Agency sees link between poverty, child abuse
Annual number of complaints remains steady despite falling jobless rate
Unemployment might be down in Southwestern Ontario but a local service agency says many families still face pervasive poverty.
Elgin-St. Thomas Family and Children Services receive around 800 child abuse complaints year. The number hasn’t gone down with decreases in the unemployment rate, indicating many places south of London are still dealing with poverty.
“Our community has faced some really challenging socio-economic times,” said Derrick Drouillard, executive director with family and children services. “Certainly we see some increase made in the reports made to child protection when communities are not healthy.”
It’s no surprise poverty and child abuse are connected. What has changed, Drouillard said, is the way the agency handles cases. As recently as a few decades ago children were often housed separate from their families, often in foster homes.
Now the agency’s focus is keeping children close to the families, often with a relative.
It helps that more people are reporting cases of child abuse, Drouillard said.
“I’m not sure if the numbers have changed or if we’ve just received more calls over the years,” Drouillard said. “Before people may have thought, ‘This is a family, this is a privacy issue, this is none of our business’ where today people are more aware.”
Exposure to violence and neglect are the most common forms of child abuse. It’s a focus of the agency over October, a month where it tries to highlight the importance of abuse awareness and prevention.
Another major concern is the way children from First Nations have been treated historically. Mary Ballantyne, chief executive of the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies, spoke on behalf of the organization earlier this month, apologizing for the role children services played in residential schools among other things.
Her words were met with mixed emotions. Some First Nations leaders flatly refused the apology.
It’s something Drouillard says the agency has to work on locally, and an effort to keep children close to their families could help.
“(We’re) trying to work better with the strengths of families, and ensuring that children can be in their own communities,” Drouillard said. “We absolutely have to continue to improve on it our work with indigenous communities . . . we have a real challenge ahead of us.”