FACS merger moving ahead

Peggy Revell

A merger between Family and Children Services of Rainy River District and Kenora-Patricia Child and Family Services now hinges on the provincial government picking up the tab for the amalgamation and the debt load of FACS.
The proposed amalgamate has received “approval in principle” from the Ontario Ministry of Children and Youth Services, FACS board chair Bob McGreevy, who also is leader of the amalgamation leadership team, said at a press conference held last Thursday morning.
While the Kenora board has approved a motion to begin formal amalgamation talks, its executive director said it comes with the caveat that this new organization not be burdened with deficit or debt of FACS, or the cost of amalgamation.
Bill Leonard said the estimated one-time cost of the amalgamation is around $900,000 so far, though noting the province hasn’t agreed to an exact figure and wants the two organizations to work to reduce that figure.
He said almost half of those costs come from the potential legal fees of having two different unions, based upon estimations from an “experienced labour attorney.”
“If things go swimmingly, which is always my hope, then that cost would be lessened by a large amount,” Leonard remarked. “But plan for the worst, hope for the best, I guess that’s been our strategy.”
The move to amalgamate came after FACS, along with numerous other Children’s Aid Societies across the province, faced a significant deficit this past financial year.
Despite one-time mitigating funding from the province, McGreevy said FACS still will face a deficit of around $900,000 up until the amalgamation—set for April 1, 2011.
“So our hope is that the ministry will find some solution to get rid of that $900,000 and then as of April 1, the combined agency will be able to live within its means,” he added.
Leonard said annual savings every year going forward following the amalgamation will be an estimated $400,000.
“[The province] made a commitment that whatever savings we realize, we get to keep—that we can’t expect any more money but we’re not going to lose any money,” he noted.
No name for the new organization has been chosen yet.
The amalgamation also will mean a combined budget of $17 million—$12 million from the KPCFS, $3 million in funding for the child welfare portion of FACS’ child welfare in Rainy River District, and $2 million for FACS’ integrated services (i.e., children’s mental health).
An estimated 250 children will be under the care of the new organization.
And once amalgamated, Leonard vowed the new organization will operate within the existing funding allocations from the government—pointing to how an “economy of scale” will kick in with the larger organization.
He also said there will be no full-time union layoffs and no full-time management layoffs because of the amalgamation.
“There are a number of positions that have been affected, but we’ve been able to re-assign them to other places with the organization or have offered a re-assignment,” Leonard explained, noting the combined staffing levels are estimated to be at 250 full-time and 100 casual workers.
Leonard himself will remain as executive director, with FACS executive director Vik Nowak becoming director of service for the new organization.
Changes to the “back-end services”—finance directors, executive directors, and personnel directors—are where the “major savings” will come from, said Leonard, stressing there will be no lessening of services or front-line staff by either agency.
Because FACS is an integrated agency which provides voluntary services and children’s mental health services (unlike KPCFS), these, too, will remain in operation following the amalgamation.
“As we move forward, there is an understanding that FACS will continue to operate as an integrated wing of the larger organization—and there’s a commitment from K-P that there will be no leakage of those services to the north,” said McGreevy.
“The government funds Fort Frances, Atikokan, and Rainy River to provide children’s mental health services to that area, and that’s where those services will remain.
“There will be no drift upward,” he stressed.
As well, since KPCFS has a number of programs which FACS doesn’t offer, there is the potential for these services to be extended southwards, Leonard said.
“Our agency entered into this discussion with some trepidation because, of course, we were in a financial deficit and we are small,” admitted McGreevy.
“But as the plan has evolved, our staff, I think, is feeling comforted in that no front-line staff will lose their positions and the level of service will be maintained, or hopefully enhanced,” he added.
“I think the FACS agency, as a whole, is looking forward to this process,” McGreevy continued.
“They appreciate the fact that they will have the opportunity to be involved in designing and developing the new organization, and we’re keen to get started,” he enthused.
Going forward, the two boards and organizations have “identified a number of project teams that range the gamut of all the functions of both agencies,” noted Leonard.
“Staff from all levels of both organizations will make up those project teams, and the form of the new organization will largely be based upon the recommendations that come out of those teams.”
These include family services, resources, residential services for children, human resources, information technology, finance, and more.
“One of those work teams will be made up of board members, and their responsibility will be to develop a new governance structure that will include bylaws and representation in all manners of things related to board governance,” McGreevy said.
Leonard acknowledged it is possible for the proposed amalgamation to fall through if the province chooses not to pick up the costs for it.
But he also pointed to the province’s Commission for the Sustainability of Child Welfare’s recent report that stated there needs to be a reduction in the number of Children’s Aid Societies in Ontario.
“Working with the ministry over the last couple of months, we feel confident that they want this to succeed,” Leonard reasoned.
“So we’re hopeful that they will find whatever resolution that they need to find to help this come to fruition.”
“As this process began, we recognized, from the FACS point of view, that we could either do this voluntarily, and retain some control over the end result, or we could resist the program but be ultimately forced to amalgamate,” noted McGreevy.
“And we chose the former because we wanted to retain as much control over the end product as we could,” he remarked.