Research shows that children and youth involved in the child welfare system do better when they remain connected to their families and their communities, and in placements that reflect their intersectional identities. Children and youth have rights to identity and belonging within their families and communities, and for culturally appropriate service delivery. Kinship is especially critical in addressing overrepresentation and disparities in outcomes for Indigenous, Black, and 2SLGBTQ+ children, youth, and families.
Customary Care, Kinship & Indigenous Communities
“Customary care is an inherent right and practice that predates the evolution of child welfare on Turtle Island and supersedes jurisdiction. Indigenous worldviews see children and youth at the centre of circles of care. Our collective work is to prioritize and build meaningful relationships with families, communities, and nations, honoring them as the experts in kinship and alternate care.”
– Julia Jamieson, FNIM Holistic Practice Director, OACAS
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Final Report calls for child welfare to reduce the number of Indigenous children in care, to keep families together where it is safe to do so, and to keep children in culturally appropriate environments. Similarly, the Calls for Justice compel child welfare agencies to uphold and protect the rights of Indigenous children and their health and well-being, including by placing them with family or community members.
The Federal Act sets standards, principles, and obligations for child welfare agencies to ensure culturally appropriate placements of Indigenous children and youth in order of priority: 1) with a parent, 2) with a family member, 3) with an adult who belongs to the same Indigenous group, 4) with an adult who belongs to a different Indigenous group, 5) with any other adult.
Many Indigenous children in Ontario are being looked after within their communities through kinship and alternate care. In 2020-21, nearly 1,700 Indigenous children and youth in Ontario were in customary care arrangements overseen by child welfare agencies. Most customary care arrangements were held by Indigenous Child & Family Well-Being Agencies. Research on out-of-home placements shows that:
- For First Nations children and youth:
- 16% of investigations resulted in out-of-home placement:
- 10% were placed with a relative
- 5% were placed in foster care
- 1% were placed in a group or treatment home. (Source: Mashkiwenmi-daa Noojimowin: Let’s Have Strong Minds for the Healing, 2021)
- Informal placements (including kinship service), represented the most frequently noted placement type, followed by non-relative foster care and kinship care. (Source: First Nations/Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect-2019)
- 16% of investigations resulted in out-of-home placement:
- Comparable data was not available for Inuit and Métis children and youth, although a study from Newfoundland and Labrador found that of 690 kinship placements, only 14% (or 100 placements) were Indigenous, half which were Innu, one-third Inuit, and ten Mi’Kmaq.
Kinship and customary placement options are critical in addressing overrepresentation and disparities in outcomes for Indigenous children and youth, as well as ensuring their wellness.
Kinship & African Canadian Communities
In 2016, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child raised concerns about the significant overrepresentation of African Canadian children and youth in Canada’s child welfare system and recommended that Canada “take effective measures to address the root causes of overrepresentation of African-Canadian children in care institutions.”
Ontario Kinship Standards require continual search for kin and collaboration with extended families and communities in placement decisions. Priority must be given to placements with relatives, extended family members, or members of the child’s community.
However, like other Canadian institutions, child welfare agencies have evolved within an historical context of white supremacy, colonialism, and anti-Black racism, all of which have been woven into the fabric of child welfare policies and practices. To fully understand the involvement of Black children, youth, and families in Ontario’s child welfare system, it is necessary to understand the historical and ongoing anti-Black racism, and how it leads to bias when carrying out investigations, kinship search, assessment, and placement decisions.
Research on out-of-home placements for African Canadian children and youth show that:
- Black children represent 7% of the child population but represent nearly 14% of the child welfare service population.
- Compared to white children, Black children were 2.2 times as likely to be investigated and 2.5 times as likely to be placed in out-of-home care during an investigation.
- Of the proportion of investigations involving Black children, 2% were placed with a relative in an informal arrangement and another 1% were placed in foster care (which includes kinship care). No investigations involving Black children resulted in placement in a group or treatment home.
Within African Canadian families, the extended family unit and community provide a flexible and adaptable supportive network that protects children.
“The community is a positive social support that promotes healthy coping strategies, endorses cultural connections, and creates a protective factor against the harmful impacts of anti-Black racism.”
– Keishia Facey, OVOV Program Manager, OACAS
Child welfare agencies can support positive outcomes for African Canadian children and youth in care by following OVOV’s race equity practices (REPs). REP 11 emphasizes that care by kin is preferred for African Canadian children and youth and recommends placing with kin when possible, or with African Canadian families as the second option, to maintain cultural connections. Culturally appropriate services should also be made available to African Canadian children and youth as needed.
Child welfare agencies should ensure that caregivers receive the supports they need, which may include training and access to funding, specialized treatment, parenting classes, and counselling, to support the development of a strong and positive racial identity.
Kinship & 2SLGBTQ+ Communities
Although data for 2SLGBTQ+ children and youth in Ontario and their experiences in the child welfare system is lacking, research indicates that 2SLGBTQ+ children and youth are overrepresented in the child welfare system.
Child welfare agencies have observed that an increasing number of 2SLGBTQ+ children and youth, especially trans and non-binary children and youth, are interacting with the child welfare system due to a lack of support from and identity rejection by their primary caregivers. Amidst rising anti-2SLGBTQ+ hate, it is critical we examine the ways in which cis-heteronormativity persists across systems of care and impacts service planning.
Research across jurisdictions has shown that 2SLGBTQ+ children and youth are more likely to:
- Experience poor treatment in child welfare, marginalization, discrimination, lack of acceptance, and related mental health concerns,
- Experience multiple foster placements, and
- Experience harassment and violence in group placements.
2SLGBTQ+ children and youth are less likely to:
- Achieve permanency, with increased likelihood of aging out of foster care.
“Family acceptance and support is the number one protective factor for 2SLGBTQ+ youth when it comes to their mental health, well-being, and positive outcomes. Providing a home which affirms the sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression of a youth can be lifesaving!”
– Kristin Roe, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Lead, OACAS; Jacob Stokl, 2SLGBTQ+ Analyst, OACAS
Even when caregivers and families may initially struggle to support their 2SLGBTQ+ child or youth, research shows that families typically become more accepting over time, opening later possibilities of reunification and kinship placement. Even if family placements are not possible, family search and engagement methods of immediate, extended, and chosen families can be effective in developing networks of adults that can support the child or youth’s identity and transition into adulthood. Networks of supportive connections and affirming placements are critical to ensuring the safety, health, and well-being of 2SLGBTQ+ children and youth.