Ontario’s chief human rights commissioner is sounding the alarm over the “deeply concerning” over-representation of Indigenous and Black children in the province’s child welfare system, following the findings of a new report.
The Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) report, released Thursday, found that children in those groups are over-represented at children’s aid societies (CAS), particularly in admissions into care.
The report also found that race-based data collection processes and practices are piecemeal across the province and calls into question whether the foster care system’s policies “potentially violate” Ontario’s human rights code.
“These findings are deeply concerning,” said OHRC Chief Commissioner Renu Mandhane. “For decades, families and communities have raised the alarm about Indigenous and Black children being over-represented in Ontario’s child welfare system. The long-term damage caused by separating children from their families is undeniable and was extensively documented by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.
“The government and CASs must take urgent action.”
The report calls on the Ontario government to develop a provincial strategy addressing the disproportionately high number of Indigenous and Black children in care.
Also on Thursday, federal Minister of Indigenous Services Jane Philpott met with the Chiefs of Ontario and the provincial Minister of Children and Youth Services Michael Coteau to discuss reforming the province’s First Nations child and family services.
According to a press release, the meeting was a follow-up to the emergency child welfare meeting Philpott hosted in Ottawa last January.
The federal and provincial governments, along with First Nations, are working on an “Ontario Special Study” that will outline new foster care policy options that are “child-centered, community-directed, and support better outcomes by focusing on prevention.”
There are nearly 14,000 children in care in Ontario. It’s unclear how many Indigenous children are in care, as the Ministry of Children and Youth Services did not start tracking numbers until Feb. 5.
A spokesperson for the ministry said there were a total of 2,257 children and youth in the care of Indigenous children’s aid societies in the past fiscal year.