The problem with child welfare
Growing up, I always thought that the child welfare system was good. I had this view because I’m very lucky. I have never had to interact with child welfare. If you can relate to this, and you don’t understand why the child welfare system is harmful, this article is for you. Many people assume that the only role of child welfare is to move children from abusive households to safer and healthier environments. This is a positive and honourable goal, but unfortunately, it’s not that simple.
The first important fact is that less than 25% of children who are removed from their homes by child welfare are removed because of abuse. 70% are removed because of neglect or fighting between parents.
Neglect is a term that seems neutral and objective, but it can be used to justify blaming people for their poverty and taking their children. According to the Canadian government, many things can qualify as neglect. Unsuitable housing, little food in the home, inadequate seasonal clothing, the presence of peeling or lead-based paint, and insufficient supervision of children all count as neglect. While these are all concerning issues, they are also all symptoms of poverty. It would be much more effective and ethical to combat poverty directly rather than punishing its victims. Neighbourhoods with unsuitable housing are likely to have a large Black or Indigenous population. People may not be able to afford things like extra food, seasonal clothing, or new paint. Parents are often too busy working to supervise their children. Instead of addressing the root of the problem, poverty, and systemic racism, the government chooses to punish poor people for being poor by taking their children and destroying their communities.
Black and Indigenous families in Canada are disproportionately targeted by child welfare. They are more likely to be reported, and the report is more likely to be taken seriously. This disparity comes from discrimination and stereotyping by members of the community and government officials. Black and Indigenous families are also more likely to fit the definition of “neglect” because they are more likely to live in poverty. Because of the liberal definition of neglect, Black and Indigenous families often lose their children just because they’re poor.
It would take too long to discuss all of the ways that Black and Indigenous people are held at a disadvantage in Canada and North America, but there are many systems working today that contribute to this. We should focus on dismantling these systems rather than punishing people for their poverty.
For more information about anti-Black racism in Canada and the child welfare system, check out Policing Black Lives by Robyn Maynard. All of the information and statistics in this article come from this book.