The “alarming” numbers of black children in foster and group home care mean the African Canadian community needs its own children’s aid society, say leaders in Toronto’s black community.
“We have seen this successfully implemented in other communities,” said Anthony Morgan of the African Canadian Legal Clinic, noting there are already children’s aid societies serving Ontario’s Jewish, Catholic and aboriginal families.
The clinic has set up a working group of academics, social workers and community members to study the issue, he added.
The legal clinic was reacting to a Toronto Star story that showed 41 per cent of children in the care of the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto are black. Just 8 per cent of the city’s population under age 18 are black.
Black community leaders blame cultural misunderstandings, poverty and systemic racism in the child protection system as well as schools and police, the largest source of referrals to children’s aid.
“The guts of this lies in the question about anti-black racism,” said Ryerson University social work professor Akua Benjamin, referring to what she describes as the core of the problem.
“The establishment of an agency directed, developed and owned by the black community will have a real impact on these numbers,” added Benjamin, one of several leaders who spoke at a news conference at the legal clinic’s downtown office Friday.
Urgent action is needed because black families are being torn apart and too many black youths in care are ending up in the criminal justice system, she said.
In the meantime, the clinic is calling on the government to mandate the involvement of the black community whenever child protection workers respond to calls about the safety of any child of African or Caribbean heritage.
In these cases, every CAS should have a local list of “competent and proven” African Canadian organizations to assist, Morgan said.
“Of course we know there are times when a child does need to be apprehended,” he said.
“But in terms of the legitimacy of that decision, the appropriateness of that decision, and making sure that the rights and the dignity of the family and the child are upheld, we feel that roster needs to be developed and used — and supported by our governments,” he added.
When black children are brought into care, they should be placed with relatives or culturally appropriate foster families, Morgan said.
The clinic also wants the government to mandate all children’s aid societies to collect ethnic data on the children and families they serve and for the numbers to be regularly publicized on agency websites.