Over-Representation of Indigenous (and other Racialized) Children in the Child Welfare System: Human Rights Aspects.

AuthorMcKay-Panos, Linda

For the past few decades, there has been growing publicity about the over-representation of Indigenous and other minority children in our child welfare systems across Canada. The 2015 findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission confirmed that the over-representation of Indigenous children in Canadian child welfare systems has reached a crisis level. Even the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2012 noted that Canada needed to take urgent measures to address the "discriminatory over-representation" of Indigenous children who were in "out-of-home" care. The Ontario Human Rights Commission recently released a report called Interrupted Childhoods: Over-representation of Indigenous and Black children in Ontario child welfare (February 2018) and this report confirms what others have been saying.

The challenge in identifying the causes of over-representation in the child welfare system related to human rights abuses is that discrimination is often systemic and proven through circumstantial evidence. The Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) notes that systemic discrimination may be diagnosed by looking at numerical data, policies, practices and decision-making processes and organizational culture. Discrimination plays a role in policy formation and decision-making about placement in out-of-home care and funding of child welfare initiatives.

The OHRC analyzes the factors that result in discrimination in the context of child welfare decision-making. In summarizing the existing research across Canada, the OHRC notes that neglect (as opposed to active child abuse) is the main reason that Indigenous children enter the child welfare system. The OHRC also summarizes the causes of neglect in this community as "chronic family concerns, such as poverty, poor and unsafe housing, substance use, mental health issues and social isolation". The causes of the chronic family concerns in Indigenous communities may be traced to decades of oppression and discrimination that have resulted in "multiple negative social and economic disadvantages". Some of the most systemically discriminatory policies pertained to residential schools, which resulted in Indigenous children being taken from their families and removed from loving parents, parental role models, and thus losing their cultures and their identities.

With respect to Black and racialized minority children, the number of children over-represented in child welfare has not been well researched. However, existing studies indicate that children from families who are Black and from other visible minority groups, including those who are new Canadians, experience...

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