Don’t even think of housing foster kids in jails
TheStar.com – Opinion/Editorials – It’s hard to believe that a study might suggest placing northern Ontario children of any race in care in youth detention centres.
Sept. 6, 2016. Editorial
Removing a child from his or her home is one of the most traumatic and disruptive steps the state can take. So imagine the psychological damage if children, who may already mistakenly believe they’re being taken because they’ve been bad, are placed in a jail.
Yet, unbelievably, that is one of the considerations in an ongoing and sweeping review of residential services provided for children in care in northern Ontario.
The problem that led to this perverse idea is real enough. One of the goals of the review is to keep foster children, many of whom are aboriginal, closer to the communities they come from. But a lack of foster care and group homes in the north means they are often sent to southern Ontario or beyond.
Still, housing them in youth detention centres in the north cannot be the answer. Ever.
Even the report that suggested the idea acknowledged: “It could be perceived as punishment and be stigmatizing.”
Nor is it entirely reassuring that a spokeswoman for the office of Ontario’s children and youth minister, Michael Coteau, called the suggestion “very notional.” It shouldn’t be considered at all.
Instead, the ministry should be looking at why there are so many northern and First Nations kids in care in the first place, and what services would help keep them in their homes, except in cases of abuse.
That’s right, not all kids are taken from their homes because of sexual or physical abuse. Instead, recent studies have pointed to poverty and racism as major factors in why children are removed from their homes.
For example, children whose families ran out of money for housing were twice as likely to be placed with foster parents or group homes, according to an analysis of Ontario children taken into care in 2013. Similar rates were found for families who ran out of money for food or utilities.
As Kenn Richard, executive director of Native Child and Family Services of Toronto, told the Star last June that more than 90 per cent of the families his agency works with are poor. “The state intervenes on behaviour associated with poverty, but never gets to the poverty itself.”
As for racism, aboriginal children are 130 per cent more likely to be investigated as possible victims of child abuse or neglect than white children, and 15 per cent more likely to have maltreatment confirmed. They are also 168 per cent more likely to be taken from their homes and placed into care.
As a result, 23 per cent of children in care in the province for at least one year in 2014 were First Nations. That is nine times greater than the 2.5 per cent of Ontario’s under-18 population who are aboriginal.
After the apologies for placing aboriginal children in residential schools and the recent focus on the so-called “Sixties Scoop,” which saw First Nations children taken from their homes and placed with non-aboriginal families over two decades, it’s hard to believe that any study might suggest placing northern children of any race in care in youth detention centres.
The province must put its money into solving the underlying causes of neglect, especially poverty in northern and First Nations communities, and the problem of where to put many of these young children should resolve itself. With fewer children needing care in the first place, those who do need help can be placed in a foster care or group home closer to their families.
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