The Children’s Aid Society of Hamilton acknowledges our presence on ancestral Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee Confederacy land as determined by the Dish with One Spoon treaty. The intent of this wampum treaty is for all nations sharing this territory to do so responsibly, respectfully and sustainably in perpetuity. We respect the long-standing relationships with the local Indigenous communities, the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation and Six Nations of the Grand River. On this land we are mindful of broken covenants and the need to reconcile our history in child welfare and relations with Indigenous peoples. We are especially mindful of the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Call to Action to redress the Legacy of Child Welfare on Indigenous families and communities. We acknowledge that today Hamilton is the home to many Indigenous Peoples from across Turtle Island and we are grateful to have the opportunity to work in this community, on their territory.
When reflecting on the past year, there is an overall theme that comes to mind – resilience. Throughout the challenges of a global pandemic staff, foster and kin families and volunteers at Hamilton Children’s Aid society have remained steadfast in their commitment to children, youth and families in the Hamilton community. As an essential service, we focused on our guiding principles to navigate three lockdowns, school closures and support face to face access between children and families when many of our partners in the community were unable to do so.
Our work continues to be driven by our 2019-2024 Strategic Vision. The agency’s guiding principles include keeping children safe with their family and in their community, providing service and centering decisions on the needs and voice of children, youth and families.
Achieving permanency for children and youth involved with the agency and supporting children and youth to reach their full potential, centering equity and inclusion in the agency’s work, creating a healthy workplace and enhancing relationships and partnerships with identified communities are also areas of focus.
In each of the six key areas you will read stories that exemplify the agency’s vision in action. Stories like being able to support a newcomer family through the challenges of Covid when they didn’t have anywhere else to turn, helping a youth achieve her educational goals and incredible partnerships with community organizations to provide early help and support to families.
Early help and support changes family’s opinion of CAS
After previous involvement with the child welfare system, a couple who were pregnant with their second child were fearful of working with Hamilton Children’s Aid Society. They were very open and honest about their past experiences, including that they had been unable to care for their first child who ended up being adopted by another family.
They worried that they would be automatically judged because of their history, and assumptions would be made about their ability to parent. After meeting with their worker at Hamilton CAS, the couple identified supports in the community including Public Health and their church. The worker remained involved with the family to provide ongoing support for over a year after the baby was born. At no time, were there any concerns identified regarding the safety of the child and the parents are still actively engaged with their community and their church.
The parents were willing to share their story because their feelings about the child welfare system and children’s aid have totally changed. “We want others to know that you can work together with the society. Our goals and the goals of the agency were the same – to ensure our daughter was well taken care of and was a happy, healthy child. We are no longer fearful of CAS and are grateful for the support we received. Our workers listened to us, spoke to us with dignity and respect and gave us hope. We did not feel judged based our past. We would willingly call Hamilton CAS if we needed help, knowing our concerns would be listened to. We appreciate that we were given a voice about our own lives and an opportunity to show we could be good parents.”
Helping a family through the challenges of COVID
Recently, the agency received a call from Hamilton Public Health about a family with two children who tested positive for COVID. Their illness made it difficult for them to care for their children and they contacted public health directly as they didn’t have any other supports to turn to in the community.
Staff from CAS and public health worked together to ensure the children were checked at a hospital. Public Health provided the family with groceries from the foodbank and the society provided formula, groceries, and medication. Given these exceptional circumstances, the society planned to pay for a community professional (PSW or nurse) to go to the home and assist with caregiving. Fortunately, the parents soon felt better and were able to care for their children. The family shared, “we are very thankful for the help provided, and we really appreciate it.” While working with this family, CAS staff outreached to multiple community resources for support and many challenges were identified including a high demand for nurses, the need for isolation of staff following services to the family, and lack of staff fully vaccinated. While the family got the support they needed, the agency and public health continue to work together on solutions to address some of the challenges families are facing in extraordinary times.
Aliyah has always dreamt of a career in policing. At the age of 17 – inspired by her dreams and interest in criminology – she applied to the Community Justice program at Niagara College.
Already living on her own, Aliyah had concerns about how she would pay for her schooling. “I had many bills to pay for, and although I was working while attending school, I still struggled to pay for everything.”
In April 2020, Aliyah applied for a post-secondary bursary through the Hamilton CAS Bursary Program. This program allows the agency to provide Extended Society Care (ESC) youth with financial support during their schooling.
