Nearly 500 front-line child protection workers and support staff, members of the CUPE 2316, have ratified a new contract with the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto (CAST). While the deal averts a strike that was set to begin late last week, it does little to settle a sector struggling with burnt-out workers and unsafe conditions for children following years of provincial cuts. 

Members voted to accept the deal that contained job protection language, but the ratification meeting was a charged affair with frustration aimed squarely at the agency for refusing to reduce workload to allow for more time spent on each case.

“Our job is to keep children safe and with their family. That work takes time – to build trust, connect parents with community supports, and follow up. Time is what we’ve been fighting for,” said Aubrey Gonsalves, a child protection worker and President of CUPE 2316. “When we say we have too many cases, we’re talking about the lives of the most vulnerable children. We pushed as hard as we could but the agency refused to help us improve outcomes for children and families.”

This issue is not unique to CAST. Workers at Family and Children’s Services of Lanark, Leeds and Grenville, Highland Shores Children’s Aid Society, and Huron-Perth Children’s Aid Society – all members of CUPE – are fighting for similar investments from their agencies. Meanwhile, a growing number of agencies across the province are being forced to place children in hotels or have them sleep in offices, raising troubling safety concerns for both the children in care and workers.

“This is a sector-wide problem. Workers aren’t being given the resources they need to keep children safe and families aren’t being given the supports they need to stay together,” said Fred Hahn, president of CUPE Ontario. “The Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies knows what it takes to provide the proper level of care and they should be advocating loudly alongside front-line workers, demanding the provincial government do right by families. But it’s workers who are doing everything they can to advance the safety of children and the needs of families.”

The sector-wide workload challenge is not new – but it reached new levels during the pandemic when CAS became the carer of last resort as community supports shuttered. In 2011, the Liberal government promised a series of roundtables on the state of child protection. They started with health and safety and were immediately overwhelmed by the recommendations they received.

“They never even bothered to have the conversation around workload and every government since has put their heads in the sand while the situation has gotten worse,” said Hahn. “CAS agencies across the province – and CUPE Ontario – are calling on the Ford government to invest in workers, do right by children, and take workload seriously.”