Merger possible between area child services

Peggy Revell

Pending government approval, Family and Children’s Services of the Rainy River District and the Kenora-Patricia Child and Family Services may merge into one agency as of April 1, 2011.
The move comes after FACS, alongside dozens of Children’s Aid Societies across the province faced deficits ranging from hundreds of thousands of dollars into the millions last year.
Not seeing “an improvement on the horizon,” FACS began looking for some alternatives to remain financially viable, explained FACS Board of Directors president, Bob McGreevy, leading them to look for a partnership with the neighbouring Kenora-Patricia Child and Family Services.
FACS itself faced a deficit of just over $600,000 for their 2009-10 financial year before the province gave them one-time mitigation funding of $430,000 in February.
Several meetings were held with KPCFS, McGreevy noted, some of which included the Ministry of Children and Youth Services who were “supportive of this approach,” and the two agencies have developed a proposal which they are submitting to the Ministry to merge themselves 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,” McGreevy explained.
Approval could—optimistically­—come by the end of July, and if not by then, August, he estimated, and if it “unfolds as it currently exists” the merger would be complete by April 1, 2011.
This date is also the beginning of the agencies’ new financial year.
“One of the things that this proposal addresses is economy of scale,” explained McGreevy about how this merger would minimize some of the factors which caused the agency to face a funding shortage the previous year.
“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 added.
“We’re a little larger than Fort Frances, but provincially both of our agencies are on the small side,” commented KPCFS executive director Bill Leonard. “And small agencies have difficulty providing services in the areas of financial administration, infrastructure, and all of that kind of stuff because we’re smaller and we don’t have the budget.
“So our hope is that by working together we can share those areas, personnel, payroll, accounting all of that kind of stuff­­—by pooling those resources we can find some savings,” he said.
Also contributing to the financial crunch in last years budget was FACS having in its care children who required intensive—and expensive—care, 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.
“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 to deal with this year.”
But while the merger is set for April 1, that still leaves a financial year for both agencies to get through.
“Certainly, the Ministry’s grant structure hasn’t changed significantly this year from last year to the current year,” McGreevy said. “However, because we are putting together a proposal that, over the long-term we feel and the ministry feels will make us more viable, they are supportive of what we are doing.”
“So, I don’t think we’re going to be faced with the uncertainty that we had this past year,” he reasoned. “If we can save whatever money we can, in terms of operations for this year. I’m optimistic that we’ll have a better year in the current year than we did in the last year.”
As for jobs, McGreevy stated that the initial proposal to the Ministry doesn’t deal with jobs specifically.
“We’re in the process of developing an organizational design. but we’re not at a point yet were we can, any decisions have been made yet in that regard,” he said.
The proposed plan would see an “entirely new entity” created from the two agencies, noted McGreevy, including a new board.
“The services from both agencies will not be affected,” noted Leonard. “The Children’s Mental Health Services for Fort Frances and Atikokan, Rainy River will remain in those areas, and we have our own children’s mental health agency up here in Kenora that provides those services.”
“From a client’s perspective, they probably wouldn’t see any differences in terms of services and the staffing that they deal with,” he said.
As the two organizations plan the amalgamation, they are looking to “make best use of the strengths” of both locations, facilities and the people working for them, said McGreevy. “Our plan is one in which this will become a new entity and everyone is on an equal footing.”
One of these strengths for the Rainy River District Agency is the offering of integrated services to the community, he highlighted.
“We have child welfare and children’s services—which are mandatory in nature,” McGreevy explained. “But we also have what are called voluntary programs, where parents and children can receive support in a whole bunch of different ways—child development, and other things like that.”
These integrated services are not a part of the Kenora-Patricia program, he noted, but Rainy River District wants to retain them under the proposal.
“We view it as a strength, we’re going to work to ensure that in our district at least the integrated service delivery model is maintained,” he stressed.
“This is a proposal only, and it has not been approved. 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,” said McGreevy. “Those of us on the board now are quite optimistic that if done right, this could improve our service.”