“The bursary gave me a chance to focus on my studies and achieve my goal of graduating with honours. It also helped me pay for the required textbooks as they can get quite pricey!”
The bursary helped Aliyah in a big way – she is set to graduate this month and has already applied to the Ministry to become a Correctional Officer.
“I am grateful for the support I have received through CAS, I can’t wait to get started on my career!”
Siblings find forever home through adoption
In the fall of 2020, the agency was working with a sibling group of three brothers ages 13, 11, and 8 where reunification with family or being cared for by kin were not options. The children were quite clear they wanted to have a family and be adopted.
Collaborating with another child welfare agency, family was identified as a potential match for the siblings. After learning about the brothers, it was evident the family wanted to be the ones to provide them with their forever home. They boys’ excitement was palpable when they learned about this family.
Together the foster parents, the worker from the other agency, the adoption worker at Hamilton CAS and the adoptive parents collaborated to set up regular virtual visits. Everyone got creative when coming up with ways to make the visits engaging as possible and to facilitate the building of a relationship. The adoptive parents went above and beyond with the virtual visits; cooking together, playing games together and just “spending time” online with one another.
Future leaders in child welfare
While the pandemic has created some unique challenges with student placements, Hamilton Children’s Aid Society has maintained its commitment to continuing to provide a learning environment. Within the last five years, a total of 80 placements have been offered and 15 graduates were hired.
A variety of student placements are offered in accredited programs including Bachelor of Social Work, Master of Social Work, Social Service Work, Child and Youth Work, Legal Office Administration, Office Administration and the Law Practice Program. The majority of placements facilitated at Hamilton CAS are within the BSW and MSW programs. A total of 63 placements were completed in the last five years. Students are provided with direct supervision by a Child Protection Worker, an orientation to the agency and the various service units.
The program enables front-line staff to enhance their own professional skills as leaders sharing their knowledge, skills and experiences. “I never really had an interest in being a field placement supervisor, but the opportunity arose, and I decided to do it,” says Sanila Habib, Child Protection Worker, Flex Team, Placement Supervisor. “My experience was positive as I was lucky to have very good students that were extremely patient and willing to learn and be outside their comfort zone. Being a student during the pandemic is hard, and I give these students a lot of credit for getting through it.”
Most recently Hamilton CAS has worked towards strengthening its collaborative relationship with the Internationally Educated Social Work Professionals (IESW) Bridging Program at Ryerson University. Providing these positive placement experiences and outcomes have contributed to career success in the social service sector where internationally trained individuals are able to obtain positions that are reflective of their education and experience.
Building partnerships and finding ways to work alongside community organizations that support Indigenous, Black, racialized, and LGBT2SQ+ children, youth and families as well all equity deserving individuals who are at the intersections of gender, ethnicity, age, religion, ability, class, race, sex, etc. is integral to informing and improving the way we work with children, youth and families. Through these partnerships we will be able to shift our approaches, so we are more attuned and responsive. We will also be better positioned to connect community members to existing organizations in Hamilton (and vice versa) through our work thereby continuing to strengthen and support children, youth and families.
As we recognize and acknowledge the history and the harms we have caused as a sector, address the overrepresentation of Black, Indigenous and LGBT2SQ+ children and youth in care, and honor our promise to Truth and reconciliation, we reaffirm our commitment as an agency to do the work, to embed equity in our work, and work in equitable ways. To do this, we will look internally, identify our oppressive practices and come to terms with areas and practices that need to shift to improve as an agency and create an environment that supports staff and moves us along our own equity journey.
There is much work to be done, but we anticipate and hope that we will continue to strengthen and enhance the community partnerships we have built and create new partnerships that will enable us to support the community and the children, youth and families in Hamilton.
Recently, I had the opportunity to meet with a colleague from Hamilton Pride. We identified opportunities to support Pride events, but also support ongoing work at the agency. We both saw value in working together and discussed the possibility of collaborating moving forward as partners. Although we haven’t clearly defined what this will look like, we are open to co-developing something that will move the work forward. As an agency, we welcome the opportunity to work alongside any other community organizations that are interested.
Family Support Pilot Program
When the partnership between Hamilton Children’s Aid Society and Empowerment Squared was initially developed, members of the Black community identified the need for a network system which would enhance their parenting and provide ongoing support. They asked for child welfare to acknowledge and value their cultural approach to parenting and to educate them on parenting in Canada.
