Brant Family And Children’s Services Spent $865K Meant For Foster Kids’ Education On Its Own Costs

Workers stand outside a Brant Family and Children's Services building in a 2018 Facebook photo.

TORONTO — A children’s aid society used $865,000 that was meant for foster children’s education savings to cover operating expenses amid a fight with the Ontario government over funding.

Foster agencies in Ontario are required to invest money equivalent to a federal child care tax credit into Registered Education Savings Plans (RESPs) for children in their care.

Brant Family and Children’s Services (Brant FACS), the children’s aid society in Brantford, Ont.,  had 317 children in its care in the last quarter of the 2018/2019 fiscal year. Agencies are required to add $160 per month into an RESP for children under the age of six and $60 per month for kids between six and 17.

Brant FACS is $865,000 behind in its contributions because it used the money to cover operating costs, according to a review of the agency done by the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services. 

It is unclear when the agency stopped contributing to the children’s RESPs.

Children’s aid societies are funded by the provincial government to investigate allegations of child abuse and neglect and place children who cannot be cared for at home with foster families or adoptive parents.

Brant more than $1 million short every year

Brant FACS ran a $1.8-million deficit on its $23.8-million annual budget last year, the report says. Its total debt is $3.5 million.

Ontario started its review of the agency this spring, before a dramatic development brought the agency’s fight for more funding into the public eye.

In March, then-executive director Andy Koster slammed the government’s funding model as inadequate. He had just laid off 26 of his staff members in an attempt to save money. 

Four months later, the entire volunteer board of Brant FACS quit in protest.

“We believe that government underfunding has put the safety of our community’s vulnerable children at risk,” board president Paul Whittam said in a press release at the time.

Koster was then placed on leave and replaced with a supervisor appointed by Minister Todd Smith. 

We believe that government underfunding has put the safety of our community’s vulnerable children at risk.Paul Whittam

The supervisor, Bernadette Gallagher, did not respond to HuffPost Canada’s request for comment until after this article was published.

“The report recognizes that Brant FACS has highly committed and competent staff and strong collaboration with the community,” Gallagher said in an email. 

“We take the report’s recommendations seriously.”

A spokeswoman for the ministry said that the government has been working with Brant FACS to see how they can operate within their budget since 2015. 

“To further assist the society, the ministry completed an operational review to help the board of directors in managing long-term strategic financial planning,” Genevieve Oger said by email. 

“The review examined all aspects of organizational governance, service delivery and financial management to steer the society on a path of continuous improvement and sustainability, including addressing the agency’s deficit.”

Oger did not acknowledge HuffPost’s questions about the children’s RESPs.

Minister of Children, Community and Social Services Todd Smith is seen outside the Legislative chamber at Queen's Park in Toronto on May 27, 2019. Smith appointed a supervisor to take over Brant Family and Children's Services in July.

In previous interviews with HuffPost, staff and board members have said that factors outside of the agency’s control have stretched their resources. 

They’ve said that while the opioid epidemic leaves more children in care, their funding has been cut disproportionately as cases and resources are transferred to a new Indigenous-led agency. They also said that last-minute directives from the ministry made them scramble to cover costs they had expected the government to pay. 

Since Gallagher took over the agency, staff, board members and the former executive director have not responded to HuffPost’s requests for interviews or have declined to comment.

Ministry recommends ways to find savings

In general, the ministry’s review found that Brant FACS staff are working hard to support families in the community. But ministry staff raised a number of issues and made recommendations on how the agency can save money. 

Staff are spending too much time on work that isn’t directly related to child protection, the report suggests. Examples include collaboration with the local food bank and driving parents to mental health appointments. 

“While the functions of a society include providing services ‘for the prevention of circumstances requiring the protection of children,’ the society would need to consider how to manage such services along with their child protection functions within its funding allocation,” the review says.

The review makes other recommendations, like that Brant FACS should consider getting rid of some office space, maximize revenue from tax credits and review its mileage policy for employees. 

