Article series published in Share News

This is a series of monthly articles from the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto in response to some of the concerns that have been expressed by members of the community and in the media. This followed a report published on the Disproportionality, Disparity and Discrimination in Child Welfare, in July 2015.

The author, Deborah Goodman, MSW, PhD is the Director of the Child Welfare Institute, Children’s Aid Society of Toronto.

 

Children Aid Service learning, listening to stakeholders

Published by Share (www.sharenews.com) on January 13, 2016 in Opinion
Note from the Editor: This is the third in a series of monthly articles from the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto in response to some of the concerns that have been expressed by members of the community and in the media.

by DEBORAH GOODMAN

As the largest Children’s Aid Service in Ontario, with approximately 40 per cent of the youth in care identifying as Black, the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto has for 20 years been on a journey of learning and listening to our stakeholders regarding what culturally specific services are appropriate, meaningful and sustainable. These stakeholders include Black youth in care, their families, CAS staff, our foster and kinship parents, Toronto’s Black leaders, our community partners and the Black community – all have helped guide the services we have developed to date. They also have informed us on what culturally specific services should, could and must be offered going forward. The initiatives listed below represent the start of our journey into providing culturally specific programs and services to the Black community. More can and should be done and we ask Toronto’s Black community to join us in this planning. 

As Maya Angelou wisely noted, “when you know better, you do better”. 

Cultural Programs for Black Children & Youth In Care: 

Nine times over the past 15 summers, 25-30 Black youth in care have had an opportunity to go on a fully funded week-long expedition to sites that have historical, academic and cultural significance to the Black experience. These trips dubbed SoulJourney, have travelled to the Underground Railroad, Africville in Nova Scotia, Detroit, Washington DC, New York City and just this past summer – Alabama. The youths’ evaluations of these experiences have been overwhelmingly positive about the impact of these trips on their lives.
Black History Month Celebration: a range of activities takes place throughout February, including an annual celebration of the Black culture, food, music and dance with 250-300 participants. Each year two Black youth in care receive a special Achievement Award for effecting positive change in their lives.
Kwanzaa Celebration: involves 75 youth in care, foster parents and staff honouring African cultural traditions, food and beliefs.
Caribbean/African Cultural Cooking Workshops are offered frequently throughout the year to youth in care, ages 13-17, to learn cooking skills specific to their culture.
Youth Dance Program: is a program specifically for Black youth in care.
Beautiful Hair, Beautiful Me: is a program that provides hair care services and Black hair care products to many Black youth in care from across the GTA, as many are placed with caregivers who are not familiar with the hair needs of Black youth. 

 

Cultural Services for Black Families:

Resource Fair for Black Families: annually offered and aimed at attracting 300 families across the three Toronto CAS branches, the fair details the services and supports available in their respective communities.
Ujima House: this service is only for families that identify as Afro-diasporic (e.g. African, Caribbean) and are involved with Toronto CAS where the father of the child is involved in access with their child. Evaluation findings show the fathers’ report an improved understanding of how to best communicate with their child(ren) and how to be a better co-parent, resulting in improved confidence in their parenting abilities.
African-Caribbean Canadian Enrichment Program: Millan & Associates provides parenting and family support to Toronto CAS involved Black families living in Toronto. First-year results show promising findings such as improved communications between parent and child; as one youth noted, “we learned to be a family again”.
Community Consultations: In 2014 and 2015, Toronto CAS management participated in a series of consultations with Black African-Caribbean community members to hear about their experiences and issues with child welfare, with a plan to make decisive changes in the way the Black community is served.

Organizational Supports: 

Committees: Toronto CAS has created a number of cultural committees that have been tenacious advocates and effective leaders in continually moving us forward in our thinking, practices and policies: the Black Education Awareness Committee, the Black African-Caribbean Canadian Committee , the Anti-Oppression, Anti-Racism Steering Committee, and the Bridging Diversity Committee.
Training: Mandatory anti-oppression/anti-racism training for all staff resource workers, kin workers, foster parents and any other service provider involved with Black youth.
Diversity Manager: in 2015, Toronto CAS hired its first full time, dedicated person in the role of Diversity Manager.
Can the Toronto CAS offer meaningful and effective culturally relevant services to our Black youth and families? The short answer is “Yes we can,…and we’ve been doing so for over 20 years”. We may not have always got it right, but we’ve never stopped trying to get better at it. I readily agree with an elder from the Black community who recently critiqued the work CASs have traditionally done. He said: “Real change will require each CAS to build trust and goodwill with their Black communities through recognizing the assets, resiliency and strengths of the individuals, families and communities who identify as Black.”

By continuing to evolve culturally specific child welfare services that are informed, effective and supported by the respective communities, we hope that this will help build better relationships with our Black communities, which in turn will contribute to better outcomes for the Black children, youth and their families we serve.

How and why children enter CAS care

Published by Share (www.sharenews.com) on December 02, 2015 in Opinion

Note from the Editor: This is the second in a series of monthly articles from the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto in response to some of the concerns that have been expressed by members of the community and in the media.

by DEBORAH GOODMAN  

In Ontario Children’s aid societies (CAS) have the responsibility for investigating reports of child maltreatment, also called child abuse and neglect. In Canada, child maltreatment generally refers to any youth under the age of 16 who is not safe because they are at risk of harm or have been harmed by their parents or caregivers. 