That is where The Family Support Pilot Program comes in. This program has been created so that CAS and Empowerment Squared will work collaboratively to meet the needs of families. “By working together, we can expand the programs offered through Empowerment Squared to families working with CAS, and to the broader community,” says Leo Nupolu Johnson, Executive Director, Empowerment Squared.
The program will provide culturally aligned services with a goal of supporting newcomer children in their own homes and communities or assisting with reintegration of children back into their home or in their community when children need to come into care.
After working together with CAS and Empowerment Squared, families will know what community-based supports are available, how to access services in their community and feel more supported and more confident in navigating these systems. “Our hope is that after working with our organizations children and youth will thrive as parents feel validated and empowered in their parenting role,” says Veronica Bennett Shaw, Supervisor of Hamilton Children’s Aid Society’s Racialized and Newcomer Team. “The Black and racialized community will build confidence and create their own network of support for their families.”
Family Support Program Guiding Principles
- To recognize that each family is unique and possess diverse and valuable knowledge
- To respect where the families come from and their process of settling to a new country
- To provide an environment where parents feel supported and connected to other individuals with similar experiences
- To provide families with educational content that enhances their knowledge of the child welfare system
- To provide families with the necessary community supports to help prevent future CAS involvement
- To promote a professional relationship built on trust, respect, and transparency
- To provide an environment where families feel welcomed, engaged and comfortable to share
- To facilitate learning opportunities that are family oriented and culturally appropriate
- For families to gain actual knowledge that increases their confidence in navigating new systems
Committed to customer service
At Hamilton Children’s Aid Society, we are using our vision and strategic goals to help us develop a customer service model with principles and core competencies that will illustrate our passion and commitment to the safety and well-being of children.
This is an opportunity to redefine how clients and external parties experience the society whether it is through child protection services, collaborative services, community programs or simply through their interactions with us. It is important for us to have measurable goals for customer service to be accountable to those we work with.
Part of developing this model includes providing others with an equitable opportunity to share feedback. This will be done through listening tours, surveys and consultation with key stakeholders. It is important for us to understand how we can serve our customers better and to ensure the voices of those we work with, foster and kin families, volunteers, our community and our staff are heard.
The model will extend to the atmosphere within our building to create a welcoming environment. Our customer service principles and competencies will incorporate our key values such as equity, collaboration, and professional excellence. Part of this framework also includes a formalized process to hear complaints and concerns from families we work with. This wholistic approach to customer service will touch each aspect of the work we do and help us to continually improve the experience of those whose lives we touch.
In 2020, we revised the agency’s holiday program and launched Grateful Hearts – a program that reflects the diversity of our community, and has been made available to support all families, no matter how they celebrate. At Hamilton CAS, we are committed to equitable outcomes for the children, youth, and families we serve and serve families of diverse faiths and traditions. Funds raised were used to provide cards to families to empower them to make their own purchases based on their own needs.
The Grateful Hearts program:
- Empowered 293 families to make their own purchases for the holidays
- Provided families with $35,750 in PC and Giant Tiger gift cards
- Supported 450 adults and 724 children, supporting a total of 1,174 individuals
There is no better measure than direct feedback from the families we support. Families supported through Hamilton Children’s Aid Society’s Grateful Hearts program shared the following;
A heartfelt thank you to all our donors who made this program possible! Your generosity is appreciated by the children, youth and families that we serve. We look forward to continuing to expand this program to support families celebrating various holidays throughout the year.
2020-2021 Stats at a Glance
calls about the safety & well-being of a child
links to community services
Top 3 reasons for working with families:
caregiver with addictions/mental health challenges
child exposure to domestic violence
caregiver skill development
families supported on an ongoing basis
Families working voluntarily with us
Families supported in their home or in the community
Hamilton Children’s Aid Society has reported a surplus for the fiscal year. The surplus will be used to pay off the accumulated historical deficit from child welfare operations. We are in a strong financial position to ensure financial sustainability and to promote the agency’s strategic vision.
|2020-2021 (in '000s)||2019-2020 (in '000s)|
|Surplus (Deficit) for the year||3,657||(92)|
This is a summary of details in the 2020-21 audited financial statements prepared under Public Sector Accounting Standards (PSAS) and audited by MNP LLP. A full audited financial statement is available here.