Board rebuffs review

Before the board resigned in July, members complained that the review was unfair in a letter that was sent to the ministry and obtained by HuffPost.

Staff members were barred from discussing the ministry’s funding formula when they were interviewed, the letter says. 

“This meant that from the outset, the review could only focus on additional reductions to meet a balanced budget,” board members said. 

“Expenses are only one side of the equation. As such, review findings would be similar to marriage counselling being given with only one spouse participating.”

This story has been updated with comment from Bernadette Gallagher.

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By The Wall of Law September 12, 2019 Off

Johnson suspends UK Parliament after latest Brexit defeat

LONDON — Prime Minister Boris Johnson has succeeded in his plan to suspend Britain’s rebellious Parliament for five weeks, but he has achieved little else in his first prolonged jousting with legislators determined to prevent a no-deal Brexit.

The simmering showdown between Johnson and Parliament over Brexit came to a head as lawmakers delivered three defeats to the government’s plans for leaving the European Union, before being sent home early Tuesday for a contentious five-week suspension of the legislature.

In a session that ran well past midnight, Parliament ordered the government to release private communications about its Brexit plans and rejected Johnson’s call for a snap election to break the political deadlock.

Parliament was then suspended — or prorogued — at the government’s request until Oct. 14, a drastic move that gives Johnson a respite from rebellious lawmakers as he plots his next move.

Opponents accuse him of trying to avoid democratic scrutiny. What is usually a solemn, formal prorogation ceremony erupted into raucous scenes as opposition lawmakers in the House of Commons chamber shouted “Shame on you” and held up signs reading “Silenced.”

Commons Speaker John Bercow expressed his displeasure at Parliament’s suspension, saying “this is not a standard or normal prorogation.”

“It’s one of the longest for decades and it represents an act of executive fiat,” he said.

The prime minister has had a turbulent week since Parliament returned from its summer break on Sept. 3. He kicked 21 lawmakers out of the Conservative group in Parliament after they sided with the opposition, and saw two ministers quit his government — one of them his own brother.

Parliament’s suspension ended a day of blows to the embattled Johnson. First an opposition-backed measure designed to stop Britain from crashing out of the EU on Oct. 31 without a divorce deal became law after receiving the formal assent of Queen Elizabeth II. The law compels the government to ask the EU for a three-month delay if no deal has been agreed by Oct. 19.

Johnson says the country’s delayed exit must happen at the end of October, with or without a divorce agreement to smooth the way. But many lawmakers fear a no-deal Brexit would be economically devastating, and are determined to stop him.

“I will not ask for another delay,” Johnson said. But he has few easy ways out of it. His options — all of them extreme — include disobeying the law, which could land him in court or even prison, and resigning so that someone else would have to ask for a delay.

Legislators also demanded the government release, by Wednesday, emails and text messages among aides and officials relating to suspending Parliament and planning for Brexit amid allegations that the suspension is being used to circumvent democracy.

Under parliamentary rules, the government is obliged to release the documents.

In a statement, the government said it would “consider the implications of this vote and respond in due course.”

Then, early Tuesday, lawmakers rebuffed, for a second time, Johnson’s request for an early election, which he said was “the only way to break the deadlock in the House.”

Opposition parties voted against the measure or abstained, denying Johnson the two-thirds majority he needed. They want to make sure a no-deal departure is blocked before agreeing to an election.

“We’re eager for an election, but as keen as we are we, we are not prepared to inflict the disaster of a no deal on our communities, our jobs, our services, or indeed our rights,” Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said.

Johnson acknowledged Monday that a no-deal Brexit “would be a failure of statecraft” for which he would be partially to blame.

On a visit to Dublin, Johnson said he would “overwhelmingly prefer to find an agreement” and believed a deal could be struck by Oct. 18, when leaders of all 28 EU countries hold a summit in Brussels.

The comments marked a change of tone, if not substance, for Johnson, who is accused by opponents of driving Britain at full-tilt toward a cliff-edge Brexit.

