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York organizations partner to improve children, family services

York Region Children’s Aid Society, Dnaagdawenmag Binnoojiiyag Child and Family Services, and Jewish Family and Child Service host Newmarket forum to discuss needed changes
York Region Children's Aid Society CEO Ginelle Skerritt addresses a forum at the Newmarket Community Centre March 29.

York Region’s children and family service organizations are teaming up in a bid to improve their ability to help the local community.

York Region Children’s Aid Society, the Dnaagdawenmag Binnoojiiyag Child and Family Services and Jewish Family and Child Service held a group forum March 29 at the Newmarket Community Centre to share ideas and find solutions to issues in their sector.

Along with more than 40 different organizations and more than 140 people, they highlighted successes and ongoing challenges in the system.

The turnout is a sign that things are heading in the right direction, York Region CAS CEO Ginelle Skerritt said.

“There is a respect for all the contributions that we have to make,” she said. “We’re here. There’s no blame. There’s no hate. There’s no anger. What there is love for the children in this community. So it’s up for us to figure out how to do this.” 

The York Region CAS has transformed since 2020 after an operational report highlighting racism and bullying in the organization. Besides opening up collaboration, the forum was identified as a way to share the organization's “new direction regarding child and youth well-being,” which includes working with families to keep children within their family networks.

Change in the sector has been a long time coming, with struggles experienced by Indigenous families, Dnaagdawenmag Binnoojiiyag Child and Family Services senior manager Alexandra Crawford said. The multi-service organization supports Indigenous youth and families in a 35,000-square-kilometre area, including York Region.

“We’ve always been here to provide awareness about our history and culture.  .. We are encouraged that people are now interested,” she said. “It’s important for everyone to understand the problem and become part of the solution. We can only do this collectively as a community."

Indigenous perspectives were at the forefront, with Elder Hilton King and Shannon Crate of the Chippewas of Georgina Island First Nations as keynote speakers discussing issues like intergenerational trauma.

Crate recounted the inquest of Devon Freeman, a 16-year-old member of the Chippewas of Georgina Island who died by suicide in 2017 while in the care of a CAS in Hamilton. His body was not discovered until six months after he disappeared.

Everyone involved wanted to do better, Crate said, with positive recommendations coming forward. But she added there was resistance from the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services on some of the targeted recommendations at their level. Organizations are struggling to break out of cycles of failing services, she added. 

“People don’t get into social work because they want to fail kids. People get into social work because they love them and they want to help. But we keep making the same mistakes because we have no other options to choose from,” she said. “So we keep doing things we know are failing.” 

King said change takes time but spoke positively about community organizations coming together and talking about it. 

“Our whole world view has to change and has to change in a way, that I think, we all understand.”

The organizations intend to hold similar events, bringing in children, youth and families accessing their services to help shape solutions.

Jewish Family and Child Service CEO Talyah Breslin said child and welfare systems redesign is based on strengthening families from the ground up.

“They’re York Region’s children, they’re Ontario’s children. The more people involved in wrapping around a family the better. The more we collaborate, the better the outcomes for children and families,” she said.

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Joseph Quigley

About the Author: Joseph Quigley

Joseph is the municipal reporter for NewmarketToday.
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