and system improvement.

The transformation of residential care for young people requires strong, sustained, integrated leadership and a relentless focus on implementation. It will require that all players inside and external to the Ministry work together. This will be a journey, building on the momentum of initiatives that can be implemented immediately and staying the course to ensure that longer-term initiatives are executed as well.

The Panel was encouraged by assurances that the political and senior executive level of the public service are aligned in their commitment to change in this sector. We also heard from many others at all levels of the organization as well as external partners about the need for change and their sense of optimism that the timing for this review is right. The Ministry has a solid track record of transformational change in child welfare, youth justice and children and youth mental health. It is now time to build on that experience to make a difference in the lives of the 17,000 vulnerable children and youth in out-of-home care in the Province.

Residential services in Ontario will improve when caring adults engage in a meaningful partnership with young people themselves, who bring to our expert knowledge the lived experience that breathes life into real change.

With energy and purpose, let us commit to change. With young people, let us make that change happen now. Because young people matter.

The Residential Services Review Panel, February 2016

Dr. Kiaras Gharabaghi Director, School of Child and Youth Care Ryerson University

Dr. Nico Trocmé Director, School of Social Work McGill University

Deborah Newman Former Deputy Minister Ontario Public Service

Logistics Coordinator for the Panel: Sherry Sim

Research Assistants: Hailey Kavanagh, Christine Shimoda, Melissa Van Wert