The second annual African Canadian Summit that was held April 29, 2015, provided a stark reminder of how hundreds of years of systemic racism in Canada has impacted the African-Canadian community and has led to a crisis point.
The Summit, hosted by the African-Canadian Legal Clinic and in partnership with the Ontario Federation of Labour, Canadian Labour Congress, and the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, sought to address this crisis from various standpoints.
Minister of Children and Youth Services, Tracy MacCharles, and other dignitaries such as Mayor John Tory and Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders, attended the Summit. Minister MacCharles began the day by citing the OACAS project focused on child welfare service to the African-Canadian community (and funded by the MCCSS) as an investment to address the crisis.
The Summit consisted primarily of a series of panel presentations. Child Welfare was a featured topic, along with Education and Police Services because of their critical roles and impact on the African Canadian Community.
Mary Ballantyne, Executive Director OACAS, explained that the child welfare system has not traditionally supported the African-Canadian community. She spoke about the genesis of the provincial project to address Child Welfare service to the African-Canadian community and that the work will be done with a variety of stakeholders. She stressed that over-representation of African Canadians in the child welfare system is a result of the work of multiple systems.
Nicole Bonnie, Senior Service Manager, Community Engagement and Partnerships, Peel CAS, also emphasized the impact of multiple systems, but noted that processes of systemic and structural surveillance informed by racism also impacted the African-Canadian community significantly. She linked the experience of Canada’s Indigenous population with child welfare and the current social condition, and what the African-Canadian community is experiencing. Like Indigenous children, outcomes show that African-Canadian children are not better off for being in the care of child welfare. Nicole discussed the centrality of the Anti-Oppression (AO) Framework to address the crisis, noting that a central tenet of AO is that the system is not neutral. She also stressed that the solution could not be developed outside of a consultative process with the community.
Wanda Secord, Executive Director, Durham CAS, said her agency’s Anti-Oppression work is in the “very early stages,” but that they believe in responsive and equitable services. Durham’s strategy includes the acknowledgment of the historical and current power of child welfare; the hiring of their Anti-Oppression Practice Integration Leader; the investment in educating their staff in AO; an agency directional statement regarding AO; and an African-Canadian staff committee “Collective Hands,” which is currently analyzing agency data.
Corrie Tuyl, Director, North York Branch, Toronto CAS, spoke about the ongoing work of a joint committee (CCAS and JCA) that Toronto CAS has been engaged in. Discussions there led to facilitation of several meetings with their African Canadian staff to seek their input on the disproportionality issues, to learn from their experiences with Black families children and youth, and to provide an opportunity to talk openly about their lived experience in the workplace. These meetings have informed discussion about structural racism in the agency at the senior management level and strengthened the Society’s resolve to improve services and break down internal and external barriers. Toronto CAS has engaged with key community stakeholders about their data, including two key referral sources, Education and Police Services. A wide variety of programming is being offered for their African Canadian youth in care, and several pilot projects underway (African Caribbean Canadian Family Enrichment Services and Ujima House Access Program) seek to determine the impact of culturally specific services on child welfare outcomes.
Janice Robinson, Executive Director, Toronto Catholic CAS, acknowledged that Toronto CCAS plays a role in the over-representation of African Canadian children in care. She noted that the issue will be front and centre in future planning and current work at her agency. Toronto CCAS’ strategy to address the crisis includes the following: an assessment of their data to understand it better; review of caseloads and increase the use of kinship service and care; focus on admission prevention strategies and collaboration with partners; and overall treat the families with respect and as though they are the experts, and “eventually put ourselves out of business.” Some of the community in attendance raised questions about accountability. Panelists responded by pointing to the Practice Framework and that it should be in place at this time next year. The criminalization and pathologization of the African-Canadian community by systems like Child Welfare was also raised as a significant issue. Panelists acknowledged that criminalization and pathologization occur within our system and that it often gets hidden behind discourses of “risk and risk analysis.” Another significant point of discussion was the lack of diversity within CASs. Panelists acknowledged that our field severely lacks diversity, particularly at management and senior levels. Panelists emphasized that structural changes must be put in place to support any hiring of diverse bodies in order to secure a lasting change.
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