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ONTARIO AIDE HAILS PUSH TO PUT CHILD'S WELFARE ABOVE FAMILY'S

One year after the inquests into the abuse and deaths of 10 children, Ontario's chief coroner said most of his recommendations to put child safety above the rights of families have been implemented.

Dr. James Young said more than half of the 428 recommendations made by six juries studying the deaths of the children have been put into practice, with the rest to follow shortly.

"We are on the right path toward much better protection of children in Ontario," he said in his review of the juries' recommendations. "I could not find a major item that has not been covered."

Pressure on the provincial government and child-welfare agencies has been mounting since Young ordered inquests into the tragic death of 10 children, who died despite the intervention of children's aid workers.

The juries heard gut-wrenching tales about children such as 22-month-old Shanay Johnson, who was beaten to death by her mother; 6-year-old Jennifer Kovalskyj-England, who was stabbed to death by her mother's boyfriend; 3-year-old Kasandra Hislop, who was fatally beaten by her stepmother; and Margaret and Wilson Kasonde, who were shot to death by their father.

In all cases, children's aid workers knew of problems in the families but were forced by legislation to return the children to their abusers because the evidence to remove them wasn't strong enough or because the interests of the "caregivers" were given more priority than the children's safety.

As a result of the inquiries, sweeping changes have been made to the province's Child Protection Act, Young said.

The province also has promised to increase the funding for child protection by the equivalent of nearly $60 million in U.S. dollars in stages through next year. The way the money is distributed also will be changed to reflect the actual number of cases each agency handles, rather than dividing the funds according to the number of agencies seeking money.

Other changes include lowering the threshold for considering a child at risk by allowing agency intervention when a child is "likely to be harmed," rather than "substantially at risk," and when emotional abuse of the child is "serious" instead of "severe."

Currently, if a family cited for abusive behavior moves to a new province, its file remains behind. Under a new database system being developed, those files will be available for scrutiny by workers in any province.

Other developments concerning child welfare in Canada include a move by child-welfare advocates to have an Ontario court declare spanking and other physical punishments unconstitutional and efforts to reform Canada's divorce act to give more access to fathers.

Current law allows parents to use "reasonable" physical force against a child, but the meaning of "reasonable" has been left to the judge.

The Canadian Foundation for Children, Youth and the Law has asked the courts to give children the same protection as adults from assault.

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