Ontario must heed alarms on aid for kids in crisis

Posted on December 20, 2014 in Child & Family Delivery System

TheStar.com – Opinion/Editorials – Just 8 per cent of Toronto kids are black, but 41 per cent of kids in care with the Toronto Children’s Aid Society are. Something is amiss.
Dec 19 2014.   Editorial

The Children’s Aid Society rescues kids from abusive homes and neglect every day. While no child wants to be separated from family, many of the 23,300 currently in care need a safe haven for a period of time.

Still, the system, despite all its public funding and good intentions, is far from perfect — and the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto acknowledges that.

The agency notes it is currently working with government officials and community groups to implement recommendations from the 2009 Commission to Promote Sustainable Child Welfare. Still, a Star investigation of the agency by Sandro Contenta, Laurie Monsebraaten and Jim Rankin reveals two issues in particular that need immediate attention:

– The first is that black kids are way overrepresented in the system. Just 8 per cent of Toronto children under 18 are black, but 41 per cent of kids in care are black.

– The second is that we’re over-medicating kids in the system. The reporters found that 48.6 per cent of those aged 5 to 17 in foster and group homes are taking behaviour-altering medications. The number jumps to 74 per cent for 10- to 15-year-olds in group homes.

What’s behind the startling numbers? As usual, it’s complicated.

Black children are taken into care more often than others for a number of reasons.

According to some, it’s racism. Everton Gordon, executive director of the Jamaican Canadian Association, believes police go into black homes with the same bias that results in racial profiling on the streets.

Others point to poverty. American studies had shown that black parents were no more likely to abuse or neglect their children than white parents. But a 2010 study contradicted those findings and found higher rates of child abuse or neglect among black parents. The take-away? Researchers found the 2008 recession affected blacks more than whites. Poverty, the study found, is the strongest predictor of maltreatment rates.

There can also be cultural misunderstandings. The data indicate that many of the black children in care are of Jamaican heritage. One teacher called the Peel CAS because a child was sent to school with a roti and the teacher didn’t believe it was healthy. The common use of spanking to discipline children in Africa and Jamaica can also lead to parents being charged with assault.

Still, where cultural misunderstandings end and racism begins can be tough to measure.

Regardless, there’s hope for change. The striking statistics of black kids in care have spurred the CAS to team up with the Ministry of Children and Youth Services, the provincial child advocate, and the African Canadian Legal Clinic to see how to reduce the numbers. One idea under consideration that worked in Texas is to have family counsellors from the community team up with CAS workers on every protection investigation.

The issues are just as complicated in the dispensing of behaviour-altering drugs to kids in care. Even CAS officials describe the high number of kids on those drugs as a crisis.

While the drugs can ease disruptive behaviour, they can also mask mental health issues that are not being addressed. The drugs can also lead to serious side-effects, including amnesia and suicide.

So why are they being used? One is long waiting lists for access to mental health services that might get to the root problems. Another is desperation. “People are desperate to make them (the kids) functional,” says Dr. Burke Baird at McMaster University’s Child Advocacy and Assessment program. He describes the drugs used as a “harm reduction model” that can help kids be less explosive.

Still, the numbers are disturbing and concern is also leading to action. The Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies is funding work to develop a guide on how children should be assessed and treated that would be used by all 46 agencies in the province.

And there is recognition that there needs to be more support for struggling families to prevent children from being traumatized in the first place. Kids in care often come from homes strained by poverty, substance abuse and mental health problems.

To that end, the province implemented a mental health strategy in 2011 that boosted the number of mental health workers and served thousands more children.

Still, there’s much more to be done. And shining a spotlight on those alarming statistics can be a first step. Ensuring a co-ordinated action plan to resolve both issues is the second. The tens of thousands of children in youth care in Ontario are depending on it.

< http://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorials/2014/12/19/ontario_must_heed_alarms_on_aid_for_kids_in_crisis_editorial.html >

Tags: , , , , , ,

This entry was posted on Saturday, December 20th, 2014 at 4:14 pm and is filed under Child & Family Delivery System. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

Leave a Reply