Monday, May 04, 2009

Ottawa CAS Improves Transparency and Accountability

NOTE: Press Release at end of post

Initial Step Toward Transparency and Accountability Taken

The Children's Aid Society of Ottawa has made an initial step toward improving transparency and accountability of their services by publishing a newly revised website which informs the public of the fact that their Board of Directors hold monthly meetings, which can be monitored by and participated in by members of the public with proper notice, that board meeting minutes are available to the public for inspection, that memberships are available and more.

Substance of Minutes Lacking
Although meeting minutes of the Board are available to the public, it has been observed that the actual content of the sub-committee meetings are not available to the public, leaving very little substantive content transparent. This issue will be worked on by the Council over the next few years.

It is believed by the Executive Director of The Foster Care Council of Canada, John Dunn that this change has taken place as a result of its recent efforts to increase transparency and accountability of their services over the past several years which have included a resolved private prosecution, government and public pressure tactics and others.

In response to the agency's initial efforts at increasing transparency and accountability of its services Dunn wrote the following letter to the Executive Director of the Society.

Barbara MacKinnon
Executive Director
Children's Aid Society of Ottawa
1602 Telesat Court
K1B 1B1
613-747-7800

May 02, 2009

Barbara MacKinnon,

As you are aware, over the past two or three years I have, through the Foster Care Council of Canada (Council), been very active in attempting to improve the quality and accountability of child-welfare services by working to increase transparency of governance, and by educating the public about their ability to join the Society as regular members which enables them to have their voices heard in relation to the services provided to the community.

The journey to increase transparency, although not yet complete, has unfortunately been filled with months of litigation between the Society and myself. The journey also included the Council working with Ontario MPP, Andrea Horwath in her position as Child Welfare Critic at the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to create the following private member's motion:

Ms. Horwath - That, in the opinion of this House, the Government of Ontario should instruct all Children's Aid Societies to publish information electronically on their websites, where available, and in print format, readily accessible in the lobby area of each CAS office, which informs the public of their ability to attend and make presentations at the regularly scheduled Board of Director's meetings, the schedule and Minutes of those meetings, and further, in the same manner as mentioned above, to inform the public of the fact that CAS memberships are available to people who reside in, or who conduct business within the jurisdiction of each CAS, to provide details on how to apply for membership, and to provide access to the Society's By-Laws in the same manner.

Several months ago, the Council made the Society aware of this motion by distributing a copy of it to the Board of Directors. It appears the Society has recently responded to our efforts to increase transparency of the agency in that it has conducted a major renovation of it's website which includes information pertaining to the Board of Directors, Board meetings, Minutes of meetings, the ability of the public to make presentations to the Board and more.

As a member of the community, as a former Crown Ward, and as Executive Director of the Foster Care Council of Canada, I wanted to express my appreciation to the Society, and to yourself for taking the initial step of increasing transparency and accountability of child welfare services in Ottawa.

The recent changes to the Society's website have helped it reach a milestone in its efforts to increase transparency and accountability of its services to the public and doing so deserves recognition.

Members of the public are now more aware of the fact that they have access to Board meetings and their minutes, and that they can make presentations to the Board of Directors.

As with most things, the first step is often the most difficult. Therefore, it is our hope that the Society, having taken its first step toward improving the transparency and accountability of its services to the public will work in partnership with the Council and others as we strive to increase transparency and accountability in child welfare and to educate the public in relation to these important matters.

Sincerely
John Dunn
Executive Director
The Foster Care Council of Canada
http://www.afterfostercare.ca


Press Release



For Immediate Release

All Ontario Press, Date: May 05, 2009

Re: Ottawa Children's Aid Society Improves Transparency

John Dunn, former foster child, Founder, and volunteer Executive Director of an Ottawa based, child-welfare watchdog organization known as The Foster Care Council of Canada is excited to observe that the Children's Aid Society of Ottawa (Society) has taken an important step toward increasing transparency and accountability of its services through recent modifications to its website which include for the first time, information pertaining to the schedule of the Society's monthly Board of Directors meetings, the ability of community members to attend or make presentations to the Board upon approval and to review the minutes of Board meetings, as well as instructions on how to communicate with members of the Board of Directors.

Dunn says “our research into the history of the Society's website could only go back as far as 2001, however it is our belief that the Society has never, in its over 100 year history, provided the public with this level of information on how it can be held accountable for the expenditure of over 64 Million in tax-payer's hard-earned dollars”. The information which has recently been posted to the Society's website originates from the Society's corporate by-laws, which in the past has only been made available to people or businesses in the community who have applied for, and been granted annual memberships with the Society.

Although Dunn applauds the Society's initial efforts to increase transparency and accountability to the public of its services and programs he says there is still room for improvement. He says “The real meat-and-potatoes, or substance of decisions made by the Board members are contained within the minutes and reports to the Board from the various committees. Those minutes and reports are then presented to the Board for approval but are not compiled into the minutes of the Board meetings minutes like they do at City Hall for example”.

Dunn continues “To date, it has been the practice of the Society to only distribute to the public in attendance at Board meetings, copies of the Board meeting minutes from the previous Board meeting, which merely demonstrate the Boards approval or disapproval of committee reports instead of letting the public actually read the committee reports, which do not in their entirety contain “in-camera” material which is to be kept confidential from the public. This current practice of the Society's Board keeps any real decision making within the Society in the dark despite their initial efforts to improve transparency and accountability and we will continue to work with the Society on improving this area of transparency”.

Dunn believes his organization's public awareness campaign which focuses on the internal corporate structure of, and citizens ability to apply for memberships within Children's Aid Societies in Ontario has contributed significantly to the Ottawa Children's Aid Society's decision to become more transparent and accountable to the public. Several months ago, the campaign also included successfully advocating for what is now Private Member's Motion #41 in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, as put forward by MPP Andrea Horwath which seeks support from the House to have all Societies in Ontario publish on their websites and in their lobbies information which “informs the public of their ability to attend and make presentations at the regularly scheduled Board of Director's meetings, the schedule and Minutes of those meetings, and further, in the same manner as mentioned above, to inform the public of the fact that CAS memberships are available to people who reside in, or who conduct business within the jurisdiction of each CAS, to provide details on how to apply for membership, and to provide access to the Society's By-Laws”.

If you are interested in learning more about the Society's Board meetings and how to make presentations to the Board, or if you want someone to accompany you to the meetings or to make the presentations on your behalf, you are asked to contact the Foster Care Council of Canada at 613-220-1039 or to visit them online at http://www.afterfostercare.ca

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