A recent funding model change that will reduce the Oxford Children's Aid Society budget by 10 % over the next five years may make it more difficult for the agency to keep the books balanced.
“First and foremost, we will keep our focus on services and are going to try as much as possible to make the adjustments without affecting services to vulnerable children and families,” said Bruce Burbank, executive director of Oxford CAS.
“What it is going to mean is we are going to have to do some long-term planning to make the necessary adjustments in the amount of funding that we receive from the ministry.”
Burbank said it is a bit premature to speculate on exactly how it will impact the agency but the funding will be reduced by approximately $350,000 each year, a decrease of 6% over three years, with an overall decrease of 10 % after five years.
In addition to the funding reduction, Burbank said the agency has also been required to sign an accountability agreement with the government expectation of a balanced budget in subsequent years.
“I think it is always been an expectation of government but it’s never been made so explicit in terms of these accountability agreements, which are not unprecedented in other sectors,” Burbank said.
“The difference is with our sector, we area mandated service with no absolute certainty about what that demand is going to be within the next year or two. Therefore the funding envelope cannot be finite although it is and that is the reality.”
A big challenge, Burbank said, is there will be no option to go back to the ministry for additional funds if the agency cannot meet the demand.
“We can’t ever shut the door and create waiting lists. We have to meet the demand as it comes in the door,” he said.
Over the next few years, Burbank said there are a number of children in care who will be turning 18, which will help with some of the budget constraints.
“I think we are going through our budget very carefully to see where we can realize some savings. We have union contracts where we have to meet contractual obligations so you can only do so much there,” he said.
The funding changes were, in part, based on socio-demographic factors, including the local child population, and not all agencies saw a decrease in funding, Burbank said.
“In theory it is meant to be an equitable way of distributing funds, but the reality is there are wide variations throughout the province in terms of the impact of this new formula,” Burbank said.
“They did put a 10 % limit on it. No agency is going to go up or down by more than 10 % over the next five years. That is a way of sort of mitigating those wide variations on how the formula distributes the funds.”
Although the reductions will make operations tougher in the future, Burbank said the government has contributed to balancing the budget by eliminating the historical deficit of all agencies.
“Before going into the new formula, they have cleared those historical deficits… in our agency’s case, that has been very helpful to us,” he said.
“Some agencies are going to be more challenged than others in terms of the immediate future because some agencies have quite sizeable deficits and they are not able to achieve that balanced budget. We think this year that we are but it is hard to say beyond that.”