Province overhauling children’s aid system

David Rivard       Akua Benjamin
David Rivard Akua Benjamin

A push for more transparency such as sharing race-based data is among potential changes highlighted for staff to consider by David Rivard, executive director of the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto, as Queen’s Park demands more efficiency and accountability in the sector.
The province says it expects more consolidation, sharing of services and amalgamations in the sector with a view to improving service to vulnerable children across Ontario.
“I really wanted to give our staff a heads-up, be transparent with them that this is happening so they don’t hear it from someone else,” the new CAS chief said.
Rivard’s message came after a recent meeting with the provincial deputy minister of children and youth services and leaders of the province’s 47 children’s aid societies.
He said Deputy Minister Alex Bezzina made clear at that meeting that Ontario expects more consolidation, sharing of services and amalgamations to improve service to vulnerable children across the province.
Ontario’s 47 children’s aid societies are privately run but the province funds them, most recently with $1.5 billion in 2015.
But once again, Toronto’s Black community leaders said the African Canadian community needs its own children’s aid society. To support that demand, the African Canadian Legal Clinic (ACLC) has set up a working group of academics, social workers and community members to study the issue.
Ryerson University professor of social work Akua Benjamin suggested the current system is essentially anti-Black racism.
“The establishment of an agency directed, developed and owned by the Black community will have a real impact on these numbers,” Benjamin said.
A Black community group in Peel recommended mandatory collection and sharing of race-based data on Ontario kids in care.
In a position paper, the Black Community Action Network (BCAN) of Peel noted, “The collection and dissemination of that data is critical to be able to assess whether the kinds of services that we have available are effective, to hold some of these agencies accountable for the kinds of services they are delivering.”
The group also wants Peel Children’s Aid Society to follow the lead of the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto and report publicly on the proportion of children in care – and the number of families involved with the society- who are Black.
With 41% of children in care being Black under the Peel society, the report recommends the new African-Canadian Agency “should adopt an Afrocentric approach and focus on supporting strong and healthy families, rather than removing children from the home.”
Black community leaders blame cultural misunderstandings, poverty and systemic racism in the child protection system as well as schools and police as the largest source of referrals to children’s aid societies.