The agency says that a lack of resources, including staff shortages, under-funding, and capacity limits — due to COVID-19 — over the past year, has led them to resort to hotels.
“It’s more urgency than any ideal planning,” said Chris Steven, executive director of London-Middlesex CAS. “We do everything we can to avoid that kind of thing.”
Capacity limits have also caused fewer families to open their doors to accept children in foster care, increasing the number of youth the agency cares for.
Those being placed in the hotels are between the ages of 13 and 15. Steven says three have been moved out of the hotel and into new placements and another will move to a placement on Monday.
The hotels lie along the 401 corridor, which is a well-known hotspot for lurking sex traffickers.
Group home settings not ideal in the long-run
CAS used to operate six group homes in the London area, with the last one closing down a few years ago due to a shifting focus on connection, family and culture by either keeping youth in their homes or with extended family
Steven says that group homes can work temporarily, but are not ideal in the long-run.
“There can be very poor outcomes for kids who are in long-term group home settings, they’re estranged from their families, culture and communities, and are not necessarily getting the appropriate clinical support they need,” he said.
Laurie Nancekivell, president of Local 116 Ontario Public Services Employee Union says that it’s always a better service for youth when they can have appropriate housing.
“Having anybody placed in a hotel is not an ideal setting, it’s not an appropriate environment to feel safe, secure, and have consistency in your life,” she said.
Nancekivell added that prior to COVID, youth would temporarily be placed in group homes run by CAS, which were much safer environments and had more staffing.
More support and resources needed
Nancekivell says that CAS facilities across the province are under-funded and that the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services needs to be held accountable for that.
“It’s problematic when the Ministry doesn’t provide enough funding to the CAS, so it creates some really difficult decisions for local agencies to make with regards to where to spend the money when there isn’t enough money,” she said.
In a statement to CBC, a spokesperson for the Ministry said they recognize the importance of stabilizing the child welfare sector and are working to redesign the system.
“This fiscal year, the ministry has allocated just over $1.5 billion to 51 children’s aid societies. Our ultimate goal is for every child and youth to have a safe, loving, stable home,” the statement read.
Steven would like to see more readily available access to children’s mental health resources in the community, and the possible lifting of capacity limits to better serve youth.
He worries that this situation might arise again, and is working with community colleagues on an urgent basis to establish short-term stabilization resources and community support.