Area child services eyeing merger

Peggy Revell

FORT FRANCES—Family & Children’s Services of the Rainy River District and the Kenora-Patricia Child & Family Services may merge into one if the provincial government approves a proposal put forth by both agencies.
The move comes after FACS, along with dozens of Children’s Aid Societies across Ontario, faced deficits ranging from hundreds of thousands of dollars into the millions this past financial year.
FACS itself faced a deficit of just over $600,000 before receiving one-time mitigation funding of $430,000 from the province back in February.
But not seeing “an improvement on the horizon,” FACS began looking for some alternatives to remain financially viable, explained Bob McGreevy, president of the board of directors.
This led the board to look for a partnership with the neighbouring Kenora-Patricia service.
Over several meetings, some of which included the Ministry of Children and Youth Services, McGreevy said the two agencies developed a proposal to merge into one single organization.
“It’s a fairly detailed and comprehensive plan, and we will be fine-tuning the plan for the next several months before we get final approval,” he noted.
If approved by the province, and if implementation rolls out as proposed, the merger would be take effect April 1, 2011.
“One of the things that this proposal addresses is economy of scale,” said McGreevy, referring to how the merge would financially help the agencies.
“We are the smallest child welfare agency in the province, as such our administrative costs, our operating costs, are fairly high because we are small and we cover large geographical distances,” he remarked.
By combining with another agency, FACS is anticipating to become more efficient through such things as shared operational costs.
Also contributing to the financial crunch in last year’s budget was FACS having in its care children who required intensive and expensive care in an institution, unlike previous years.
“Because a merged organization is financially larger, it is better able to deal with unexpected expenses that come on,” McGreevy reasoned.
“And that’s what really got us into trouble last year—we found ourselves faced with some extremely high costs that were not predictable and we had to struggle to deal with those,” he added.
“In a larger organization, with deeper pockets, then we’re hopeful that we won’t be faced with the same ups and downs that we had deal with this year.”
As far as jobs are concerned, McGreevy said the initial proposal to the ministry does not deal with jobs specifically.
“We’re in the process of developing an organizational design but we’re not at a point yet [where] any decisions have been made yet in that regard,” he stressed.
McGreevy did say the proposed plan would see an “entirely new entity” created from the two agencies, including a new board.
“As we plan, we’re looking to make best use of the strengths that each of our locations has and capitalize on the strengths, both in terms of the facilities, in terms of the people that we have working for us,” he explained, citing how FACS offers integrated services along with the mandatory child welfare and children’s services.
And even though the Kenora-Patricia Child & Family Services does not offer integrated services (voluntary programs where parents and children receive support), these services will remain in the district after the merger, McGreevy vowed.
“This is a proposal only, and it has not been approved,” he stressed. “However, we do feel that when it is fully implemented, that the people of our district will be receiving services certainly as good, or hopefully better, than the services that we’re able to provide now.
“Those of us on the board now are quite optimistic that if done right, this could improve our service,” McGreevy pledged.
(Fort Frances Daily Bulletin)