Meanwhile, Bercow, whose control of business in the House of Commons has made him a central player in the Brexit drama, announced he would step down after a decade in the job.

The colorful speaker, famous for his loud ties and even louder cries of “Order!” during raucous debates, told lawmakers he will quit the same day Britain is due to leave the EU, Oct. 31.

Throughout the three years since Britain voted to leave the EU, Bercow has angered the Conservative government by repeatedly allowing lawmakers to seize control of Parliament’s agenda to steer the course of Brexit.

He said he was simply fulfilling his role of being the “backbenchers’ backstop” and letting Parliament have its say.

“Throughout my time as speaker, I have sought to increase the relative authority of this legislature, for which I will make absolutely no apology,” he said.

___

Associated Press writer Gregory Katz contributed to this story.

___

Follow AP’s full coverage of Brexit and British politics at: https://ift.tt/2QQDXv6

Jill Lawless, The Associated Press

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By The Wall of Law September 10, 2019 Off

California governor signs vaccine bills he demanded

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed bills Monday to crack down on doctors who write fraudulent medical exemptions for school children’s vaccinations.

The Democratic governor acted without comment less than an hour after lawmakers sent him changes he demanded as a condition of approving the bills.

Legislators passed the second of two measures as protests by hundreds of emotional opponents boiled over, with dissenters delaying Senate debate for nearly two hours by shouting and pounding on walls and doors.

Others were detained by police earlier while blocking entrances to the Capitol as lawmakers scrambled to act on bills before their scheduled adjournment on Friday.

Lawmakers sent Newsom the initial bill last week aimed at doctors who sell fraudulent medical exemptions. Democratic Sen. Richard Pan of San Francisco agreed to also carry follow-up legislation that among other things would give school children grace periods that could last several years on existing medical exemptions.

The two bills are needed to “keep children safe from preventable diseases,” Pan said.

Protesters forced delays in both the Assembly and Senate. They unfurled an upside-down American flag from the Senate’s public gallery in a traditional signal of distress and chanted “My kids, my choice” and “We will not comply.”

They later returned to the Assembly, where they continued shouting “Kill the bill” and “Protect our children” as lawmakers considered other legislation.

Republicans in both chambers objected that there were no public committee hearings before the Assembly approved the measure with a 43-14 vote and the Senate followed on a 27-11 roll call.

“This goes past vaccines and is again a major government overreach,” said Republican Assemblyman Devon Mathis of Visalia, adding that, “Our medically fragile children are what are at stake.”

Newsom demanded a phase-out period for medical exemptions similar to one allowed when California eliminated personal belief vaccine exemptions in 2015. A kindergartener with an exemption could retain it through 6th grade, for instance, while a 7th grader could be exempted through high school.

The companion bill also would allow officials to revoke any medical exemptions written by a doctor who has faced disciplinary action.

The bill would make it clear that enforcement will start next year, meaning doctors who previously granted a high number of medical exemptions won’t face scrutiny.

Republican Sen. John Moorlach of Costa Mesa grew emotional as he recalled a developmentally disabled cousin who died at a young age.

“That’s what these people fear,” Moorlach said of protesters. “We’ve got to hit the pause button.”

Republican Sen. Jeff Stone of Temecula asked protesters to “watch your democratic process with respect” after a shouting opponent was removed from the gallery by officers. B

He also said it is unfair to label dissenters as “extremists” and “antivaxers” when they are concerned about the health and welfare of their children.

Several opponents of the bill were detained before the legislative session as they blocked entrances to the Capitol, including two women who briefly chained themselves to outside doorways.

About 200 opponents earlier filled the hallway in front of the governor’s office, asking Newsom to veto both vaccine bills. They later chanted “Where is Newsom?” and “Veto the bill” from the Senate gallery before leaving when they were threatened with being arrested for an unlawful protest.

___

Associated Press Writer Adam Beam contributed to this story.

Don Thompson, The Associated Press

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By The Wall of Law September 10, 2019 Off