Children’s Aid Society of Toronto repeatedly failed to comply with child protection standards and act in child’s best interests: Ombudsman

December 19, 2022

19 December 2022

All recommendations accepted after investigation finds boy’s voice was “unheard and unheeded” for years

(TORONTO – December 19, 2022) The Children’s Aid Society of Toronto repeatedly failed to protect the interests of a young boy despite multiple investigations and reports of concerns about his well-being and living conditions, Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dubé reveals in his latest investigation report.

The report, entitled A Voice Unheard: Brandon’s Story, is the Ombudsman’s first related to a children’s aid society since his Office gained oversight of child protection agencies in 2019. It details numerous failures by the CAS to comply with the Ontario Child Protection Standards and its own policies.

The CAS has accepted all 18 recommendations in the Ombudsman’s report.

The investigation covers the period from December 30, 2015 to October 26, 2018, when “Brandon” was between the ages of 7 and 10. On October 22, 2018, police officers and paramedics found him on a urine-soiled futon inside a family member’s filthy and bug-infested apartment. When police learned the CAS did not intend to apprehend Brandon, they did so themselves and took him to a foster home, where he has remained.

“At many points during the CAS’s involvement in Brandon’s case, it was distracted by the assurances of his family and lost sight of his circumstances – and their responsibility to act in his best interests – leaving him to suffer in silence in a situation of chronic neglect,” the Ombudsman writes in the report.

“Young people’s voices are too often silenced in the presence of the adults who surround them, and it is the responsibility of children’s aid societies to make sure that children are heard, in order to properly fulfil their protection role.”

The CAS had been involved in Brandon’s life in various ways since birth. By the time he was 7, it had received more than a dozen reports about Brandon’s family, and opened and closed two investigations, in which several concerns had been verified, including the boy’s long history of serious medical issues and persistent school absences.

The Ombudsman’s investigation found that the nearly three-year period prior to Brandon’s apprehension was marred by a series of delayed investigations, safety assessments, visits and service plans, as CAS supervisors often approved departures from legislated standards on the basis of convenience, rather than Brandon’s best interests. The CAS's services and its response to concerns from numerous professionals involved in Brandon’s life, including his school’s teachers and principal, doctors and pediatrician, were often untimely and inadequate.

“Rather than proper diligence, its actions were characterized by delays and deficiencies,” the Ombudsman says of the CAS, noting that the intervention by Toronto police in October 2018 “might well have averted a more tragic scenario.”

There were frequent delays in meeting with the family – contrary to the Child Protection Standards. One visit was delayed for almost a month, while at another point, the CAS neglected to conduct visits for more than six months. Successive CAS workers failed to meet with Brandon in private as required, but supervisors habitually approved this departure from the standards on the basis that he had refused to speak to a worker. This “left his voice unheard and unheeded,” Ombudsman Dubé notes.

He emphasizes that Brandon’s story “is not one of deliberate caregiver neglect, but of failure of his family to meet his needs, given their own significant challenges.” Still, he notes that “the standard in child protection is not ‘trying their best,’ but the best interests of the child.”

Among the Ombudsman’s recommendations are calls for the CAS of Toronto to direct its staff and supervisors to comply with the Ontario Child Protection Standards, and to improve training in key areas – including in strategies for interviewing children who may be reluctant to speak to them. He also recommends that Brandon’s story be used as a training tool, “to reinforce the need to keep the best interests of the child central to its service provision.”

“Brandon’s case serves as a reminder that children’s aid societies must remain vigilant in ensuring compliance with regulatory requirements and prescribed standards, which promote consistency and rigour in their provision of services and direct their focus to the best interests of children,” he writes.

The Ombudsman is required to describe findings of maladministration that are uncovered during an investigation using adjectives set out in the Ombudsman Act. He found the services provided by the CAS and its response to information received about child protection concerns relating to Brandon were “contrary to law,” “unreasonable” and “wrong” under the Ombudsman Act. However, he stressed that he is “encouraged” by the CAS’s plans to implement his recommendations.

“I commend its exemplary response, both in form and substance,” he notes. The CAS has committed to reporting back to the Ombudsman’s Office every six months on its progress in implementing the recommendations, and its initial response to them is appended to the report.

Ombudsman Dubé will be available for media interviews today between 1 and 3 p.m.

For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact:

Akihiko Tse
Communications Officer, Children and Youth Unit

Arun Persaud
Communications Officer, Children and Youth Unit

Linda Williamson
Director of Communications

About the Office of the Ombudsman: The Ombudsman, established in 1975, is an independent and impartial officer of the Ontario Legislature. Under the Ombudsman Act, the Ombudsman reviews and resolves complaints and inquiries from the public about provincial government organizations, as well as French language services, child protection services, municipalities, universities and school boards. The Ombudsman does not overturn the decisions of elected officials or set public policy, but makes recommendations to ensure administrative fairness, transparency and accountability. The Ombudsman's recommendations have been overwhelmingly accepted by the government, resulting in numerous reforms.