By TOM GODFREY
There were calls at a Toronto town hall meeting for a Black social service agency to be created to provide culturally sensitive services for children in need of help in the community.
More than 40 people attended the first of three meetings to deal with “critical issues” facing the community last Wednesday at the Jamaican Canadian Centre on Arrow Rd. Two further meetings are planned.
The meetings are co-hosted by the JCA, Black Action Defense Committee (BADC) and the Jamaican Diaspora Canada Foundation (JDCF).
Dr. Akua Benjamin, a professor of Social Work at Ryerson University, said Black children are significantly over-represented in the number of kids being looked after by the Children’s Aid Societies of Ontario.
Benjamin called for a Black social service agency to be created to provide culturally sensitive care to the diverse Black populations.
Research by the Toronto Star showed that 41 per cent of children in the care of the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto are Black. Just eight per cent of the city’s population under the age of 18 are Black, according to the newspaper.
Some community leaders believe cultural misunderstandings, poverty and systemic racism play a large role in the child protection system. Police also play a huge role since they are the largest source of referrals to children’s aid.
Benjamin said the the establishment of an agency directed, developed and owned by the Black community will have a real impact on these numbers.
She called for urgent action since families are being torn apart, with too many Black youths ending up in the criminal justice system.
Benjamin and other activists want the Ontario government to mandate the involvement of the Black community whenever child protection workers respond to calls about the safety of children of African or Caribbean heritage.
Kingsley Gilliam, a member of the JDCF and BADC, who has also worked in health care, said high suspension, expulsion and dropout rates are holding back Black youths.
Gilliam said a multi-faceted, full-service social agency is required to look after Black children. He said Blacks are over-represented in police racial profiling and carding statistics, in the courts and in provincial jails and federal penitentiaries.
Gilliam called on other organizations representing Black people to join the coalition and forge a united front to eliminate this form of oppression.
He claimed there is an effort by key bureaucrats to scuttle efforts to bring social justice and progress to the Black community. He cited a number of studies and reports that are still sitting on shelves.
Many speakers believed there has been a decline of progress in social, economic and political influence in our community over the last 20 years.
Topics also touched upon included the murder among young Black men and the impact on their families; under-representation in elected political office; lack of community input in government policy formulation and youth unemployment.
The meetings are open to the public. The next one takes place on Wednesday, February 11, at 7 p.m., at the Jamaican Canadian Centre, at 995 Arrow Rd. Another meeting is planned for March.