Agency sees link be­tween poverty, child abuse

An­nual num­ber of com­plaints re­mains steady de­spite fall­ing job­less rate

St. Thomas Times-Journal - - FRONT PAGE - LOUIS PIN @STTJ_Pin lpin@post­media.com

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.”

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