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New 4-year program aims to keep Toronto kids out of foster care

Children's Aid Society of Toronto at 30 Isabella St. in Toronto.
Children's Aid Society of Toronto at 30 Isabella St. in Toronto. Google Maps/Screenshot

TORONTO – A new program that aims to change how the child welfare system operates has launched in Toronto, and organizers say they hope the results will convince the Ontario government to implement it across the province.

The Children’s Aid Society of Toronto says the program, called Journey to Zero, shifts the focus to early intervention in an effort to keep children with their families instead of taking them into foster care.

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Mahesh Prajapat, the agency’s chief operating officer, said Wednesday that foster care should serve as a temporary measure in times of crisis rather than a long-term solution, and the goal is to support families so they are able to care for children themselves.

“We shouldn’t design a system where we’re raising children,” he said.

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“We have 100 years of data that says that children that grow up in care have poorer outcomes related to education, employment, mental health, in worst case scenarios, homelessness and human trafficking…so we really need to do something different,” he said.

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“Child welfare has been built on this notion that we have to protect children from their families and we want to focus that to helping families protect their own children.”

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The $7.3-million project is funded through donations and support from charitable organizations such as the Children’s Aid Foundation of Canada. It is expected to last four years.

Prajapat said they turned to fundraising because the money provided by the province is strictly earmarked for investigations, not prevention. Government funding is currently tied to the number of investigations conducted, and as those drop, so does the financial support, he said.

The agency is hoping the results of the project will persuade the government to let that money be used differently. “We’re just asking to repurpose the money from protection to early intervention and prevention,” he said.

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The province is set to review the results and assess whether this type of approach should be expanded across the province.

The project’s effectiveness will be evaluated based on whether there is a reduction in the number of children in care and in the length of time they spend there, and what the outcome is for the family, Prajapat said.

The new approach will include identifying relatives who can be involved in addressing problems and creating a shared plan to ensure a child’s safety in the community or extended family.

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It will also allow families to access a youth outreach worker who can develop custom plans and identify services to keep youth safe with relatives or friends and in their communities.

The Children’s Aid Society says that approach is based on models that have been used successfully in the United States and Australia.