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Reaffirming our commitment to all children and youth in care

Children and youth come into care of our children’s aid societies through no fault of their own.

A court has decided that they have been, in some form or another, physically, sexually or emotionally abused or neglected, and in need of protection. There are very few things in a child’s life that could happen that is more important than their removal from the custody of their family. When the courts and our children’s aid societies take this step, as mandated by the legislation that governs them, they act on behalf of all Ontarians to ensure the wellbeing of all children in care. On any given night, there are over 20,000 children and youth in care sleeping under our collective roof, and there are over 7,000 children permanently in the care of our province through our children’s aid societies. As a province, we have made a covenant with these children. When a children’s aid society brings a child into care on our behalf, we are telling that child, “You are safe now. We will care for you and support you. We will love you.” That is what a child will understand by our actions and what a child is entitled to understand.

Sadly, the desire to protect and cherish a child is often not carried over into the child’s experience as they live in the child welfare system. This statement is no indictment of any one individual or even the best efforts of those who work hard to provide for children in care. However, it is a statement of fact we have heard directly from young people through our recent reports, such as in Searching for Home: Reimagining Residential Care and Serious Occurrences Report. It is hard for a system to provide the love and support a child needs. I believe it is difficult, but not impossible.

Young people believe this too. In 2011, young people in and from care partnered with the Office and held the historic Youth Leaving Care hearings at the Ontario legislature focusing on improving the outcomes of children leaving child welfare care. These hearings led to the production of the report, My REAL Life Book. They believed, as I do, that we could do better as a province.

One of the recommendations in My REAL Life Book was the establishment of a “Children and Youth in Care Day.” Subsequently, the Legislature unanimously passed a bill from MPP Soo Wong designating every May 14 as “Children and Youth in Care Day. May 14 was chosen because it was the day My REAL Life Book was released by the youth who wrote it – a fitting tribute to their efforts, talent and determination – and is a day that allows the entire province to celebrate those qualities of all children in care, and a day to refocus and reaffirm our attention and commitment to our children.

Children and Youth in Care Day is a day for all of us to remember the covenant we have made to children. It is a day to remember that there are children who we have promised our care and love to. I urge all Ontarians today to think of children in care and learn more about how they are faring under our watch. Let that be the first step this year that will lead to a better life for our children for next Child and youth In Care Day.

Today, youth in and from care will gather from across Ontario to convene at Queen’s Park. They call their gathering “The Bus Ride Home” because Queen’s park represents to them the metaphoric home they all share as Wards of the Crown. They will discuss what has been done to improve the lives of children in care since the Youth Leaving Care hearings, and they will chart a course for what still needs to be done. I will stand proudly with them proudly on May 14. They are family.

Irwin