January 14, 2011 – In Ontario, thousands of grandparents provide much-needed care for their grandchildren, when the parents are incapable of doing so. The Temporary Care Program (TCA), which was developed by the Ministry of Community and Social Services (MCSS), assists these grandparents by providing them with financial support.
In September 2010 alone, there were 4313 TCA cases receiving assistance. However, three years ago, the MCSS made changes to its TCA policy by making eligibility criteria more stringent by focusing narrowly on what constitutes as “temporary care”. Unfortunately, this change led to many grandparents having their TCA benefits terminated, thereby jeopardizing the ability of grandparents to provide for grandchildren in need.
One of these affected grandparents was 75 year old Marika Vandewater who provided care to her 15-year old grandson, while his father recovered from a drug addiction. In her case, the MCSS argued that because the grandson had been in Vandewater’s care for more than 10 years, this was no longer considered temporary. Vandewater appealed to the Social Benefits Tribunal and two years later, on January 6, 2010, her benefits were reinstated. In Vandewater’s case, the Tribunal ruled that the using length of time in care as an eligibility criterion alone should not be as important as considering whether the situation continued to be temporary or had in fact become permanent.
Most recently on December 1st, 2010, a Tribunal decision was made in regards to another grandparent who lost her TCA benefits while providing care for her granddaughter. 67 year old Wendy O’Riley appealed to the Tribunal and had her benefits reinstated.
In the decision, the Ministry used their interpretation of “settled Intent” to treat the child as one’s own to say that the care arrangement is no longer temporary and thereby deny the allowance. The Tribunal in the O’Reily case disagreed with the Ministry’s interpretation of the facts and ruled in favour of the grandmother, reinstating her allowance. Specifically, the Tribunal pointed out that the custody order was interim, not permanent, gave little weight to the fact that the arrangements were “ongoing” and that the girl had her own bedroom. More weight was given to the efforts the parents made to reintegrate her with the family. Again applying a “broad and liberal interpretation” to the facts taken as a whole, the Tribunal found that there was no settled intent to treat the child as her own and the Ministry had no justification in cutting of the allowance.
Like O’Riley, many of the grandparents who provide care for their grandchildren live on small and fixed incomes. Having crucial benefits such as the TCA cancelled, only places them under greater financial and emotional stress and does nothing to help the grandchildren.
To date, the MCSS has not changed its policy directives to reflect the Tribunal’s decisions in the above two cases. As a result, other grandparents are still obliged to go through a costly appeal process in order to reinstate any benefits they lost.
Keywords: caregivers, seniors