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Why some Ontario children and youth with complex special needs are living in hotels

The executive director of the Windsor-Essex Children’s Aid Society says Ontario parents and caregivers are “exhausted” trying to find the right support for children with acute and intense needs within the social work and health-care systems.

Parents, caregivers 'exhausted' trying to find support for acute and intense needs cases

A child with curly hair sits in a window. The child is turned away from the camera.

Ontario parents and caregivers are "exhausted" trying to find the right support for children with acute and intense needs within the social work and health-care systems, says the executive director of the Windsor-Essex Children's Aid Society (WECAS).

Derrick Drouillard told CBC's Windsor Morning that getting proper support for young people with complex special needs is a "crisis across the whole province."

"They've been attempting to find the services as support within the system to maintain their children in their own homes or within their community," Drouillard said.

"They have come up against a lack of acute and intense resources to support them, supporting their children. And so oftentimes those children, youth, end up on the doorstep of a Children's Aid Society."

Windsor Morning12:09Windsor Essex CAS update

Featured VideoDerrick Drouillard, executive director of Windsor Essex CAS, speaks with CBC Windsor Morning host Amy Dodge.

Drouillard said that while the number isn't static, he estimates at any given time, their agency has seven to 10 children or youth who should not be in their system, but should be within the mental health system or in placements that support "high needs."

Some of those children are being placed in hotels or living in the children's services buildings themselves.

According to Drouillard, children living at a hotel are supported by Children's Aid Society staff who do "their very best under the circumstances."

"There are some youth that can and do get themselves out, go off to school, work, do other things. But they have other issues … they have other challenges. But for the most part, there's always touch points.

"It's the sad reality of the crisis at this moment. We have children and youth who we cannot find appropriate placements for, we cannot find caregivers for. Some of their needs are so acute," said Drouillard.

His comments come after WECAS stepped up efforts this summer to raise awareness about the shortage of foster families in the region.

For some youth, Drouillard noted, foster homes aren't necessarily appropriate placements for because of their aggressive, impulsive, self-harm and harm to others types of behaviours.

"We all have a role to play. But more and more, what we see is that children who may not or should not have to come to the system of Children's Aid Society are coming to us because they don't have access to those supports and services that they need."

The interim chief executive officer of the Ontario Association of Children Aid Societies agrees it is a crisis, and is frustrating for the staff and families involved.

The association represents all 49 agencies across the province.

Unfortunately, said Solomon Owoo, there are instances across Ontario of parents walking away from their children after being unable to find essential community support.

"CAS is not going to leave any child by the side of the road to the extent that even if we can't find the most appropriate care at this point, we will put that child even in an interim space like a hotel or a motel."

Owoo said they continue to work with various communities to ensure those are just interim solutions — while inching toward more permanent ones to drive children and youth to places where they can receive necessary treatment.

Fewer kids, more challenges

At a time he has labelled as the "worst" he's ever seen in the sector — after working in child protection services for 33 years — Drouillard said fewer children are in the system, but yet there are more roadblocks and challenges.

"There are less children in care in the province of Ontario than there has ever been, but those particular youth who are in care are the most challenging. We're having the most difficulty finding the right services and support for them."

The frustration is spilling over to staff, he said, many of whom find it taxing to deal with some of the behaviour and anger.

"From time to time, the behaviour that is bigger than they are sometimes results in acting out, aggressively hitting, kicking, biting. Our staff certainly are exposed to situations that they know it's not these youth — they're not the problem. It is providing the support and services they need to help replace the maladaptive behaviours with more adaptive behaviours."

Drouillard said has seen "slow movement" on the issue after reaching out to community partners as well as the province.

The Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services says that as part of Ontario's children's services system, children's aid societies are expected to work with community partners to find solutions that best support families when there are no protection concerns.

"Children's aid societies have an exclusive mandate to deliver child protection services," the ministry said in an emailed statement.

"The ministry has directed Children's Aid Societies that if a parent or guardian approaches a society and no child protection concerns exist, the society should refer the family to appropriate community or health service providers with a mandate to provide services, depending on the needs of the child or youth."

Drouillard said that directive has been around for a long time and children still come into care because they're in need of treatment, not protection.

"While there's a directive there, it's not a directive that should be levied at the entire service system, not just the children's aid. How do we make it so that children, youth and families can stay together in their community and not need to further penetrate into the child protection system?"

The ministry statement also said it funds a range of programs and services for children and youth with special needs, and has invested an additional $105 million annually into rehabilitation services to support children and youth with special needs.

Also, co-ordinated service plans are often required, according to the ministry, with stakeholders such as families, schools and health-care providers to handle situations involving children with complex needs.

Owoo said they prefer early intervention with children, keeping them in their own home for as long as possible.

"They do better in family settings," he said, adding those kinds of supports are "very much available" in communities.

"How they can help empower or strengthen the capacity of families to be able to continue to provide the necessary care for the kids — that will be our preference."

Drouillard says there is a gap between what children's aid societies do and what other agencies do for children and youth — and that there is the need for a full system redesign across all ministries in order to address the crisis.

"Families maybe naively think if we go to our Children's Aid Society, perhaps they could be the pathway to additional services for our child. And that simply isn't the reality."

Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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