The Trump administration’s current separation of children from their migrant parents has put children and immigration issues in the spotlight. But few people understand the extent to which children with unresolved immigration status issues are a growing issue for Canada. To meet this expanding need, Peel Children’s Aid and OACAS officially launched a new Child Welfare Immigration Centre of Excellence on June 13, 2018. This Centre of Excellence will not only be available at Peel CAS but will support child welfare agencies across Ontario as they deal with increasingly complex situations involving children and youth who do not have immigration status. The critical services that will be provided include support for children and youth so they can apply for immigration and citizenship documents, support for families so they can access services for children without status, and the collection of provincial data.
“The case for early and rapid resolution of immigration status issues for children and youth within the child welfare sector is clear,” says Rav Bains, CEO, Peel CAS. “Resolving immigration status issues in a timely manner has the potential to make a very significant difference in the lives of children and youth to ensure they have access to services such as education and employment.”
Children’s Aid Societies are encountering this issue more frequently because of their work with children and youth who come to Canada as refugees, unaccompanied minors fleeing war, extreme poverty, and gender-based violence, or who have been taken into care because of abuse from caregivers without immigration status while living in Ontario. Child welfare agencies also work with Global Affairs Canada to bring back Canadian children who are dealing with abuse while living abroad.
The CWICE is positioned to address the many of these situations where the burden for resolving immigration status falls on the shoulders of children and youth who do not have adults to support them. The recently publicized case of Abdoul Abdi, who came to Nova Scotia as a refugee from Somalia, is an example of the kind of the challenges a youth faces who leaves care without receiving the proper immigration supports. Despite living in foster care since he was seven years old, Abdi now faces deportation back to Somalia, after a prison sentence for aggravated assault, because the Nova Scotia Department of Community Services failed to apply for citizenship on his behalf.
Lack of immigration status impacts children and youth in a variety of ways, most importantly preventing them from accessing health care and post-secondary education. Permanency is also not possible for children and youth in this situation, with severe possible repercussions when they grow older.
“If we don’t resolve immigration status, we are not setting children and youth up for success,” says Mary Ballantyne, CEO, Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies. “The centre of excellence will capitalize on Peel’s years of expertise in immigration and child welfare and will assist other organizations and agencies across the province to better respond to children and families experiencing immigration and settlement issues.”
To raise awareness about the new Child Welfare Immigration Centre of Excellence and the challenges that children and youth without immigration status face, OACAS and Peel CAS visited MPs and Senators on Parliament Hill in Ottawa in May. “We are hoping to build relationships and awareness, because while child welfare is a provincial responsibility, immigration is a federal matter” says Rav Bains, CEO of Peel CAS. “Our Centre of Excellence is the first of its kind in Canada, and we are looking for the support of our federal partners.”