Children's Aid funds misused, auditor says
Resort trips, SUVs, among expenses queried by Ontario official

National Post
Friday, December 01, 2006

Allison Hanes
Misspending on personal trainers, luxury SUVs and stays at Caribbean resorts by officials at Ontario Children's Aid Societies are said to be detailed in the province's latest auditor general report.

Trips to international conferences in Beijing and Buenos Aires, as well as a $4,000 week-long visit to St. Lucia by a caseworker accompanying a child being returned to family, are among the questionable expenditures in a final draft of the report according to the CBC. It is to be released Tuesday.

This is the first time the watchdog has had the power to open the books of the Children's Aid Societies of Toronto, York, Peel and Thunder Bay, which account for a quarter of the $1.42 billion the province distributes annually to 53 child services organizations.

The allegations -- including one that an employee took personal trips on the CAS tab -- were unconfirmed yesterday even as Ontario's minister of children and youth services was assailed at Queen's Park by opposition members.

"What we have here is money that's been spent on trips to the Caribbean and gym memberships instead of winter coats or other help for children," Conservative opposition leader John Tory said.

Mary Anne Chambers, the minister responsible, said she couldn't comment on the report before it is tabled in the Ontario legislature next week.

The alleged scandal coincided with the minister's introduction of a bill to make the province's child advocate independent and the passage into law of changes to children's services.

Andrea Horwath, the New Democratic Party critic for child and family services, said on top of questions about expenditures, the leaked report also apparently raises concerns about a three-week lag in caseworker visits to at-risk children or a failure to check them at all.

"We have seen children who have been killed while they've been in protection," she said. "The fact that it's the vulnerable children who suffer at the end and don't get the services they need ... all of those things are paramount."

Children's aid agencies said their lips were sealed pending the audit's full disclosure.

"We feel confident that when we are able to talk about the report as it relates to York Region, the people of our community will be reassured that they have been and will continue to be well served," Jennifer Grant, a spokeswoman for the York Region Children's Aid Society said in a statement.

The Children's Aid Society of Toronto said children are its spending priority and that it saved $1 million last year by consolidating office space.

According to CBC News, the draft report does not specify which of the four agencies were engaged in suspicious spending, which includes senior managers receiving two luxury SUVs worth $53,000 and $59,000 and a fleet of 50 vehicles, half of which logged less than 10,000 kilometres a year, being leased or purchased by one agency while an employee simultaneously collected a $600 stipend for use of his own car.

The Ottawa Citizen 2006