WINDSOR, ON –/COMMUNITYWIRE/– Tonight, as children around Windsor and Essex are being tucked into beds in their homes, at least five in the care of Windsor-Essex Children’s Aid Society (WECAS) will be sleeping in hotels.
These arrangements are unsafe, represent a dereliction of care, and are often illegal as they rely on unlicensed and Ministry unapproved spaces. They also jeopardize the safety of WECAS workers. Tired of dangerous working conditions and the neglect of children, workers are sounding the alarm.
“We wouldn’t treat our own kids this way and it’s a travesty that the Ministry is treating any children like this,” said Craig Hesman, President of CUPE 2286 representing roughly 350 dedicated child welfare workers. “Workers go into this field to safeguard children and support families. But we can’t take care of children when we’re outnumbered, addressing complex needs without adequate training, and providing round-the-clock supervision in unsafe environments. The child protection system is such a state of crisis across the province that we have had youth literally living on-site in our office buildings, circumstances that will compound the trauma they face.”
WECAS executive director Derrick Drouillard appeared on the CBC recently where he extolled workers who are going above and beyond to care for children. But that care is coming at the direct expense of worker’s own health and well-being.
While WECAS’ own guidelines typically stipulate a 2:1 or 1:1 ratio of workers to children, the agency is so grossly understaffed and underfunded that workers are often tasked with supervising multiple children in hotels on their own. They are expected to administer medication and create safe spaces for high needs children with autism or addiction challenges without training. And the result is that workers have been assaulted while the children are deprived of a nurturing safe environment they deserve.
“We’re losing skilled, caring workers as they leave the agency or take sick leave.,” said Hesman. This crisis of care is having knock-on effects for the entire system as workers from other departments are being pulled in to support children in hotels. This is reflected in prevention services where a waitlist is now growing for families that are voluntarily seeking preventative assistance. “The staffing crisis is so acute that we’re not able to provide those critical support and prevention services. We’re also cancelling access visits which means parents can’t see their kids which comes with its own legal issues as well. We’re not providing the supports families need to ensure kids don’t come into care in the first place.”
The Ministry of Children, Community, and Social Services introduced more stringent guidelines concerning foster homes as part of their Quality Standards Framework without additional funding to enable foster homes to meet the new requirements. This has resulted in a widespread shortage of spaces across the province. CUPE workers at 22 other Children’s Aid Societies have indicated that they are also caring for children in hotels and unsafe environments.
Jesse Mintz, CUPE Communications Representative