6 reasons why Anti-Oppressive (AO) practice is critical for child welfare in Ontario


Problem: The Child, Youth and Family Services Act grants Children’s Aid Societies substantial power through legislation.

Solution: Working from an anti-oppressive lens encourages child welfare professionals to be mindful of this power and to reflect on how this power can be shared with children, youth, and families at all points of service delivery. This analysis of power is what distinguishes AO from other approaches.


Problem: Child welfare data shows that there is significant overrepresentation of Indigenous and African-Canadian children, youth, and families in the system. Child welfare data also shows that there is significant disparity in how Indigenous and African-Canadian children and youth experience the system and in their outcomes.

Solution: AO practice recognizes that the system treats particular groups of people unequally based on their race, gender, sexual orientation and identity, class, occupation, and social service usage. Working from an AO lens helps to identify the institutional assumptions, policies, and practices that leads child welfare to intersect with some groups of people more than others. AO practice also helps to understand why and how child welfare policies and practices can have negative impacts on some groups of people and not others.


Problem: Child welfare data shows us that the majority of children and youth who receive child welfare services live in families that are struggling with chronic challenges such as poverty, mental health, housing, and addictions. The child welfare system has the potential to reinforce and deepen these inequalities.

Solution: AO practice recognizes that there is a dominant viewpoint that blames parents rather than systems for not providing resources and supports to their children. Working within an anti-oppressive framework encourages child welfare professionals to work with marginalized families as advocates and allies, and to see economic and social systems as a part of the problem and therefore part of the solution to family crises.


Problem: The child welfare system partners with many other systems when it works with families, and experience has shown that these systems can also be oppressive because of systemic racism, colonialism, culturally inappropriate services, silos, inter-agency conflicts, and lack of dialogue.

Solution: Working from an AO lens encourages critical thinking about inherent power in different systems and structures. This critical thinking about power in relation to identities and collaborative dialogues are vital to preventing a domino effect which leads to Indigenous, African-Canadian, and children and youth from other marginalized communities coming into care.


Problem: Working one on one with families that are facing challenges gives frontline child welfare professionals an in-depth perspective on the kinds of challenges and barriers that families face when they intersect with social systems.

Solution: Working from an anti-oppressive lens requires that front-line workers make the link between their individual AO action to the institutional and organizational barriers that made this action necessary. AO practice recognizes that individual actions need to be translated into organizational and system-wide actions.


Problem: The child welfare system requires frontline workers to spend a great deal of time filling out paper work, including client records, court documents, and compliance forms.

Solution: Working from an AO lens puts the emphasis on listening to the voices of children, youth, and families, and the development of meaningful relationships that make room for recognizing identity and social divisions. This approach will improve the quality of the documentation being collected, but more importantly it can help lead to long-lasting, positive change for families that are struggling.