As a member of the Black community, and someone with child welfare experience, I consider G98.7FM, Share and Pride News Magazine to be the voice of those who reflect the African Diaspora here in Toronto.
I am respectfully asking that you utilize your respective platforms to address the systemic racial discrimination experienced by the Black community under the guise of “child protection” from the child welfare system.
Ironically, the Toronto Star published an article discussing this very matter on December 11, 2014, so their research actually supports my perspective and concern. I have also copied the Toronto Star writer, Jim Rankin, and his colleagues in this letter. Specifically, I believe a community response is required to this crisis.
Racial Profiling in Child Welfare
The over-representation of Black bodies in the child welfare system is a result of over-reporting, otherwise known as racial profiling. We know that the mainstream narrative promotes Black people as a violent, drug-dealing, uneducated community that beats their children.
These stereotypes support the racial profiling that occurs within the criminal justice and education systems, which filters to the child welfare system; a significant proportion of the referrals to the child welfare system, originate from the police and educators.
Please do not misunderstand me; we live in a world where some children are at risk of harm, and have experienced harm at the hands of a caregiver. Without question, those caregivers should be dealt with and the children protected.
However, not all cases that come to the attention of CAS meet that threshold. For example, the changes to the Duty to Report Mandate (under the Mike Harris era I believe) introduced emotional harm as a form of abuse. The definition of emotional harm is open to interpretation, based upon the lens of the child protection worker assessing the risk. Arguments between spouses, which happen in any relationship, can be deemed as exposing a child to emotional harm, so child welfare would mandate you to stop arguing, get some counselling to address your issues.
From the child welfare system’s perspective, being Jamaican is considered a risk, a narrative that is supported by mainstream media’s denigrating portrayals of Jamaican people. Some years ago, a school called and reported concern about a Black child not having enough to eat; the child reportedly had a sandwich made with hard dough bread.
From a CAS lens, Jamaicans are also “known to spank their children”, thus the increased attention on this community. Generally, being a Black parent or caregiver places you at risk of having CAS involvement.
Implications of Involvement in the Child Welfare System
Like the issue of carding, contact with child welfare forms the beginning of a “history” with the system. If a family comes into frequent contact with the child welfare system, that can be problematic, as multiple openings can increase the perception of risk, and support the systems efforts in removing children from the home, if that is the chosen route. When a family ends up in court, if one lacks financial resources to obtain a lawyer, or lacks family support, there is a good chance of losing their children.
Systemic Response to Racism in Child Welfare
In the article published by the Toronto Star, the authors reported that the ministry is going to look into understanding the issue of over-representation Black families in the child welfare system, and try and develop best practices guidelines and such.
History indicates that this will lead to nowhere, much like the outcome of the Roots of Violence Report authored by Dr. Alvin Curling. Also, Toronto and Peel CAS have also increased the number of Black staff over the years, in the response to the need to have the staff reflective of various communities.
However, the Black workers who try to advocate on behalf of Black families by providing perspective or context for family values or practices, often receive backlash and are accused of lacking objectivity to work with their own community.
Meanwhile, the lens or view of the White worker is considered objective and valid. Dr. Gordon Pon, a professor at Ryerson University, published some research on the experience of racialized workers in child welfare, I will attach the name of his article at the end of this email if anyone is interested.
The Black community cannot wait for another written policy in the hopes it will change the racist practice; a policy will not make someone less racist. I am hoping that your platforms can be used to inform the Black community about the danger that is CAS, and encourage engagement in a community conversation about how to understand their rights, how to navigate systems and respond to CAS. For example, did you know that you can decline contact with CAS? It is not mandatory to respond if CAS comes calling.
However, if they have grounds to think that your child is at imminent risk, (which can be subjective based upon the worker’s interpretation of risk), they can obtain a warrant, like the police. Otherwise, engagement with CAS is voluntary; most people do not know that, because it is not advertised.
A community conversation is also necessary for: understanding how child protection defines physical harm, emotional harm, and neglect, and how it impacts parenting styles; collectively policing the child welfare system; opening up a discussion about reverting to the philosophy “It takes a village to raise children” so we are taking care of each other and our children thus limiting system involvement.
Finally, please consider the history of First Nations people: the residential school system and the sixties scoop, where White colonizers’ abuse and denigration of this community, led to the destruction of their ways of living, their language, their hope, their future generations.
The current practice of child welfare is doing the same thing to the Black community, under the guise of the government-sanctioned child protection.
Thank you for listening.
PS: The article by Dr. Pon is: (Gosine, K., & Pon, G. (2011). On the front lines: The voices and experiences of racialized child welfare workers in Toronto, Canada. Journal of Progressive Human Services, 22 (2): 135-159.
Author’s name withheld