Ontario still can’t say how many Indigenous kids in care despite new law to track them

The 49 children’s aid societies in Ontario were supposed to start collecting race-based data as of Feb. 5.

(Above is a young Inuk boy who was in the child welfare system in Ottawa back in 2016. Many Indigenous children are sent to Ottawa but the province doesn’t know the total number because it’s never tracked them. File photo.)

The 49 children’s aid societies in Ontario were supposed to start collecting race-based data as of Feb. 5 in part to determine the number of Indigenous kids taken from their homes.

It’s required by law.

However, not a single agency has submitted statistics to the ministry of Children and Youth Services.

“Societies haven’t yet reported their data to the ministry,” said Genevieve Oger, a ministry spokesperson.

Oger wasn’t able to immediately say why they have not or what penalties are in place to ensure the societies follow new legislation that was passed last summer by the former Liberal government.

The societies, which include Indigenous child welfare agencies, can submit electronically through the Child Protection Information Network that former minister Michael Coteau said was developed several years ago to track children through the system.

But of the 49 societies the ministry says just 30 are using the network as of today.

Ontario has never tracked the kids in child protective services by race and recent statistics put the total number of kids in care at about 14,000.

Coteau touted the new mandated data collection on APTN’s political show Nation to Nation in February after a so-called “emergency meeting” on child welfare in Ottawa between the federal government, provinces, stakeholders and families.

“We know it will allow us to make better decisions,” Coteau said.

Coteau called the new legislation the “most comprehensive piece of legislation” for child protection.

But where is the starting point?

That’s the question the office of the Ontario Child Advocate has been asking for many years.

“Any of these regulations for this new legislation and any of the policies following through for children and youth in the province have to be done based on knowing who the kids are, knowing where the kids are, knowing what conditions those kids are in,” said Trevor McAlmont, director of advocacy services with the Child Advocate, an independent office that is directed to look out for the best interests of children in care.

“So if we don’t know that and we don’t start there then it’s problematic.”

For instance, how does the government know the total number of children being taken from their home and First Nation in northern Ontario and shipped to group homes in Ottawa?

It doesn’t have those statistics.

Thunder Bay lawyer Marco Frangione said the agencies need to follow the law.

“When laws are passed we expect strict and utter compliance,” said Frangione, who represents families in the child welfare system and said he has over 300 files that pertain mainly to First Nations in northern Ontario.

“These are essentially easy to obtain, easy information to obtain. If the agencies have the resources to spend on expensive foster care homes and private foster care housing they can dedicate some of their resources on ministry-mandated information.”