Disproportionality in child welfare for Black children, youth

By Admin Wednesday November 04 2015 in Opinion
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This is the first in a series of monthly articles from the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto in response to some of the concerns that have been expressed by members of the community and in the media.

Canadians believe children and youth have the right to grow up safe from abuse and neglect and so, for reasons of safety, at times children and youth do require the care of a children’s aid society. What is not well known is that in over 96 per cent of the 10,000 families the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto works with annually, the child or youth remains in their family home.

Last fall, the Toronto Star reported that there is an over-representation of Black youth in the care of the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto. This was not news to us; professionals call it disproportionality. In short, the percentage of Black youth in care is over 30 per cent, which far exceeds the 12 per cent of Black youth in Toronto’s school population.

Disproportionality is a concerning and unwanted reality for all of us – Toronto’s citizens, its four children’s aid societies, and most certainly for our Black youth, their families and their communities. A more worrying statistic is that the over-representation of Black youth in care is a reality in all child welfare agencies across Canada, United States and the United Kingdom.

“Why is this happening” is a very reasonable question for the public, the media and critics to ask. Is it due to the broader effects of systemic, racial bias? Is it due to higher poverty levels and breakdown of the family unit? Is it the adverse, differential treatment of Black families? Is it because children’s aid workers and management are predominantly White and biased against Black families? Research suggests the answers lie in all those possibilities.

At Children’s Aid Society of Toronto we recognize we must critically examine our beliefs and practices if we are to reduce disproportionality. We started with listening. We heard our services weren’t culturally sensitive, so we partnered with different community agencies to deliver culturally specific services to our Black families and children; we had a series of community meetings to hear from families regarding their experience with our service to understand what we could improve; we initiated an important dialogue with our Black staff to hear from them about bias in the workplace and we analyzed our data and made it public on our website.

All important steps towards change.

We also recognize that eliminating disproportionality will require all the citizens of Toronto to help us – children’s aid societies cannot do it alone. In Toronto we are severely challenged to secure foster parent and kinship placements for children and youth when they need to enter care. This has resulted in 70 per cent of the children and youth in our care being placed outside of Toronto, away from their families and communities who share a similar cultural background. It does take a village to raise a child. It will take that same village to eliminate disproportionality. That village is all of us.

Deborah Goodman, MSW, PhD, is the Director, Child Welfare Institute, Children’s Aid Society of Toronto.

For more information on this or any other CAS of Toronto related subject, please email: inquiries@torontocas.ca

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