The Ontario government has launched an operational review of York Region Children’s Aid Society after allegations of racism, bullying and harassment surfaced against senior management, according to the associate minister of children and women’s issues.
“Our government has no tolerance for racism, discrimination, bullying or harassment of any kind,” said Jill Dunlop today in a statement issued at about 4:30 p.m. “These allegations are deeply troubling, and we want to assure the residents of York Region that we do not take this matter lightly.”
The ministry has issued a directive to the local children’s aid society to “properly address issues of workplace culture”.
No specific details were provided regarding the allegations.
A full review will be completed "to ensure the health and well-being of staff so children, youth and families in York Region can be confident they are receiving the best and most culturally appropriate services", and steps will be taken to better protect vulnerable children and youth in York Region, Dunlop said.
“We will take the necessary action once we receive the findings of this review, which we commit to releasing publicly. We hope the board of directors is taking these allegations as seriously as we are,” added Dunlop.
York Region Children's Aid Society is headquarted in Newmarket, with offices in Richmond Hill and Woodbridge. The agency has a mandate to keep children safe and families together by providing child protection services around the clock, 24 hours a day, engaging and supporting families in problem solving, linking families to essential community services, and providing prevention and awareness programs to keep children safe and families strong.
Children's aid societies are mandated by the Child, Youth and Family Services Act, 2017, to:
- Investigate allegations or evidence that children under the age of 18 may be in need of protection
- Protect children where necessary
- Provide guidance, counselling, and other services to families for protecting children or preventing circumstances requiring the protection of children
- Provide care for children assigned or committed to its care
- Supervise children assigned to its supervision
- Place children for adoption when necessary
According to statistics from the York Region Children's Aid Society's 2018-2019 annual report, it received 9,212 calls concerning the safety and well-being of a child, served 10,876 children, supported 119 youth, and conducted 4,182 investigations.
There were 366 children in its care during 2018 to 2019.
The York Region agency has 292 staff, 47 family visit support coaches, 25 after-hours workers, 81 volunteers, and 13 board members.
In about 97 per cent of its investigations, the children involved remain in their homes with their families or legal guardians.
In a statement to NewmarketToday this evening, York Region Children’s Aid Society board chairperson Tahir Shafiq said it respects the Ontario government’s decision to conduct an operational review and will fully support and assist the government in its efforts.
“We care deeply about our employees and understand the importance of ensuring we have a diverse, inclusive, safe, and healthy workplace,” Shafiq said. “We are committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion in our work.”
Shafiq said that together with staff, the agency works with parents, caregivers, volunteers, and other community organizations to build safer and stronger communities.
“We take our mandate and responsibility seriously, to protect children, youth, and support families in York Region,” said Shafiq.
Editor's note: The original story was updated July 31 at 8:45 p.m. with comments from the York Region CAS board chairperson.