Over-representation of Indigenous, Black and other racialized children and youth in Ontario’s child welfare system

OHRC’s initial inquiry

In December 2015, the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) announced that it will use its mandate under the Ontario Human Right Code (Code) to examine the overrepresentation of Indigenous, Black and other racialized children and youth in the child welfare system.

In February 2016, the OHRC wrote to Children’s Aid Societies in Ontario, requesting disaggregated data regarding children and youth in the province’s child welfare system from January 1, 2012 to December 31, 2015, including:

1.The data and data collection practices used to monitor and identify supports and services for children and youth in your care, and their families.

2.Demographic breakdown (number/proportion) of children, youth, and families your agency serves, disaggregated by Human Rights Code grounds including age, race (e.g. Aboriginal peoples, White, Black, East/Southeast Asian, South Asian, Latin American, Middle-Easterners, and other racialized minorities), creed, sex, place of origin (place of birth), and citizenship.

3.First contact of child, youth and family with the child welfare system, including by mode of referral (e.g. who contacted the CAS), reason(s), type of supports and services provided, disaggregated by Code grounds including age, race (e.g. Aboriginal peoples, White, Black, East/Southeast Asian, South Asian, Latin American, Middle-Easterners, and other racialized minorities), creed, sex, place of origin (place of birth), and citizenship.

4.Admission of child and youth into your agency’s care, including by mode of referral and reason(s), disaggregated by Code grounds including age, race (e.g. Aboriginal peoples, White, Black, East/Southeast Asian, South Asian, Latin American, Middle-Easterners, and other racialized minorities), creed, sex, place of origin (place of birth), and citizenship.

5.Progress of child and youth in your agency’s care and their families through the child welfare system, including placement type(s), supports and services provided, disaggregated by Code grounds including age, race (e.g. Aboriginal peoples, White, Black, East/Southeast Asian, South Asian, Latin American, Middle-Easterners, and other racialized minorities), creed, sex, place of origin (place of birth), and citizenship.

6.Discharge from your agency, including supports and services provided, ultimate placement or resolution, disaggregated by Codegrounds including age, race (e.g. Aboriginal peoples, White, Black, East/Southeast Asian, South Asian, Latin American, Middle-Easterners, and other racialized minorities), creed, sex, place of origin (place of birth), and citizenship.

7.Policies, programs and procedures designed to improve outcomes for Indigenous and racialized children, youth and their families that come in contact with your agency.

8.Intake, discharge or other forms and information that you believe would be helpful to inform the OHRC’s understanding of the particular experience of these groups with the child welfare system.

The OHRC asked that the Children’s Aid Societies provide these data by June 1, 2016.

The OHRC’s guide, Count me in! Collecting human rights-based data, argued that data collection that is consistent with the Code can help organizations more effectively:

  • monitor potential discrimination
  • identify and remove systemic barriers
  • address historical disadvantage, and
  • promote equity in service delivery and programming.

The OHRC identified two provincial initiatives that dovetailed with its requests for these data:

  1. Ontario’s Ministry of Child and Youth Services (MCYS) and the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies (OACAS) are committed to using data to improve the services to children in care and their families (e.g. the “One Vision, One Voice” project to improve outcomes for African Canadian children and their families). The OHRC looked forward to the release of the Report and Practice Framework from that project.
  2. The MCYS and the OACAS plan to implement a single, integrated data management system that will be used by CASs across the province by 2019/2020. The OHRC hoped that CASs use this data system to report consistent disaggregated data which can inform efforts to improve outcomes and supports for Indigenous and racialized children and youth in care and their families.

Under suspicion

In April 2017, the OHRC released its research and consultation report on racial profiling in the child welfare system. See also online summary.

Interrupted childhoods

In February 2018, the OHRC published its findings and recommendations regarding the over-representation of Indigenous, Black and other racialized children and youth in Ontario’s child welfare system. See also:

Follow-Up

In October 2019, the OHRC reminded the Ontario Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services (MCCSS) that Indigenous, Black and other racialized families and communities are concerned that their children are over-represented in the child welfare system and that systemic racial discrimination in the child welfare system plays a significant role.

The OHRC summarized its findings and recommendations for the MCCSS, and identified shortfalls in the response of government and CASs.

Findings

Despite the limitations of the race-based data the OHRC received from mainstream CASs, the OHRC observed disproportionately high incidences of Indigenous, Black and other racialized 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.

Recommendations

In light of these and broader findings, the OHRC made 10 recommendations for the government of Ontario:

  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. Race-based data should be cross-tabulated with relevant provincial performance measures for the child welfare system.
  1. The government should implement the Motherisk Commission report recommendations.

Response

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.


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