Ontario human rights chief calls for race-based...
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Jan 11, 2016  |  Vote 0    0

Ontario human rights chief calls for race-based stats for kids in care

Renu Mandhane suggests systemic discrimination is behind overrepresentation of black and aboriginal kids in care.


“Systemic and persistent discrimination” is likely involved in a disproportionate number of aboriginal and black children being taken from their families and placed into care, Ontario’s Chief Human Rights Commissioner says.

Ending the trend, Renu Mandhane added, begins with the provincial government collecting race-based data to gauge the full extent of the problem — something it does not currently do.

How can the government and children’s aid societies understand the needs of the children and families they serve — and the discrimination they might be facing — if they don’t know the race and culture of those families, Mandhane asked in an interview with the Star.

“We wouldn’t get involved unless we thought there were elements of systemic and persistent discrimination at play,” Mandhane said, describing her commission’s decision to examine the overrepresentation of aboriginal and black children in foster homes or group homes.

The human rights commission is the latest in a long list of agencies and community groups to call on the Ministry of Children and Youth Services to collect and make public race-based data. The Children’s Aid Society of Toronto took the step in the summer of 2015 after the Toronto Star revealed that 41.8 per cent of children in its care are black. The city’s under-18 black population, meanwhile, is 8.2 per cent.

Children’s Minister Tracy MacCharles said a year ago that she would consider the idea, but she has not directed children’s aid societies to collect and report the data.

On Friday, a spokeswoman for MacCharles said the idea is something the ministry is “examining closely.”

An ongoing Star investigation has found Ontario’s most vulnerable children are in the care of a child protection system that is often unaccountable and secretive. Ontario’s 47 children’s aid societies are privately run but funded by the provincial government — receiving $1.5 billion in 2015.

Data collection is a messy patchwork. Some societies note the racial backgrounds of their children, and track how they’re doing while in care, while others don’t. The ministry is setting up a central database to standardize the collection of child protection data but full implementation is years away, and race-based data is so far not part of the program.

On average, 15,625 Ontario children were in foster or group-home care in 2014-15.

Perhaps the most accurate province-wide count of Ontario aboriginal children — First Nations, Métis and Inuit — in care is through a government-mandated survey known as OnLAC. Its data, obtained and first published by the Star, found in 2014 that 23 per cent of children in care for at least one year were First Nations. That is 9.3 times more than the 2.5 per cent of Ontario’s under-18 population who are First Nations.

Mandhane said her commission’s call for race-based data is partly a response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, which recently recommended that governments publish annual reports on the number of aboriginal children in care. That commission described the decades-long policy of forcing aboriginal children into residential schools as cultural genocide. Some aboriginal leaders argue the process continues under the child protection system.

Less than 25 per cent of children in Ontario are removed from their families due to physical or sexual abuse. The rest are removed because of neglect — often as a result of poverty — domestic violence between parents, or a parent’s inability to care for a child due to mental health troubles or addiction.

“One of the things we hear from indigenous and racialized communities is that in many ways the child welfare system is a Band-Aid solution,” Mandhane said. It doesn’t deal with the underlying reasons, such as poverty and a lack of social services, that make families unable to properly care for their children.

“We need to really look beyond the child welfare system when we’re thinking about what the answers are to this overrepresentation” of aboriginal and black children, Mandhane said.

Her commission will be sending letters to all children’s aid societies asking for data on the racial background of the children in their care. The letters will note that her commission has the legal power to obtain such information. The commission will also consult community groups.

The commission has a broad mandate, from public education to launching complaints with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, which rules on claims of discrimination and harassment under the Human Rights Code. The commission wants to compile the race-based data before deciding what action to take.

“We want to support these (children’s aid) institutions to understand the importance of race-based data,” Mandhane said. “We never start with the stick first; we always start with the carrot.”

By the numbers:

42% The proportion of children in the care of the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto in 2013 who were black or have one black parent.

8% The proportion of people under 18 in Toronto who are black.

23% The proportion of Ontario children in care who are First Nations.

2.5% The proportion of people under 18 in Ontario who are First Nations.

2.3% The proportion of Ontario children in care who are Métis — 3.4 times their share of the under-18 population.

0.47% The proportion of Ontario children in care who are Inuit – 11.3 times their share of the under-18 population.

Sources: Children’s Aid Society of Toronto and OnLAC annual survey.

Toronto Star

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(1) Comment

By Passer | JANUARY 19, 2016 05:16 PM
Isn't it odd that the people insistent upon keeping race based stats are always those who claim not to be racists?
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