Ontario children’s minister seeks racial data on kids in care
Move part of push to change the way CAS, other agencies interact with black families
Ontario’s children’s minister says he will direct the province’s 47 children’s aid societies to collect racebased data as part of an effort to reduce the high number of black kids in care.
“I believe in data collection,” Michael Coteau told a conference on Thursday marking the beginning of a province-wide push to change the way children’s aid societies interact with black families.
“It is my intention in the very, very near future to mandate all children’s aid societies to collect race-based, disaggregated data,” he told child welfare officials and black community leaders at the gathering.
Black community leaders have long called for the collection of race-based data, arguing that tackling the overrepresentation of black kids in foster and group homes begins with knowing the extent of the problem. Coteau, who was appointed children’s minister in June, has for the first time committed the government to do so.
The conference was held to discuss a report calling for sweeping antiracism reforms.
It demands that every aspect of child protection in Ontario be transformed by “anti-black racism” structures and practices.
The two-volume report, called “One Vision One Voice: Changing the child welfare system to better serve African Canadians,” was written by a committee of the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies (OACAS) and funded by the Ministry of Children and Youth Services.
It was triggered by an ongoing Star investigation, which revealed that 42 per cent of children in the care of the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto were black, in a city where only 8 per cent of children are black.
Coteau reminded the conference that in 2004 he was part of a team of trustees behind the Toronto District School Board’s decision to collect race-based data on students.
“If you have no data, there’s no problem and there’s no solution,” Coteau said, citing the board’s superintendent of education at the time.
Coteau, also responsible for antiracism in Ontario, promised that his ministry would go much further than data collection.
“Substantial reform is on the horizon,” he said, referring to major changes expected in Ontario’s privately run child protection system.
He said the Liberal government would soon amend the Child and Family Services Act to modernize children’s aid societies, which last year received $1.5 billion in provincial funding. He promised to make them more accountable and transparent, and to improve the patchwork of services and care they now provide.
“We want high-quality services that reflect Ontario’s diversity, consistently delivered across the province,” he said.
After his speech, Coteau refused to answer questions from the Star. He would not say whether his ministry was prepared to fund recommendations in the report calling for antiracism reforms.
The OACAS, which represents all but four of the province’s societies, fully backs the recommendations in the anti-racism report, says Mary Ballantyne, the association’s CEO. She stressed the reforms can only be implemented with extra provincial funding.
The call for implementation funds was echoed by Ontario’s human rights commissioner, Renu Mandhane, and the province’s Child Advocate, Irwin Elman.
“We will continue to push the minister,” Elman said in his speech to the conference.
Elman added that he told Coteau, “You can’t just walk away now from this report. You need to provide resources.”
Mandhane told the conference her request earlier this year for racebased data from children’s aid societies has shown the overrepresentation of black children in care is an Ontario-wide problem.
She said the same holds true for indigenous children. Mandhane applauded Coteau’s promise to order societies to collect race-base data.
She warned, however, that challenges in standardizing data collection across all societies should not be used as an excuse to delay imple- menting the report’s recommendations.
The report, written by a committee of 17 black community leaders and led by children’s aid diversity expert Kike Ojo, conducted public consultations with 800 people across Ontario in the past year.
The committee heard concerns about black families “being overscrutinized and over-surveilled by educators, police and medical professionals” — the people that generally refer cases to children’s aid societies.
The experience was compared to the police practice of “carding,” which has resulted in a disproportionate number of black people being stopped, questioned and documented.
There were also widespread complaints about children’s aid workers with no understanding of black culture making biased judgments that unnecessarily remove kids from their homes.
They’re too often placed with white foster parents living in white communities, making the development of positive racial pride impossible.
The report calls for changes to provincial child protection laws, the children’s ministry, Ontario’s privately run children’s aid societies.
It also calls for changes to the way educators, police and medical staff refer children suspected of being at risk of abuse or neglect.
“If you have no data, there’s no problem and there’s no solution.” MICHAEL COTEAU ONTARIO CHILDREN’S MINISTER