DSB member lauds provincial plan to improve social services

ESPANOLA – A representative of the Manitoulin-Sudbury District Services Board (DSB) is optimistic that a provincial plan to work with municipal partners to improve social assistance is a positive step.

“The devil is always in the details, but I think this is a step in the right direction,” said Fern Dominelli, CAO of the DSB, reacting to an announcement by the province last week that Ontario is working with municipal partners to improve core social assistance. It is expected the new plan will ensure people are getting the right supports at the right time.

The Ontario government is working with its municipal partners to better connect people to the supports they need as the next step in the province’s plan to modernize the delivery of social assistance. As part of its plan, frontline workers will have more time to focus on connecting clients with supports such as job-readiness-programs, housing, childcare, skills training and mental health issues. At the same time, the province will gradually take on more program administration to make it easier for people to navigate the system.

“Ontario is facing deep economic challenges brought on by COVD-19,” said Todd Smith, minister of Children, Community and Social Services, in  a release. “Our government is taking action by developing a sustainable social assistance program that takes the administrative burden off local front-line workers, so they can spend more time helping their clients connect to community support that will get them ready for jobs.” 

As part of the recovery and renewal plan announced last fall the province worked with municipalities to design ‘Vision for Social Assistance Transformation’ to ensure people are getting the right supports at the right time so they can re-enter the workforce. The vision outlines plans for a new social assistance delivery model that allows frontline workers to focus on results for people rather than paperwork. Based on a 2018 study, caseworkers spent approximately a quarter of their day-about 400 hours a year-filing and organizing paper work.

Under the new delivery model, the province will focus on overseeing social assistance applications and payments, making it quick and easy for people to access the system while safeguarding program integrity. Currently, 47 agencies at the municipal/district social services administration level co-fund and manage delivery of social assistance in Ontario. Under the new program, municipal partners will use their expertise to deliver person-centred casework and knowledge of local supports to help people get back to work and access supports to stabilize their lives such as housing and health care.

Mr. Dominelli told the Recorder, “it’s a long term, multi-year plan. The first couple of years the province takes over management. Our staff manages life stabilization services so they can connect people with the right services.” 

In acknowledgement of the unique needs and priorities of First Nations communities, the Ontario government will continue working with First Nations partners towards a separate plan to renew social assistance for First Nations communities.

“Ontario finds itself at a significant crossroad,” said Minister Smith. “We must continue our work to renew the social assistance system during and after the COVID-19 pandemic, supporting the province’s economic recovery and helping the people of Ontario find financial independence and stability. Our plan for a transformed social assistance system will help us achieve that.”

Social assistance is currently a mix of provincial and municipal responsibilities divided by program, 47 delivery agencies at the municipal/district social services administration board level deliver the Ontario Works program and the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services runs the Ontario Disability Support Program.