Antwi-Boasiako, K., King, B., Fallon, B., Trocme, N., Fluke, J., Chabot, M., Esposito, T. (2020). Differences and disparities over time: Black and white families investigated by Ontario’s child welfare system. Child Abuse and Neglect. 107, 1-12.
Decades of research in the United States show the disproportionate and disparate representation of Black children and families involved with the child welfare system compared to white children and families. However, limited research for the racial disproportionality and disparity for Black children within child welfare services has been conducted in Ontario; Most of the focus has been on the First Nations, Metis and Inuit children. Many believe that community members and child welfare workers may be biased, policies and practices may be structured from Eurocentric perspectives, poverty and other risk factors related to maltreatment, and the historical and ongoing treatment of Black families could account for the discrepancy. To further examine these differences, this study explored descriptive data between 1993 to 2013 to identify trends in rates over time and determine the extent of Black families’ disparity in Ontario’s child welfare system.
- Ecological systems theory: help identify multiple factors such as child factors, caregiver factors and external factors, that can impact the overrepresentation and underrepresentation of certain races within the child welfare system
- Decision making ecology: help identify factors that influenced the decisions made within the child welfare system, resulting in Black children and families being disproportionately and disparately represented.
- Critical race theory: emphasizes how race affects decision-making and acknowledges the impact of racism and the inequality sustained in society based on this construct. It identifies the person as a whole, with multiple and overlapping identities.
- analyzed data from the Ontario Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect (OIS) and used a multi-stage sampling design for the five cycles used (1993, 1998, 2003, 2008, 2013). The OIS data was collected directly from the child welfare workers that were responsible for conducting the investigations.
- To identify the population of Black and White children under the age of 16 in Ontario, the researchers viewed Statistics Canada Census data for 1996, 2001, 2006, 2011, and were matched accordingly with the OIS records.
- Incidence rates were calculated by dividing the approximate number of Black children involved with the child welfare system at the various points of service decision-making, by the number of Black children in the general population, then multiplying it by 1000 to produce a rate per 1000 Black children. A similar calculation was done for White children.
- To assess significant differences between cycles for each group and determine the disparities between Black and White children, the researchers conducted t-tests.
Discussion and findings
- Black families experience disparate representation over time in Ontario’s child welfare system.
- Between 1993 and 1998, investigations involving Black children and families remained steady while investigations of White children and families doubled. However, between 1998 and 2003, investigations involving Black children and families almost quadrupled while it only doubled for White children and families.
- Ontario’s legislation allows child protection workers to intervene in families’ if they believe the child is at harm rather than imminent risk. Other factors that influence this difference can be recognized as a reduced safety net and risk factors (e.g. poverty, unemployment, lack of affordable housing), as they increase the risk for maltreatment and lower the “reporting” threshold, making families more vulnerable of being reported to child welfare services.
- a lack of being culturally informed, in addition to the bias of the child welfare worker or institutional policies and practices, may put Black families at greater risk of being involved with the child welfare system.
- no independent verification of the data gathered from OIS. The OIS also only accounts for short-term investigation outcomes.
- Excluded from the data are the cases that were not reported or the ones that were reported to other child welfare organizations but were screened out.
- Statistics Canada only gathers information every five years, resulting in the 1996 data being used and matched twice to OIS records for 1993 and 1998.
- study only relied on descriptive data and did not control for many factors
- Black families and their experiences with racism and oppression should be considered when developing and implementing policies and practices that may impact them. If no attempts are made to understand these issues and implement ways to best support Black families, they may continue to experience disparate representation in the child welfare system.
- Community workers must connect Black families to appropriate resources
- Child welfare organizations must push for more exploration and question professionals when investigating Black families, to determine the appropriateness of reports
- community workers and child welfare workers should engage in self-awareness to identify any biases that may impact Black families, and more training to address the differences in the child welfare system.