Executive Director, CASO
Message from the Executive Director
With the end of the global pandemic in sight, the Children’s Aid Society of Ottawa (CASO) stands as a strong pillar for children, youth and families. Presenting our annual report for 2022-2023, we proudly highlight our achievements and the improvements we have made over the last year for the children, youth and families we serve. Yet the lingering impact of COVID-19 on the child welfare system remains significant.
In the face of these challenges, the theme of this year’s report, Empowering Youth Through Community Connections, takes centre stage. Children and youth have an integral role to play in finding solutions to the challenges we face. They are our current and future innovators, leaders, climate activists and peacemakers. We have a responsibility to ensure their future is one filled with promise.
Moving forward, our mission is to provide resources to strengthen support systems, alleviate burdens and aid the most vulnerable. Our post-pandemic journey is one of recovery. We must nurture internal assets – emotions and parental health – and consider environmental factors such as inclusion, youth involvement, and social conditions for holistic wellbeing.
Below are key insights from a Statistics Canada survey, revealing struggles parents faced during the pandemic:
- Social isolation: 71 per cent were extremely worried about their children and youths’ opportunities to socialize.
- Screen time: 64 per cent expressed concern with the amount of screen time of children and youth.
- Loneliness and isolation: 54 per cent were worried about their children and youth experiencing loneliness or isolation.
- Mental health: 46 per cent expressed worries about their child or youth’s general mental health and 40 per cent about their school year and academic success. Another 61 per cent of respondents reported being very or extremely concerned about managing their child or youth’s behaviours, stress levels, anxiety and emotions.
Notably, young people themselves reported significant challenges with unstable housing, restricted access to healthy foods, poverty, mental health and addictions concerns, struggles with eating disorders and suicidality, racism and entrenched colonial systems.
Aligned with this theme, our report showcases accomplishments in direct response to some of the challenges children and youth have reported. The Pod Model for Learning Program, GPS Connect program and advocacy efforts by the youth equity groups are examples of how CASO is striving for its reach goals, which seek to ensure that:
- No child or youth will grow up in our care system
- No child or youth will exit our care into loneliness
- Families feel empowered to make the best decisions for their child
Maintaining an ongoing focus on the needs of children, youth and families, and being able to address those needs through learning and change, encapsulates the year ahead.
I want to thank the leadership team for their steadfast and resilient approach to decision-making, problem-solving and the ongoing smooth operations of the organization. I would also like to express my deep appreciation to the board for their unwavering support and concern this past year. Of course, my heartfelt thanks go to our dedicated staff, without whom the accomplishments referenced throughout this report would not have been possible. I am incredibly proud of each member of our staff for their ongoing leadership in tackling some of our most pressing challenges such as labour shortages, inflation, complex needs and health and social system vulnerabilities. The initiatives and outcomes outlined in this report are a testament to our collective ability to make a meaningful impact on outcomes for children, youth and families.
Message from the Board Chair
The Board of Directors takes immense pride in the accomplishments of the Children’s Aid Society of Ottawa over the past year. Although the past three years have had challenges with the pandemic, the occupation and resource constraints, the Society has emerged stronger from these challenges and is making progress on tackling the systemic issues of child welfare, including the over-representation of Black, racialized and Indigenous communities, with better data and new service models.
During the past year, we marked a significant milestone: the mid-term review of our 2020–2025 strategic plan. Launched in 2020, the five-year strategy commits to an increased focus on equity, diversity, inclusion, and on Reconciliation. We are currently mid-way through our strategic journey, with substantial work ahead, and the certainty of new challenges. To this end, we held an in-person strategic retreat in the spring, informed by community partners, to envisage and plan for the years ahead.
As we look ahead, the Board of Directors remains steadfast in its commitment to building trust and collaboration with those we serve. We nurture a culture of learning, actively seeking and amplifying diverse perspectives. The Board received direct input from CASO’s youth group, outlining what needed to change and what would make a difference to them. To these young individuals, we pledge a steadfast commitment to prioritize your perspectives as we carve a brighter path forward.
As we champion the welfare of children, youth and their families, we must balance service to the community with addressing the needs and hopes of multiple stakeholders, all while managing financial resource constraints. The Board continues to promote a necessary paradigm shift: prioritizing the safety of children and youth within their families, not apart from them.
In closing, I would like to thank the members of the Board for your dedication, wisdom and commitment to the Society’s mission, with particular mention of those members whose terms on the board have ended in the past year. Although we are always sorry to see members move on, and celebrate their many contributions, regular Board turnover is an element of good governance. Through these transitions, we continue to ensure that the Board has the experience, skills and expertise to provide oversight to the organization, and make progress in reflecting the communities we serve. Finally, to Kelly, the leadership team and every CASO staff member, on behalf of the Board, I express my deepest appreciation and pride in your exceptional work and all that has been accomplished over the past year.
– Sheila Niven, Board Chair