Ontario’s Liberal government “should be ashamed” that black children in the Toronto area are being placed in foster and group home care at greater rates than white children, opposition leaders said Thursday.
“This should be a concern for all of the parties,” said Jim Wilson, the Progressive Conservative interim leader. “The government should be ashamed.
“The government has to set priorities, and children, regardless of colour, should always be the priority of society.”
Wilson noted that on Tuesday, the Auditor General warned many areas of spending were being crowded out by the province’s $267-billion debt. Wilson pointed to the government’s failure to meet its anti-poverty targets and the deficits that plague several children’s aid societies as examples.
A Toronto Star investigation has found that 41 per cent of children in foster and group home care in the care of the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto are black. Meanwhile, just 8.2 per cent of the city’s population under 18 is black.
Across Ontario, a recent survey of about 7,000 children in care for more than a year shows that about 12 per cent are of African or Caribbean descent. Only about 5 per cent of Ontario’s children under 18 are from those communities.
Black community leaders blame cultural misunderstandings, poverty and systemic racism in the child protection system and within schools and police, where most referrals to children’s aid originate.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the numbers are “very alarming” and show the government has to do more to fight poverty in Ontario.
“I think we have to recognize the disproportionality of children in CAS that are black is reflective of the disproportionality of people who are living in poverty who are black,” she told reporters.
“Unfortunately we have a government that continues to allow child poverty to climb in Ontario.”
Ontario did not meet its 2008 goal to cut child poverty in the province by 25 per cent by 2013. Its recent five-year poverty reduction plan vowed to continue efforts to meet its 2008 goal, but neglected to set a deadline.
Children and Youth Services Minister Tracy MacCharles said she was “concerned” about the numbers.
“I’m going to go back and have a hard look at the numbers at the ministry level and assess it further,” she said.
Black community leaders say they have been urging action on the overrepresentation of black children in the child welfare system for at least eight years.
The Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies and the African Canadian Legal Clinic last month submitted a joint funding proposal for a project to address the issue.
MacCharles said she will “have a look at it.”