Ombudsman to investigate direct education payment programs
December 11, 2023
11 December 2023
Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dubé today announced a new systemic investigation into the Ministry of Education’s direct payment programs for parents and students, due to concerns about a lack of fairness and transparency.
(TORONTO – December 11, 2023) Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dubé today announced a new systemic investigation into the Ministry of Education’s direct payment programs for parents and students, due to concerns about a lack of fairness and transparency.
The Ministry first offered direct payments to parents in early 2020 to help them pay for learning supports during strikes by education workers at the time. When the COVID-19 pandemic forced school closures shortly thereafter, it launched successive similar programs, under the names “Support for Parents,” “Support for Families,” “Support for Learners,” and “Ontario COVID-19 Child Benefit.” The Ministry has administered six such programs since 2020 – the most recent being “Catch Up Payments” in 2022-2023.
The programs sparked complaints from parents who were denied payments for the children in their custody because someone else had claimed the money first.
“We heard disturbing accounts from parents who were not only denied funding for the children in their care – they were not told who received the payments,” said the Ombudsman.
Some were in sole-custody situations or even had restraining orders against the other parent. Some discovered that a relative who had no role in caring for the child had claimed the money, and there was no recourse to get it back. “If the Ministry’s aim is to support children directly through these programs, then it has a duty to do so fairly and ensure that the money goes to those who have the children in their care,” Mr. Dubé said.
The Ombudsman notified the Ministry that the investigation will examine how it processed applications for payments to assess fairness, transparency and evaluate the overall administration of the programs. “People have complained to us about this issue through successive iterations of these programs, and the latest version is likely not the last,” he said. “Our investigation will look for the root of the problem and recommend ways to make these programs fair and transparent going forward.”
Since January 2020, the Ombudsman’s Office has received approximately 200 complaints about the Ministry’s various payment programs, about a dozen of which involved this specific issue. Anyone who has experienced a similar problem is invited to contact the Ombudsman. Complaints and inquiries can be submitted at www.ombudsman.on.ca.
There is no set time frame for the investigation, but it will be completed as quickly as possible, the Ombudsman said.
About the Office of the Ombudsman: The Ombudsman 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 investigations have benefited millions of Ontarians and led to widespread reforms, including better newborn screening, a more secure lottery system, more tracking of inmates in segregation, and improvements to the Landlord and Tenant Board and to long-term care home inspections.
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