African Canadian children in Toronto are 8.2 per cent of the total youth population yet they comprise 42 per cent of children under the care and supervision of the Children’s Aid Society. That is the finding from a report made two years ago by the Toronto Star. From that investigation came the impetus for the recent “One Vision One Voice” report aimed at addressing the need for change within children’s aid societies across the province as it concerns African Canadian children and their families.
These children are removed from their family home perhaps at a rate second only to children of indigenous heritage and certainly at a much higher rate than Anglo Canadian children.
The removal practice by organizations that exist ostensibly for the care and protection of children is reminiscent of residential school treatment of native children. The findings of the report tell how counterproductive this practice is. Instead of saving children’s lives there is much evidence to suggest they are disrupting lives in ways that are harmful in the long run.
For every story of success that the Children’s Aid Society may promote, there are many other individuals who report the negative outcomes of having been removed from their homes.
Not only are the lives of the children negatively affected, the charges of child endangerment, abuse and neglect that often are attached to parents and other caregivers can ruin their lives and livelihoods as well.
Therefore, the tepid response from Ontario’s Minister for Children and Youth Services, Michael Coteau, following the release of the report is disappointing. Coteau’s response to recommendations in the report has been to move ahead with collection of race-based data by all 47 children’s aid organizations and a promise to amend the Child and Family Services Act regarding more accountability and transparency.
This is all the more disappointing given that Minister Coteau began his political career as a school board trustee and currently heads Ontario’s Anti-Racism Directorate (OARD). What is happening to African Canadian children in care of children’s aid services in this province is not divorced from the concerns for which the OARD is mandated.
It seems that political leaders at Queen’s Park are resigned to doing the least that is necessary and unwilling to make commitments to the critical moves that would actually benefit beleaguered communities.
The collection of race-based data would appear to be doing something when in reality the fundamental practices that threaten Black families remain unchanged.
Toronto’s Children’s Aid Society has taken steps toward equipping their workers with anti-racism and anti-oppression education, but it is just a beginning.
The report calls for funding to support families living in poverty to facilitate better access to affordable housing, mental health services and other services to respond to the stressors frequently faced by families struggling with social and economic barriers.
We are concerned that, as with the common practice by individuals within the police force who create work value by pouncing on the most vulnerable in society – busy work in other words – there is a similar pattern within children’s aid societies to give value to job security.
That is why the recommendations made in the report must be seriously addressed. The function of children’s aid societies is not to ensure jobs for those employed by these organizations. It is to ensure the safety and wellbeing of children and their families should they require such assistance and support.
It should not be a policing system, which is what is has become in the lives of many in the African Canadian community who have had their families torn apart by lack of cultural awareness and racial bias.