Date Published: Wednesday, October 24, 2012
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The province’s financial difficulties have hit Family, Youth and Child Services of Muskoka.
Marty Rutledge, executive director for the children’s mental health and child protection agency, said his organization has had to make cuts in the wake of provincial decisions that caused a seven to eight per cent shortfall in the agency’s annual budget.
Those cuts, said Rutledge, include contract suspensions for three employees and pay reductions for managers as well as cuts to administrative, building maintenance and non-mandatory training costs. The contract suspensions affected two administrative staff members and one frontline worker.
“We’ve trimmed ourselves as much as we can, but even that was not enough. Ultimately, we did have to dip into our human resource side,” he said.
Rutledge said the funding envelop for child welfare services in the province has grown from about $500 million to about $1.4 billion over the last decade.
But given the financial strain the government is experiencing with a $14 billion deficit and mounting debt, the province made the decision to withhold inflationary funding increases for children’s aid agencies. And it took an additional 2.1 per cent of each agency’s funding and placed it in an emergency reserve that is accessible only under burden of proof.
These decisions are what caused the seven to eight per cent shortfall in Family, Youth and Child Services of Muskoka’s budget this year.
The agency’s budget is about $10 million a year for both its children’s mental health and child protection arms.
Rutledge said the cuts would have made a modest impact, if any, on the organization’s ability to provide services to the community. But future cuts may have a more noticeable effect, he said.
However, he said he recognizes what a difficult situation the province is facing. He called the provincial debt a “sustainability issue of grand proportion.”
And he understood the agency’s need to tighten the purse strings in light of those difficulties.
“As a front-line organization, we realize we have a role to play in helping the government become better stewards of the taxpayers’ dollar,” he said. “Having our budget rolled back creates tremendous pressures for us, it’s a challenge that I’d rather not have, frankly, but I also understand we have a part to play in helping Ontario.”
To mitigate the impact of the budget restrictions, Rutledge said the agency is developing community partnerships to reduce service redundancy in the community as well as its financial needs.
The agency has partnered with the District of Muskoka in a shared purchasing arrangement for items such as office supplies. The two organizations are sharing office space in Gravenhurst as well.
The agency has also employed one of the district’s former Ontario Works clients as a custodian for its offices to save on cleaning costs while providing a community member with wages and benefits.
“We’re trying to find money to put back into frontline services and sustain frontline services by becoming better managers of the resources we have,” said Rutledge.
Rick Williams, commissioner of community services for the district, said Family, Youth and Child Services of Muskoka’s budget restraints are putting more pressure on the district to find efficiencies and service partnerships not only with the agency, but other community organizations as well.
“It accelerates the pressure to bring about some form of co-operation and collaboration, which is probably a good thing,” said Williams.
Collaboration increases the likelihood of keeping services such as those provided by the agency in the region, he said.“You have to have optimism in the future of kids and you have to have optimism in the capacity of parents to meet the needs of children. Sometimes parents need the help in getting there, sometimes they don’t have the right skills, sometimes they don’t have the right resources,” said Williams. “You have to believe that’s the possible outcome – that children can grow and parents can help them. That’s more likely if the services are nearby, not in Barrie.”
Family, Youth and Child Services of Muskoka’s children’s mental health division opened 749 new client files in 2011 while its child protection division serves about 1,120 families and investigates about 515 new cases per year. The agency also served 143 children in its foster care system in 2011.
(Please note that CMHO staff does not reply to comments that are posted on news stories.)