Sunday, 26 May 2013

Ontario youth take a seat at the policy planning table

As the father of teenaged children, I am frequently being told that I am too old and just don’t “get it.” To a certain extent, I think my kids are absolutely right. There is a very pronounced generational gap between us, which leads to differences in the way we communicate, reason, prioritize and grow. We have a completely different frame of reference and worldview.

It is critical that we, as adults, recognize that the experiences of youth are different from our own, but they have just as much impact and validity. This understanding is not only important in my role as a father, but also in my capacity as deputy minister of Ontario’s Ministry of Children and Youth Services (MCYS).

It is our responsibility at MCYS to serve the unique needs and give a voice to children and youth in Ontario, especially those who are vulnerable. But for us in government, listening is not enough. We must actively engage youth and ensure that they have a seat at the public policy planning table.

The concept of increased collaboration and civic participation in public policymaking is not new – we have been talking about this for the past two decades. It has just taken us a little while to apply this approach to youth.

Over the past year, MCYS has embarked on a consultative process unlike any we have held before. The catalyst for action on this particular project was not the senior bureaucrats or politicians. Instead, it was youth themselves.

In November 2011, a group of youth currently or formerly in the care of Ontario children’s aid societies worked with the Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth to organize two days of public hearings at the Ontario Legislature. These youth wanted to share the challenges they faced when aging out of the system. Many felt isolated or silenced, and this was their opportunity to speak out.

Following these hearings, the youth prepared a remarkable report in May 2012, called My Real Life Book. This report put forward a series of recommendations to the province, with the objective of improving the child welfare system in Ontario.

Our ministry immediately acted on the report’s top recommendation by establishing the Youth Leaving Care Working Group, made up of nine youth with experience living in care and seven community partners from across Ontario. This group met 11 times between July 30, 2012 and January 4, 2013, with the task of building a plan for fundamental change to the child welfare system.

Meetings were often raw, as youth spoke with profound honesty, experience and insight. They brought a sense of urgency and focus to the policymaking process, which was truly educational for ministry staff involved.

It is important to note that the ministry’s role was only that of engaged listener. It was crucial that the process truly belonged to and was guided by youth. This in itself is a unique approach for us in government. I must credit the ministry’s Child Welfare Secretariat, whose expertise and flexibility behind the scenes made this entire process possible.

We did not try to make youth fit within the typical consultation process, instead, we tailored the process to fit youth. For example, all working group youth members were paid an honorarium to show that we valued their time and insights. We had support workers available at every meeting, where emotions could run high. Youth were given time on their own to caucus before each meeting, so they could focus their thoughts and brainstorm together.

In the end, our working group produced the Blueprint for Fundamental Change to Ontario’s Child Welfare System in January 2013. Mere days after its release, the Minister of Children and Youth Services announced $24 million in new resources and supports to help youth in and leaving care transition to adulthood. This came as direct result of the Blueprint – talk about policy in action!

The success of our Youth Leaving Care Working Group is very much an indication of what is possible when we collaborate with and are accountable to our most important stakeholder – Ontario’s youth.

Our organization is undergoing a culture change that is being championed by senior leaders. There is an increased recognition that it is our responsibility to ensure that meaningful consultation with youth and their families is part of the way we do business.

Whether we are developing policy or designing programs, we must go directly to the source. In doing so, we can ensure that our programs and services truly reflect the reality and needs of children and youth in Ontario.

Monday, 20 May 2013

The dire state of Ontario's broken family courts

“There is no system ever devised by mankind that is guaranteed to rip husband and wife or father, mother and child apart so bitterly then our present Family Court System” – Judge Brian Lindsay Retired Supreme Court Judge

I have been pondering what has been happening in the courts lately. I am struck by the overall apathy of people until it directly affects their lives. Apathy is the very thing that destroys a nation. When we become apathetic we let down our guard and allow the wolves to enter the sheep’s fold. These wolves are cleverly disguised as sheep but no matter what they look like on the outside they are wolves who seek to devour every thing in site. I know it sounds a little dramatic and a little conspiracy theory but the reality is that we have let the wolves in.

Politically our nation and many other nations around the world are poised on the edge of destruction. Every major empire in history was brought down by apathy of the people. When apathy happens, complacency follows and then nations are easily overtaken. I think back to the not so distant past of the Nazi regime. When Hitler came to power he spouted ideals and a Utopian society that everyone desperately wanted. They were tired of the status quo and wanted change. He was a genius of a man and knew that the way to control the nation was to control the families, primarily the children. Once he had control of the children he could brainwash them into believing whatever he told them. This insane man was able to rally huge parts of the civilized world together to fight for his ideals. How was he able to do this? I am personally convinced that he was a very persuasive personality, but more than that he was brilliantly strategic in where he put his focus. He focused on the youth.

The very thing that happened in Nazi Germany is happening today. Families are being torn apart by people in positions of power – judges, case workers, attorneys. The family court system and our system of justice have become the new regime. If you don’t agree with them, if you stand up for your rights, or voice your displeasure in the system you are crushed. As much as I hate to say it the alienators think that they are in control but really they are just puppets in the hands of power hungry people who want to play God in the lives of the people. Parental Alienation is one of the tools they use to destroy families and gain control of our children. It is happening everyday in every civilized country around the globe and the majority of people are sitting back and apathetically letting it happen.

“Canada's family courts are causing millions of children undue suffering as a result of rulings which result in one parent, usually the father, being cut out of their children’s lives. These actions against our children are nothing less than child abuse, the results of which we are just now realizing all across this country. Children from fatherless homes account for 63% of youth suicides, 70% of juveniles in state operated institutions, 85% of all children that exhibit behavioral disorders and 71% of all high school dropouts. These statistics are just a sample of the adverse effects these rulings are having on our society. The impact is both socially and economically devastating. What kind of future will our children face without these issues being successfully addressed?”

Let’s put a stop to the apathy, the insanity and the destruction of our nation through the use of the family.