As the result of the directives of its strategic plan, Family and Children’s Services of Frontenac, Lennox and Addington has successfully reduced the number of children in care by half.
This is one of the highlight of the agency’s 2018 Annual Report, released on Tuesday, Sept. 26, and one that is “enormously inspiring,” said Steve Woodman, executive director of Family and Children’s Services locally.
The reduction is the result the agency’s five-year strategic plan to use prevention to keep families in crisis together, and prioritizing extended family as an alternative to foster care, as well as family-based care over group homes.
“We are doing a lot more work at putting resources and more staff into keeping children with their families or exploring their kin network as a primary source of support or alternate care,” Woodman said, noting that those with the local Family and Children’s Services opened their minds to the best practices they observed across Ontario before implementing those practices here.
“Really, it’s keeping a lot more kids within their family networks, and that’s been inspiring.”
When the agency amalgamated in 2012, it had 435 kids in care. By spring of this year, that number was reduced to 222, according to the annual report. Woodman credited the diligent work of those within Family and Children’s Services for the active work to keep children within their family or their family networks, and also said the results have been “enormously inspiring” for those the agency’s workers.
“[We’re] looking well beyond the grandparents, out into relatives that are cousins, or even people we would refer to more as kith than kin… family relations that might be good friends or others that have been involved in the life of the family, and really trying to keep that child that might not be able to be placed back with their parents still within the relationships that have been established within their life,” he said.
“So we’re not disrupting either their culture or their family connections, and this, we believe, is far superior for the child’s long-term benefit.”
Woodman also credited the success to the cooperative efforts of the service partners that work with Family and Children’s Services locally.
“This community is very collaborative between the service partners, and I think we’ve been a part of a really growing movement to work together, and not to really see people we’re dealing with as ‘our clients,’ but just [as] people in the community that need help,” Woodman said, adding that these collaborations allow his agency and their service partners to really come together and rally around the families they work with.
“That’s a success, I think, that we share with our community partners. They’ve been wonderful at really helping us achieve these results.”
But the work to improve is far from over, Woodman expressed. The next challenges the agency faces are those dealing with indigenous reconciliation.
“We still have far too many indigenous children in care. And we are recognizing that the service models that we have used in the past have actually been very detrimental to the indigenous peoples,” he said, noting that Family and Children’s Services needs to change their relationship with indigenous peoples.
“We need to work far more collaboratively, and, frankly, to give up the image that we’re the experts… the necessity of children to retain their culture is far more important than the results of the work that we’ve been doing.”
Almost 20 per cent of the children in the care of Family and Children’s Services are indigenous, Woodman said, which is a large over-representation of the children in this community. The agency is now working hard, with both on- and off-reserve indigenous resources, and using a model similar to the kin care (extended family) model which has proved successful in keeping children in their families and culture.
“Trying to develop a customary care model where we ensure that the children are never separated from their culture and their communities is the aspirational way we have to go, and to do that, we need to be honest about the failings of the work that we’ve done, and embark on a new path with indigenous people,” said Woodman.
“A lot of the work we’ve done has also benefitted our work with indigenous people, but not to the extent that we believe it needs to… For me, one of the top priorities for us is to continue in our continuous improvement. This is an area that we still have lots of room to grow.”
The agency is also looking for more foster families, and will kick off their foster parent recruitment campaign at the beginning of October.
“We’re short on foster parents, and we’d like people to help us either by becoming foster parents or they can help us find foster parents,” said John Suart, manager of community relations of Family and Children’s Services of Frontenac, Lennox and Addington.
“We’re looking for foster homes for teens, and the number we’re looking for is just 10 for a year… that seems like a very small number, but you have to remember that we’re looking for some very special people, and it’s kind of like looking for a needle in a haystack.”
As much as the agency can do a lot to help children and families throughout our community, they can always use help, Suart expressed, and there are many ways to get involved. To find out more about what you can do to help Family and Children’s Services locally, go to http://www.facsfla.ca/home. To read the full annual report from the agency, click here.