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Sunday, December 14, 2014

Child protection as racist and poverty driven

It is perhaps somewhat odd that two Canadian newspapers would chose to write articles on the child protection system in the same week.  Looking at several inquiries, The National Post calls for reform of the system They start by noting that there will be an inquiry starting in Ontario in early 2015 on the death of Katelyn Sampson. She was murdered in 2008. The Toronto Star noted:

When Irving told the Children’s Aid Society on March 30, 2008, that she did not think she could provide for Katelynn and wanted her out of her home, the agency “passed the buck” to the Native Child and Family Services — Irving is part First Nations — and nothing was done, McMahon stated. (When a Native Services caseworker contacted Irving 16 days later, she lied and indicated the Toronto School Board was providing support and that she wanted the file closed, which it was.)

This inquiry will add to the long list of inquiries into the failures of child protection in Canada. In my research, we have identified about 80 inquires of various natures with at least two more on the horizon.
These will add to the legacies of Matthew Vaudreuil, Phoenix Sinclair, Christian Lee, Babby Annie, Jordan Heikamp, Kim Anne Poppen, Jeffrey Baldwin and so on. The stories are children of poverty but also of the First Nations of Canada. In other words, these are stories of the marginalized in our country.

The Toronto Star is also running a series of stories into the child protection system. They see the racism looking at how Black children are severely over represented.

Last week, the Globe and Mail told the story of Eddie Snowshoe who died through the solitary confinement system that Canada runs. But hist story starts much earlier in the institutional abuse of Canada's First Nations peoples through the residential school system. There, children were systemically abused and neglected. Today, we pay for that with the long standing impact of such broad, racist based social policies. They were designed to take the Indian out of the Indian. Now, we see the impact of fragmented Aboriginal communities and families in  the child protection systems.

It is obvious that child welfare must do a better job of the day to day management of complex cases. There are practice errors that get made and need to be corrected. That is the subject of my research. But society must also be willing to face the fact that there are several issues child protection cannot solve:

  • Poverty - which is too often linked to neglect - not intentional neglect but neglect from lack of resources. These are often families where parents struggle with marginal housing and limited income, most often from low wage employment. They try to do their best with what they have but that often falls short of what is needed. Society can address these issues through economic programs.
  • Aboriginal child welfare - the gross over representation of First Nations children in child protection care occurs because of the Residential Schools and the legacy they created. Child Welfare cannot fix that. 
  • Underfunded mental health programs that leave families vulnerable.

The list can go on but the point here is that child welfare is being asked to "fix" problems that arise from social policies that are well beyond their control. This is a conversation we must have rather than just pointing fingers at a child protection system that cannot fix it!

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