Hon. Jill Dunlop
Associate Minister, Children and Women’s Issues
Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services
Ferguson Block, 77 Wellesley St W
Toronto, ON M7A 1N3
Dear Minister Dunlop:
I hope this finds you well. Congratulations on your appointment as Associate Minister of Children and Women’s Issues.
I am writing on behalf of the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) with regard to the government’s public consultation into Ontario’s child welfare system. The OHRC is encouraged by the government’s move to review this important public service. We agree that Ontario’s vision should be that “every child and youth receiving child welfare services has the supports they need to succeed, and to thrive.”
Unfortunately, as you note, several challenges prevent the system from realizing this vision. For decades, Indigenous, Black and other racialized families and communities have raised the alarm that their children are over-represented in the child welfare system. Although Indigenous and racialized children’s pathways through the system are quite different, Ontario-based research shows that racial disparities – that is, differences between racial groups at decision-making points in a service – do exist. The number of Indigenous children in care is staggering, and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) has called the situation a “growing crisis.” Many Indigenous, Black and other racialized families, communities, advocates and others are also concerned that systemic racial discrimination in the child welfare system plays a significant role.
To respond to these concerns, in 2016 the OHRC launched a public interest inquiry to examine the involvement of Indigenous and racialized children and youth in the child welfare system. We requested information from children’s aid societies (CASs) on their race-based data collection practices and how they track children and families receiving their services. Following the inquiry, the OHRC released its report, Interrupted childhoods: Over-representation of Indigenous and Black children in Ontario child welfare (Interrupted childhoods).
What we found
Despite the limitations of the race-based data the OHRC received from mainstream CASs, the OHRC observed disproportionately high incidences of Indigenous and Black children in admissions into care at many of these agencies across the province. Although the racial disproportionality data presented in this report is not conclusive of discrimination by CASs, it is a starting point for CASs and the government to look critically at racial inequality in the sector.
Some specific conclusions from the inquiry include:
- Indigenous children were over-represented in admissions into care at 93% of agencies we looked at (25 of 27), with many CASs showing extreme levels of disproportionality. Overall, the proportion of Indigenous children admitted into care was 2.6 times higher than their proportion in the child population. These figures likely underestimate the proportions of Indigenous children admitted into care, in part because the OHRC’s sample only included non-Indigenous (mainstream) CASs.
- Black children were over-represented in admissions into care at 30% of agencies (8 of 27). Overall, the proportion of Black children admitted into care was 2.2 times higher than their proportion in the child population.
- In contrast, at more than half of the 27 CASs, White children were under-represented among children admitted into care (15 of 27 agencies or 56%).
- Race-based data collection processes and practices are a patchwork across the sector. We looked at 38 mainstream CASs’ data collection practices. These CASs’ human rights-based (particularly race-based) data collection practices are widely inconsistent with each other and vary even within many individual agencies.
- More than 40% of CASs did not know the racial backgrounds or Indigenous identities of more than one in five children served by their agency, when considering referrals, cases opened for investigation, and admissions of children into care. Four agencies did not know the racial backgrounds or Indigenous identities of over half the children placed into care.
- For most CASs, these gaps and inconsistences make it statistically difficult to assess if racial disparities exist across different service decisions (such as placing children into care), which makes it difficult to assess whether systemic racial discrimination may be happening.
- The best and most complete data is collected by agencies that:
- Have a deliberate, holistic approach to data collection grounded in trying to understand the needs of the marginalized communities they serve
- Are concerned about racial disproportionality and disparities
- Have dedicated the resources to do these analyses, and
- Have trained their staff.
In light of these and broader findings, the OHRC made 10 recommendations for the government of Ontario:
- The government of Ontario (government) should develop a provincial strategy to identify and address how families’ social and economic conditions are linked to racial disparities and disproportionality in the child welfare system. This strategy should contain measurable commitments to address these inequalities, including increasing the availability of funding, housing, services and supports to help families meet their needs and safely keep their children. The government should report on these commitments on an annual basis.
- The government should commit to fully implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Calls to Action.
- The government should implement the Steering Committee recommendations as outlined in the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies’ (OACAS) One Vision One Voice report.
- The government should require by law that all CASs – both mainstream and Indigenous – collect human rights-based data, including race-based data, and poverty-related information.
- The government should amend the Human Rights Code to add “social condition” as a protected ground of discrimination. In doing so, discrimination against people experiencing social and economic disadvantage would be prohibited in services, housing, employment and other areas.
- The government should require that child welfare workers at all mainstream and Indigenous CASs be trained on how to collect human rights-based data. They should also require that child welfare workers be trained on anti-racism, including anti-Indigenous racism and anti-Black racism, and on providing culturally competent services to Indigenous, Black and other racialized families. Such training should incorporate the history and impacts of residential schools and be done in partnership with people from affected communities.
- The government should monitor and ensure CASs’ compliance with any legislation, regulations and policy directives pertaining to human rights-based data collection, with the aim of increasing the accuracy of the data collected and reducing the amount of missing or unknown data to zero.
- The Ministry of Children and Youth Services (MCYS) should create a dedicated unit to advance equity for Indigenous, racialized and other Human Rights Code-identified groups in child welfare. Staff should have expertise in anti-racism, including anti-Indigenous and anti-Black racism. The unit would be responsible for building knowledge and resource capacity across CASs to collect and analyze data, identify potential sources of discrimination, develop training, and address systemic barriers and discrimination faced by Indigenous and racialized families and children. Liability for preventing and responding to discrimination would remain with individual CASs.
- Race-based data should be cross-tabulated with relevant provincial performance measures for the child welfare system.
- The government should implement the Motherisk Commission report recommendations.
While some progress has been made in terms of requiring the collection of race-based data amongst CASs, poverty data remains uncollected, and there has been little to no progress on the remaining recommendations. The OHRC encourages the government to review Interrupted childhoods, and take steps to implement all 10 of the recommendations to government in order to bring necessary changes for the proper functioning of Ontario’s child welfare system.
Should you have any questions or wish to discuss this matter further please feel free to reach out to my assistant, Alfred Fung, at firstname.lastname@example.org or (416) 314-4537.
Renu Mandhane, B.A., J.D., LL.M.
cc: Hon. Todd Smith, Minister of Children, Community and Social Services
Hon. Doug Downey, Attorney General