Provincial legislation that takes effect today means children's aid societies are no longer immune from provincial investigation.
Proclaimed on March 1 by the province, the new powers were introduced in Bill 8, the Public Sector and MPP Accountability and Transparency Act, 2014, which amended the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth Act, 2007.
This means the Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth now has the authority to investigative matters concerning a child or a group of children receiving services from a children's aid society (CAS) or a residential licensee where a CAS is the placing agency.
This includes systemic investigations into child deaths and critical injuries.
Irwin Elman, the provincial advocate for children and youth, said the goal of the legislation is to strengthen the child welfare system in Ontario.
"My Office is committed to carrying out fair, thorough and transparent investigations with the goal of ensuring young people feel heard, empowered and protected in the child welfare system," Elman said in a news release. "We will also look for ways to support those who have been entrusted to care for the province's children and youth so we can strengthen the child welfare system and help young people reach their full potential."
Public reports, including findings and recommendations, will be made available following investigations, the office said.
Anyone who has a concern may request an investigation from the Office, but they must exhaust all other available complaint processes. For CAS services, this will include the local CAS's internal complaints process or the Child and Family Services Review Board.
For children's residences, this will include the internal complaints process at the children's residence or the Ministry of Children and Youth Services.
The Advocate's Office can be reached at 1-800-263-2841. For more information on the Office's new Investigative Unit, vist the website. (http://provincialadvocate.on.ca/main/en/about/Investigations.html)
The new investigative power does not extend to other children or youth under the Office's mandate, such as those in youth justice facilities, children with special needs and First Nations children.