Virtual Library of Newspaper Articles

Problems plague Family Responsibility Office, forcing families onto welfare

National Post, Canadian Press Keith Leslie, June 17, 2004

TORONTO -- Failures by Ontario's Family Responsibility Office to properly enforce court-ordered support payments are pushing some single parents and their children onto welfare, Ombudsman Clare Lewis reported Thursday.

''A good many spouses and children are not receiving money they need, and they are vulnerable,'' Lewis said as he released his annual report.

''I have great concerns about the impact on single parents with children who often float into poverty.''

Lewis said there are $1.3 billion in support arrears, unchanged from last year, that remain unpaid to families through the office.

''A significant amount of that is owed to the government of Ontario because they've had to hand out social assistance to cover it,'' said Lewis. The Ontario government will claw back welfare payments made to the families once they finally get the money they are owed by the FRO.

However, Lewis said the FRO runs ''an equal opportunity error-prone program,'' noting many men who've been meeting their court-ordered obligations have trouble getting the FRO to stop taking payments when it's supposed to.

''They can't stop the tap,'' said Lewis.

''There's been a failure to enforce and a failure to stop enforcement.''

Lewis blames most of the problems at the FRO on the fact the agency still doesn't have a computer system able to support the payment program and case management, a problem he said the government promised to fix as far back as 2001.

''Well, that's then and this is now and it hasn't yet occurred,'' said Lewis.

''There's human error and there's also technological inadequacy.''

Lewis said last month's provincial budget committed $40 million over four years to the FRO to open bids for a new computer system, which is expected to be in place by 2007.

''One of my greatest disappointments in my term of office is that after almost five years, I'm still unable to report to the public that the FRO has implemented a more efficient computer system and improved its service delivery.''

''I'm encouraged that it finally appears some positive movement has been made in this significantly underserviced area,'' said Lewis.

''However, I have no doubt that my successor will be reporting here next year and the year after on matters to deal with the Family Responsibility Office.''

Lewis said the Ombudsman's office received 1,467 complaints against the problem-plagued FRO last year, second only to corrections, which had 7,727 complaints, most from jail inmates.

''We have upheld a great many complaints over the FRO,'' he said.

However, Lewis said the problem-plagued agency ''is less of a mess than it was five years ago.''

The Ombudsman also released an addendum to his annual report on his investigation into waiting lists and delays in providing intensive early intervention therapy for children with autism.

Lewis said even though the program started in the fall of 2000, it took the government more than two years to develop a strategy to hire and retain professionals that provide the therapy and to develop university curricula to train them.

''I believe it is unconscionable that hundreds of autistic children 'aged out' of the program without ever receiving services, many after waiting over 18 months,'' said Lewis.

The government has agreed to provide the expensive therapy only for autistic children under the age of six, believing that is when it is most effective.

Some parents have launched a court challenge to force the province to provide the therapy beyond age six.

National Post logo

Pilloried, broke, alone

March 25, 2000

Divorced fathers get a bad rap for not supporting their children. The truth is, many can't. And, tragically, some are driven to desperate measures, including suicide.

In his suicide note, Jim, the father of four children, protests that "not all fathers are deadbeats." Jim hanged himself because he couldn't see any alternative. Even now, his children are unaware of the circumstances of their father's death. Meeno Meijer, National Post George Roulier is fighting to regain money wrongfully taken from his wages by the Ontario child-support collection agency. Chris Bolin, National Post Alan Heinz, a Toronto firefighter, has gone bankrupt fighting for the return of his daughter, 3, from Germany. No one will help him, but German authorities are trying to collect child support from him.

Whenever fathers and divorce are discussed, one image dominates: the 'deadbeat dad,' the schmuck who'd rather drive a sports car than support his kids. Because I write about family matters, I'm regularly inundated with phone calls, faxes, letters and e-mail from divorced men. It's not news that divorced individuals have little good to say about their ex-spouses. What I'm interested in is whether the system assists people during this difficult time in their lives, or compounds their misery. From the aircraft engineer in British Columbia, to the postal worker on the prairies, to the fire fighter in Toronto, divorced fathers' stories are of a piece: Though society stereotypes these men relentlessly, most divorced dads pay their child support. Among those who don't, a small percentage wilfully refuse to (the villains you always hear about).

What you haven't been told is that the other men in arrears are too impoverished to pay, have been ordered to pay unreasonable amounts, have been paying for unreasonable lengths of time, or are the victims of bureaucratic foul-ups. Read More ..

Calgary Sun newspaper logo

Non-dad on hook for support

Edmonton and Calgary Sun
Feb 5, 2005

EDMONTON -- An Edmonton judge has decided a divorced dad has to make child support payments, even though the child isn't his. Justin Sumner had an on-again-off-again relationship with the woman he eventually married, Dawn Sumner.

