Inside Queen’s Park is the premier insider newsletter on Ontario government and politics. The lead article in the March 4, 2009 edition was a review of the report from the Office of Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth entitled, 90 Deaths: Ninety Voices Silenced. That review is posted below.
CUTTING EDGE: UNLEASHING MORAL PANIC
Ombudsman André Marin’s steady flow of systemic reports are strongly worded and cleverly packaged for maximum media impact. His detractors in government seethe unhappily when Marin unleashes yet another punishing expose, but they’ve learned that his assertions are factual and numbers cannot be dismissed. Marin is bullet-proof because he’s seen as very tough but fair. Children’s Advocate Irwin Elman took one leaf from Marin’s book, getting headline coverage for 90 Deaths Ninety Voices Silenced – his luridly-titled first annual report, tabled Feb. 23. But far from presenting an Ombudsman-style unimpeachable case, Elman misrepresented key facts and made assertions that were flat-out untrue respecting central issues. IQP can’t recall any formal report with comparable deficiencies from an Officer of the Legislature.
The Advocate’s narrative, with new-ish Children’s minister Deb Matthews blocking his office in its bid for broader access to records of vulnerable children, was swallowed whole by reporters. They also bought his chilling picture of 90 children in the system whose ‘voices’ had been silenced.
OACAS, the umbrella body which speaks for the local societies, sent a letter to all MPPs on Feb. 26 impugning the report for its misleading claims and false contentions. It confronts Elman’s central claim that the 90 children “died while in the care of Children’s Aid Societies (emphasis added); this is not true”. Rather, the 90 deaths were reported for review by CASs (emphasis added). The letter also rejects his statement that “most of the deaths” were preventable: of the 90, natural causes took 14 and the CAS had no prior involvement with 36 of them. 50 of 90 is 55%; that means it was clearly impossible for the CAS to prevent “most” of the 90 deaths.
Moreover, it was investigators within the Coroner’s Office reviewing paediatric deaths, the prime source of Elman’s report, who declared that CAS involvement “is not a factor” in the “vast majority of child deaths in Ontario” and cautioned that most of the few deaths of children receiving CAS services “could not have been foreseen or prevented by a CAS”. With no factual basis for Elman’s charges, the verdict must be: Not guilty.
The looming recession will sharply increase already bulging CAS caseloads. The sector groans under province-wide deficits of $14M-plus and operating cost pressures have prompted 19 societies to seek ministerial reviews. This is the very worst time for Elman to provoke a moral panic by misrepresen ting numbers and misstating the facts. The effect will be to undermine public confidence, incline people to think twice before reporting suspicions and discourage parents needing help from approaching the CAS. Worse yet, Elman’s grossly exaggerated death toll will cause vulnerable children in care to fear for their lives.
Elman came to the Advocate’s position with a stellar record in caring for children; to avoid totally exploding that reputation, he urgently needs to make amends for the clumsy and irresponsible elements in 90 Deaths. He should apologize to the CAS community and withdraw that report for a thorough re-write. Then Elman should silence his own voice while working to re-establish his credibility. Reading the collected reports issued by Ombudsman Marin would be a good first step.