Every day our agency receives over 120 calls with concerns about the safety of a child in the community. Calls about the safety of a child usually fall into the following categories: domestic violence related (35%), suspicion of physical, emotional or sexual harm (25%), parents struggling with substance abuse or mental health issues that interferes with their ability to care for their child (20%), child neglect (15%), and conflict between a parent and youth that places the youth at risk or the parent can’t keep their child safe because the youth’s own behaviours place them at risk (5%). To anyone who has made a call on behalf of a child or youth – thank you. You are an important part of that village that it takes to raise a child. 

Approximately 80 per cent of calls to a CAS that result in an investigation come from ‘professionals’, including  teachers, police, doctors and day cares. The remaining 20 per cent typically come from neighbours, family, friends or anonymous sources. We know these are not easy calls for people to make, but the fact that we receive the number that we do tells us that Toronto citizens and professionals care deeply about the safety and care of the children.

When a call is received it is screened by at least two trained child welfare professionals. Using a provincially standardized set of criteria they listen and ask specific questions that help them determine the level of risk to the child and if a protection investigation is needed. Depending on the severity of the accessed risk, calls are coded as ‘immediate’ investigation (within 12 hours) if the child has been harmed, or within 7 days if the child is at risk of harm. 

In 2014, CAS of Toronto completed 7,052 investigations. Approximately 2,300, or the equivalent of 92 classrooms of children, were found to fit the definition of child maltreatment or be at risk of harm from their parent or caregiver. Public perception is that a CAS brings most of the children it investigates into care. The fact is that with the exception of Quebec, Ontario has the lowest rate of children entering care at three per cent. That means that in 97 per cent of the cases investigated by the CAS, the child remains with their family and a plan is developed to ensure their safety. Each CAS is working hard to do even better in this area and a key partner in this achievement is the child’s immediate circle of relatives and friends. It is the grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins and even older siblings (called kinship care), as well as coaches, teachers and neighbours (called kith care) who know the child and who step forward to offer to care for that child, in the short or long-term. In Toronto we are in desperate need of these kinship and kith relationships to help us keep children and youth with their family and in their community. 

When a child does have to enter the care of a CAS the preferred option is always family based care, including foster families. Foster families are an essential part of that village that helps care for our children when they can’t stay with their family. In Toronto we are in short supply of foster families. This means that for a large number of youth in our care, they will be placed in homes outside the city – away from their family, community and in some cases their culture because a foster family, kinship or kith care arrangement in Toronto is not available.

This is not a preferred solution for us. Toronto’s children and youth in care need their village. Please consider becoming a foster, kinship or kith parent to a child in care in Toronto.

Disproportionality in child welfare for Black children, youth

Published by Share (www.sharenews.com) on November 04, 2015 in Opinion

Note from the Editor: This is the first in a series of monthly articles from the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto in response to some of the concerns that have been expressed by members of the community and in the media.

by DEBORAH GOODMAN

 Canadians believe children and youth have the right to grow up safe from abuse and neglect and so, for reasons of safety, at times children and youth do require the care of a children’s aid society. What is not well known is that in over 96 per cent of the 10,000 families the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto works with annually, the child or youth remains in their family home.

Last fall, the Toronto Star reported that there is an over-representation of Black youth in the care of the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto. This was not news to us; professionals call it disproportionality. In short, the percentage of Black youth in care is over 30 per cent, which far exceeds the 12 per cent of Black youth in Toronto’s school population. 

Disproportionality is a concerning and unwanted reality for all of us – Toronto’s citizens, its four children’s aid societies, and most certainly for our Black youth, their families and their communities. A more worrying statistic is that the over-representation of Black youth in care is a reality in all child welfare agencies across Canada, United States and the United Kingdom.

“Why is this happening” is a very reasonable question for the public, the media and critics to ask. Is it due to the broader effects of systemic, racial bias? Is it due to higher poverty levels and breakdown of the family unit? Is it the adverse, differential treatment of Black families? Is it because children’s aid workers and management are predominantly White and biased against Black families? Research suggests the answers lie in all those possibilities. 

At Children’s Aid Society of Toronto we recognize we must critically examine our beliefs and practices if we are to reduce disproportionality. We started with listening. We heard our services weren’t culturally sensitive, so we partnered with different community agencies to deliver culturally specific services to our Black families and children; we had a series of community meetings to hear from families regarding their experience with our service to understand what we could improve; we initiated an important dialogue with our Black staff to hear from them about bias in the workplace and we analyzed our data and made it public on our website. 

All important steps towards change. 

We also recognize that eliminating disproportionality will require all the citizens of Toronto to help us – children’s aid societies cannot do it alone. In Toronto we are severely challenged to secure foster parent and kinship placements for children and youth when they need to enter care. This has resulted in 70 per cent of the children and youth in our care being placed outside of Toronto, away from their families and communities who share a similar cultural background. It does take a village to raise a child. It will take that same village to eliminate disproportionality. That village is all of us.