A catalyst to mend child welfare

Posted on November 2, 2022 in Child & Family Delivery System

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TheStar.com – Opinion/Editorial
Oct. 30, 2022.   By Star Editorial Board

The inquest into Devon Freeman’s death focused on the flaws in the system, rather than attributing those flaws to children, and suggested how they could be fixed.

The jury made 75 recommendations, addressing everything from improving communication within and among child welfare and other agencies to researching the effectiveness of child welfare interventions to Indigenous involvement in the child welfare system.

The jury also recommended police services throughout Ontario create dedicated missing persons units, and change how risk assessments are conducted.

Many of the recommendations were endorsed by all parties at the inquest, including the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services, Hamilton Children’s Aid Society and the Hamilton Police Service.

However, the ministry declined to endorse 16 recommendations, most of which are related to funding because, it said, funding falls under the authority of the legislature rather than the ministry itself. That might be true, but it’s no excuse for doing nothing.

Rather, it means the Ontario government must ensure that funding is available, as the Freeman case demonstrates that the recommended initiatives are literally a matter of life and death.

The ministry also questioned a recommendation, dubbed Devon’s Principle, to establish a right for Indigenous children to return to their home communities. While not disagreeing with the spirit of the recommendation, the ministry noted that it’s not entirely clear what the right would entail or how it would operate if the community is outside of Ontario.

Those are legitimate concerns, but that’s also no excuse for doing nothing. Rather, the ministry needs to work together with Indigenous communities and the government to clarify the principle.

After all, the ministry heard about Freeman’s longing for his connection to his community — he frequently visited the Hamilton Regional Indian Centre when he ran away from his treatment facility — and is well aware of the importance of culturally appropriate treatment for all Indigenous children in care.

In fact, the importance of Indigenous involvement has prompted British Columbia to propose legislation that would grant to Indigenous communities jurisdiction over their own child and family services.

The Ontario government also knows that the current system is placing vulnerable children of all backgrounds at risk. In a 2017 report completed for the province, child advocate and former foster child Jane Kovarikova assessed the outcomes of youth transitioned out of Ontario’s child protection system.

Kovarikova found that these youth experience low academic achievement, unemployment or underemployment, homelessness or housing insecurity, criminal justice system involvement, early parenthood, poor health and deep loneliness.

Unfortunately, notes Kovarikova, the response has all too often centred on fixing the child rather than fixing the system. The inquest presented the opportunity to change that approach, as it focused on the flaws in the system, rather than attributing those flaws to children, and suggested how they could be fixed.

Indeed, at the conclusion of the inquest, Pam Freeman said, “We want change, we don’t want this to happen again.” Devon Freeman’s life, and death, can and should act as the catalyst for that change.


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