social services 'schizophrenic': administrator
Sudbury - Social services providers in Sudbury must constantly balance the directions given to them by the city and the province, Harold Duff, Sudburys director of social services and the local administrator of Ontario Works, said Thursday at the inquest into the death of Kimberly Rogers.
Rogers, 40, died of an overdose of anti-depressants in August 2001 in her apartment during a heat wave. She was eight months pregnant and serving a six-month conditional sentence of house arrest for welfare fraud.
Her sentence allowed her to leave the apartment at any time for medical and religious appointments, and three hours on Wednesday to shop for necessities, or for reasons approved by her supervisor.
In a morning session that focused upon standard operating procedures within the local department, Duff suggested the agency he runs is slightly schizophrenic, as it must report to both provincial and city authorities, work with the federal government on homelessness issues, and even enforce policies it disagrees with.
Sudburys Ontario Works unit is one of 47 in the province, with a staff of 92 people and between 4000-5000 clients.
A total of $23 million of Duffs $100-million budget is provided by the City of Greater Sudbury, while the rest comes from the provincial government.
"I represent the province," said Duff. "Our relationship is more to the province than to the city."
Still, Duff testified he disagrees with some provincial policies. "We in Sudbury take (welfare fraud) very seriously," said Duff, adding: "We are not supportive of (the provinces) zero tolerance" policy towards welfare fraud.
While Rogers was given a three-month ban from collecting welfare that was later overturned by a successful court challenge, the penalty for fraud was changed recently by the province to an automatic lifetime ban.
"We did not see a major difficulty with the three-month ban," said Duff.
Duff was also shown a two-year old municipal document titled, For Action that criticized the lifetime bans "detrimental effects on young children," and noted the level of welfare fraud in Sudbury is relatively low three convictions in 1997, four convictions in 1998 and three convictions in 1999.
Duff said the city has not yet received a response from the province over its concerns.
The administrator conceded he does not possess the authority to ignore provincial statutes, but testified the agency has some leeway in its administration of local programs. Duff said his agency spends between $4,000-6,000 every year out of a $10,000 fund that is independent of Ontario Works on temporary drug benefit cards for clients who need them.
The city also offers pregnant mothers a nine-month special diet supplement of $43 a month, which begins in the fourth month of pregnancy.
Duff said that in spite of public perceptions, "we are not social workers," although there is "still a component of social work for what we do."
Asked about his agencys anti-fraud work, Duff testified the province categorizes clients into low-, medium- and high-risk slots. Red flags for possible fraud, he said, include changing addresses frequently, providing contact information that is separate from the clients place of residence, or paying a rent that is in excess of the allotted housing budget.
Under cross-examination, Duff said the termination of benefits is "a decision we dont take lightly," and the agency would still provide money to a parent convicted of fraud in order to take care of any children.
In a hypothetical case, he said a parent with three children who had previously received $1,200 a month might have to make do with $800, although Duff said Ontario Works would likely "engage other agencies" to help the family.
The inquest also heard from Yvonne Cholette, the Sudbury Director of Birthright, a non-profit organization that assists pregnant women. Cholette had visited Rogers apartment shortly before she died in August 2001, and was shown several photographs of it with clothes and plastic bags strewn about the floor.
Cholette testified Rogers was not a messy person. "I dont remember it having so many things around," said Cholette.
"Thats not the way she was."