She already had a child from a previous relationship with a man named Rob Duncan, and as she and Justin broke up and reunited, Dawn was sexually involved with both men.

When she found she was pregnant, she called Justin, who recognized there was a possibility that Duncan was the father, but later concluded he was the dad. Read More ..

Father Committeed Suicide after calling Family Responsibility Office

Andrew T. Renouf committed suicide on or about October 17, 1995 because he had 100% of his wages taken by the Family Responsibility Office, a child support collection agency of the Government of Ontario, Canada.

He asked for assistance for food and shelter from the welfare office and was refused because he had a job, even though all of his wages were taken by the Family Responsibility Office.

Andy was a loving father that hadn't seen his daughter in 4 years.

A memorial service was held in October, 1998, for Andy in front of the Family Responsibility Office at 1201 Wilson Avenue, West Tower, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. This is in the Ministry of Transportation grounds in the Keele St. & Hwy 401 area. All members of the Ontario Legislature were invited by personal letter faxed to their offices. Not one turned up. The Director of the Family Responsibility Office and his entire staff were invited to the brief service. The Director refused and wouldn't let the staff attend the service although it was scheduled for lunch time. There was a peaceful demonstration by followed by a very touching service by The Reverend Alan Stewart. The text of the service will soon be able to be read below.

The service made the TV evening news.

It was Andy's last wish that his story be told to all. YOU CAN READ HIS SUICIDE NOTE

Auditor General Ontario

Auditor General of Ontario

Disasterous Report on the Family Reponsibility Office FRO 2010

80% of Telephone calls don't get answered

Payers and recipients do not have direct access to their assigned enforcement services officer

"There is only limited access to enforcement staff because many calls to the Office do not get through or are terminated before they can be answered."

"The Office is reviewing and working on only about 20% to 25% of its total cases in any given year."

"At the end of our audit in April 2010, there were approximately 91,000 bring-forward notes outstanding, each of which is supposed to trigger specific action on a case within one month. The status of almost one-third of the outstanding bring-forward notes was "open," indicating either that the notes had been read but not acted upon, or that they had not been read at all, meaning that the underlying nature and urgency of the issues that led to these notes in the first place was not known. In addition, many of the notes were between one and two years old."

"For ongoing cases, the Office took almost four months from the time the case went into arrears before taking its first enforcement action. For newly registered cases that went straight into arrears, the delay was seven months from the time the court order was issued."

Read the shocking report by The Auditor General of Ontario Report on the Family Responsibility Office

Ottawa Citizen

Ontario agency admits to overbilling on child support payments

The Ottawa Citizen
January 14, 2012

TORONTO - Ontario's controversial Family Responsibility Office has been overbilling 1,700 parents, mostly fathers, for as long as 13 years, the province admitted Friday.

The 1,700 parents were overbilled by an average $75 each month, after the agency wrongly applied a cost of living adjustment that was eliminated in 1997.

Those who were overpaid will not be forced to give the money back.

Instead, taxpayers will foot the $5.3 million bill for the agency's mistake.

"This error's been found and it's being corrected," said Liberal cabinet minister John Milloy. "We're going to be reaching out to those individuals (who were overbilled) and talking to them about their situation, formally alerting them."

The Family Responsibility Office, or FRO, is responsible for ensuring court-ordered child support payments are made. Read More .. than 97 per cent of all payers overseen by the office are male.

Milloy said the agency discovered the problem at some point in 2011. No one will be fired for the mistakes, he added.

"I see this as something very serious," he said in an interview. "I'm not trying to minimize it, but … there's been lots of action taken to reform FRO, to update computer systems, to update customer relations and it's on a much firmer footing."

The billing mistake is only the latest controversy to engulf FRO.  Read More ..

Women's Post Newspaper

"Canada's national newspaper for professional women"

The Family Responsibility Office Under Scrutiny

On June 9, 2005 the McGuinty government announced the passage of Bill 155, legislation that promised to increase enforcement, improve fairness and enhance efficiency at the Family Responsibility Office (FRO).

However, the legislation did not address the problem of accountability and, as things now stand, the FRO is a threat to every Canadian affected by a government regulated support and custody arrangement system. Think of George Orwell's 1984 and you'll have a good picture of how issues are handled at the FRO.

They have legal power to extort money from Canadians, but are not responsible or accountable for their actions.

Last year an FRO staff member decided not to wait for a court date to review the financial status of an out-of-work truck driver and took it upon themselves to suspend his license because he was, understandably, behind on his payments, having lost his job earlier in the year. Although he was looking for work, the FRO cut off the only way he knew of to earn a living. His suicide note explained how he'd lost all hope. Is this what we want FRO to be doing?  Read More ..