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February 17, 2015 permalink
Ontario is contemplating gathering data on foster children by race. One prospective culmination is the creation of a new Black children's aid society. Black Canadians can look forward to an agency whose only mission is breaking up black families.
Persons offended by the collection of race data can obstruct when filling out questionnaires. For the race question check the box marked "other", then write in a nationality such as "Canadian". Even better, write in the universal "human" race.
Ontario may collect race-based data on kids in care
Children’s Minister Tracy MacCharles will consider ways to fix systemic issues affecting black families, and hasn’t ruled out creating a separate CAS.
Ontario’s children’s minister, Tracy MacCharles, will look at having all children’s aid societies in the province collect race-based data on the kids in their care.
MacCharles is also considering several changes in keeping with the goal of keeping families intact and, when those efforts fail, to improve the experience of children in care.
The moves come on the heels of a Toronto Star investigation that found Ontario’s most vulnerable children are in the care of a child protection system that is often unaccountable and secretive.
The probe revealed for the first time that 41 per cent of children and youth in the care of the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto are black, though only 8.2 per cent of the city’s under-18 population is black.
MacCharles, who became Minister of Children and Youth Services last summer, is so concerned by those numbers she’s considering a province-wide count of black kids in care to determine the extent of the challenge. Few of Ontario’s 46 children’s aid societies track such data, and those that do keep the statistics secret.
Black community leaders have complained for years that their children are taken into care at rates far higher than white children. They say it is hard to get government to pay attention without hard statistics.
“I think there’s a lot more receptivity to looking at (race-based data) in this sector and beyond,” MacCharles said of the government’s current attitude. “We’re also looking at this notion of disaggregated data, which includes black children and youth in care, in schools, and in our youth justice system,” she added.
Without committing to making such data public, MacCharles told the Star: “My bottom line is, any data that helps improve the security and safety of children, I’m willing to have a hard look at.”
The Star used sources to obtain the Toronto data, later confirmed by the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto, which had been quietly sharing the numbers with leaders and advocates in the city’s black communities.
MacCharles hasn’t ruled out setting up a new children’s aid society focused exclusively on black children. Black community leaders argue that might be the only way to overcome systemic biases.
“I’m open to all ideas,” MacCharles, MPP for Pickering-Scarborough East, said in an interview with the Star.
“The starting point for me is, are the CASs across Ontario culturally appropriate in terms of the programs and services and supports they provide?”
MacCharles also wants to examine systemic reasons that might fuel the breakup of black families, such as poverty and the lack of affordable housing. Other ministries such as education and health, she said, must be involved in finding a solution.
The Star investigation also found that almost half of children and youth in foster or group homes are on behaviour-altering medication, such as Ritalin, tranquilizers or anticonvulsants. In group homes, the number is even higher.
Children aid societies have failed to act on troubling statistics they have been aware of for years, the Star found, including the fact that more than half the children in their care do not graduate from high school.
CAS involvement is one of the main reasons children in care are absent from school. Because of frequent moves, many are forced to deal with several unplanned school changes. And because there’s no obligation for a new school to enroll them during the term, they sometimes wait weeks to return to class.
“It’s important to keep kids in school wherever we can and to minimize that kind of delay,” said MacCharles, who is troubled by these issues. “I’ve seen the results of kids not being in school, some in child welfare and some not, and it’s worrisome.”
She stressed the need to consult children’s aid societies on changes and also made clear that while the province fully funds them — at a cost of $1.5 billion a year — they are private corporations, with each determining its own programs and services.
“CASs know their communities best,” she said. “I just don’t want to overstep and get into their territory.”
MacCharles was accused of taking a timid and slow approach to child welfare changes last week, after her response to recommendations made at the inquest into the death of 5-year-old Jeffrey Baldwin, who died in 2002 after being kept locked in his bedroom, repeatedly beaten and rarely fed by his grandparents, who had a separate record of child abuse that wasn’t checked by the CAS that placed him with them.
MacCharles refused to consider a recommendation to amalgamate the 46 agencies, and confirmed that a central database containing such records won’t be fully ready until 2019 or 2020 — up to four years past the deadline set by the coroner’s inquest.
There are about 23,300 children and youth in care in Ontario. Most children removed from their parents are returned within a year, while children in continued need of protection are made Crown wards.
In 2013-14, about 7,000 children and youth were wards of the province, living in foster care or group homes, and 1,000 more were on the path to joining them. The government effectively remains their parent until they are adopted or turn 18. However, youth can decide to leave care at age 16.
Margaret Parsons, executive director of the African Canadian Legal Clinic, says the ministry needs to move faster to reduce the number of black children and youth in care.
“This is an urgent crisis. We’ve been saying it for years,” she said, noting community leaders have been discussing the overrepresentation with the province since 2006.
Lawyers, black community leaders and child advocates blame cultural misunderstandings as well as the stress and neglect created by poverty for some of that imbalance. They also believe systemic racism is at play within the child protection system, policing and schools.
During reporting for the Star’s series, a Peel CAS worker noted her agency received a call because school officials thought roti was not a healthy lunch for a child.
After the Star series appeared, Parsons’ clinic was swamped with calls for help from black families who have had children apprehended.
She wants the government to mandate the involvement of African Canadian community organizations whenever a child worker is called to investigate a black family. They could, for example, help draft a plan of care to keep the family intact and ensure the plan is followed.
As a last resort, Parsons says her clinic will push for an African Canadian children’s aid society — an option she will present to MacCharles at a meeting this week.
Parsons’ clinic is also part of an initiative by the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies to draft a “practice guide” for working with black families. It will help educate child-care workers about systemic racism, the impact of migration, and a host of cultural, religious and ethnic issues related to the black community, said the association’s Virginia Rowden.
It is also directed to police, school boards and medical professionals, who represent the majority of referrals to children’s aid societies.
“It’s not just how the CASs serve these families, but how these families end up at the door of CASs,” Rowden said.
Leading the project is Kike Ojo, Peel CAS’s respected senior manager of diversity and anti-oppression.
Part of the project, Rowden said, is to try to get a handle on how many black children and families are involved with agencies in Ontario.
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Ontario’s current five-year review of the Child and Family Services Act seeks to modernize and clarify language in the legislation, among other improvements.
The Children in Limbo Task Force, a coalition of children’s advocates, says terms such as “custody,” “apprehend” and “probation” demean and stigmatize children and youth who are experiencing abuse or neglect in their homes.
The task force is urging Children’s Minister Tracy MacCharles to replace them with more humane language.
MacCharles says she is “very supportive” of doing away with terms that describe these young people as criminals.
“I think language is very important, and especially important when it comes to talking about the care and welfare of children,” she told the Star.
“Anything we can do to reduce the stigma is important.”
Source: Toronto Star