The Ontario Looking after Children (OnLAC) Project (2000-present)
In the province of Ontario, as in other jurisdictions, child welfare has shifted from an emphasis on outputs (the quantity of services delivered, such as the number of children in foster care) to outcomes (the benefits produced by these services, such as the proportion of young people in foster care who graduate from secondary or post-secondary education). Accordingly, the Ontario Ministry of Children and Youth Services (MCYS) mandated in 2006 that the outcome-monitoring approach developed by the Ontario Looking after Children (OnLAC) project be implemented in local Children’s Aid Societies (CASs) across the province. At present, 43 of the 48 CASs in Ontario use the main OnLAC tool to assess young people’s service needs and monitor their outcomes, namely, the most recent (2016) version of the second Canadian edition of the Assessment and Action Record (AAR-C2-2016). The young person’s child welfare worker completes the AAR in a conversational interview with the child or youth (if the latter has been in care for a year or more) and with his or her primary caregiver.
Looking After Children is a developmental approach to child welfare services that originated in England and Wales as a response to concerns about the quality of the outcomes experienced by some young people in care. The Looking After Children model aimed from the beginning to evaluate service outcomes and was guided by several main principles. First, children and young people in out-of-home care are entitled to the same quality of parenting as that experienced by the children of loving, responsible parents in the community. Second, a strong partnership is required among all the adults involved in the “corporate” or substitute parenting of looked after children - biological families, foster families, social workers, and other professionals - to meet the children’s needs fully. Third, interventions to promote optimal outcomes among looked after children and youth need to be based on knowledge and research in child development. Finally, Looking After Children has a major focus on promoting the young person’s well-being and success by setting outcome targets on the same level as those for young people of the same age in the general population, even if the needs of young people in care may often be greater. The approach assumes that positive work is always possible, even in less than ideal circumstances.
The OnLAC project aims to improve young people’s positive adaptation and outcomes in eight major areas of development: health, education, identity, social and family relations, social presentation, emotional and behavioural development, self-care skills, and developmental assets. The project currently assesses the developmental needs and outcomes of approximately 6,000 young people in care in Ontario each year, from infants to young adults. The province of Quebec also uses the French-language version of the AAR, on a voluntary rather than mandated basis. The OnLAC project produces a publicly available report each year as well as confidential reports to each of the 43 participating CASs. In addition, the project provides three well-being performance indicators each year as part of the Ontario accountability framework: the young person’s educational progress, perceptions of the quality of relationships with caregivers, and level of developmental assets. The project has also generated many peer-reviewed journal publications, book chapters, and PhD theses.