Infographic: Race Matters in the Child Welfare System

York University; Canadian Observatory on Homelessness/Homeless Hub
January 06, 2016

This week’s infographic comes to us from the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies (OACAS) and focuses on changing the child welfare system for African Canadians (a term used to identify all Canadians of African descent regardless of place of birth). OACAS represents over 40 Children’s Aid Societies and part of their work involves promoting public education, training, as well as information and knowledge management in child welfare issues. Data in this infographic is drawn from multiple sources, including Statistics Canada profiles, reports published by non-profit organizations and articles published in academic journals. Since there is little data available on the Canadian context, American data is also largely cited in the infographic.

African Canadians in Ontario make up 4% of the population in the province and 8% of the Toronto population. However, they are largely overrepresented in child welfare making up 41% of all children and youth of the Toronto Children’s Aid Society. This is 5 times their representation in the population.

The infographic also states that when a report to a child welfare agency has been made, people of African descent are investigated twice as often than those who are White. This data comes from a U.S. study that examined the disproportionate representation of race and ethnicity in child maltreatment in five states. African American children were overrepresented compared to White children at each stage of an investigation in every state.

The reasons for this disproportionality stem from poverty, cultural misunderstanding and racism. A report by Ontario’s Commission to Promote Sustainable Child Welfare found that “the system was not responding effectively to the diversity of Ontario’s population”. Systemic racism, where groups are targeted and discriminated based on their race in established institutions, in the child protection system as well as schools and police is cited by community leaders as a major contributor.

Remaining in institutional care is associated with a number of negative outcomes for all children in the welfare system including not completing high school, experiencing homelessness and increased involvement with the criminal justice system. Aboriginal youth are another group that is also significantly overrepresented in the child welfare system.

There is a strong link between involvement in the child welfare system and becoming homeless. Some community agencies have used this knowledge to develop homelessness prevention programs that focus on bridging the care gap for youth moving out of child care by providing much-needed supports that include housing, access to health care services and educational supports.

Ontario’s child welfare system has been under scrutiny in recent months. A recent report published by the province’s auditor general found that Children Aid’s Societies are too slow to investigate allegations of abuse, and have often failed to perform basic criminal background checks on the people involved in the care of vulnerable children. Protection investigations that are mandated to take a month to complete, sometimes stretch as long as seven months. Premier Kathleen Wynne, has made proposals about ‘blowing up’ the present system in order to effect much needed change in the province’s child welfare system. While this may seem like a drastic evaluation at first glance, perhaps what it may actually reflect is an understanding of the extent of the change required to reform our present system that has failed the most vulnerable members of our society. 

This infographic summarizes some of the research into racial disproportionality and disparities in the child welfare system.

Vineeth Sekharan is an undergraduate student in a psychology major at York University. His interest in the elimination of barriers to accessing vital services like housing and healthcare led him to work as a research student with The Homeless Hub. Vineeth’s other research interests include epidemiology, theories of power and persuasion, and literacy education. In his spare time, he likes to read a lot, write here and there, and then read some more.

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