Youth Perspectives | Video Reflection: Canada Falling Short on Foster Care, Maltreatment Rates Remain High, Kids Deserve Better
by Thawany Monteiro
YouthREX Youth Research Assistant, Knowledge Mobilization
I am a fourth year Bachelor of Social Work student at York University. As a Youth Research Assistant with the Knowledge Mobilization Team at YouthREX, I’ve chosen the video, Canada Falling Short on Foster Care, featuring Dr. Marni Brownell to engage with and reflect on.
In this five minute video, Dr. Brownell, a Senior Research Scientist with the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy, discusses an international study she conducted with colleagues related to child maltreatment in six developed countries, including Canada. Dr. Brownell discusses research that is specific to the context in Manitoba, but there are lessons here that apply to the Ontario context as well.
I was shocked to learn that on a single day in 2007 in Canada there were over 65,000 children in the welfare system
Manitoba alone has over 9,000-10,000 children in care, which Dr. Brownell states is one of the highest rates in the world. These numbers are alarming and it makes me wonder, what are the reasons for children and youth going into care?
Dr. Brownell describes how there are generally two approaches to child welfare: prevention and protection. A prevention model works holistically with families to increase wellbeing for everyone. In a protection model, the child is removed from the home while primary caregivers work to create conditions that could enable the return of the children. Dr. Brownell acknowledges that there aren’t a lot of scientific studies comparing both approaches, thus more research is needed to explore this topic and determine best practices.
That said, the long-term effects of the child protection model are not positive. There are numerous studies which indicate that children and youth who grow up in the child welfare system are more likely to experience homelessness, mental health issues and be involved with the youth justice system.
Additionally, youth transitioning out of the child welfare system often lack resources to attend post-secondary education. Post-secondary education is a pathway to improved wellbeing and should be accessible to all.
Dr. Brownell describes an initiative by the University of Winnipeg aimed at improving access to post-secondary education for youth transitioning out of the child welfare system. The university provides free tuition to former youth in care, and the government of Manitoba makes funds available for room and board, as well as textbooks and supplies.
Dr. Brownell states that while this is a great initiative, it fails to acknowledge that most kids in care never graduate high school. When youth don’t take advantage of the initiative, it opens the door for policy makers to blame the youth instead of looking at the look at the larger systemic issues that create barriers to access.
This video is thought-provoking and presents startling figures of how many children are in care. It made me wonder why Canada’s child welfare system continues to remove children and youth from their families? Instead of the protection model, I think Canadian child welfare systems should work toward a robust prevention model that provides holistic and long-term supports.
Many of the youth who attend, or even run, grassroots youth organizations may have had some type of involvement with the child welfare system. Dr. Brownell stressed the need for holistic supports that engage families and offer opportunities for positive youth development.
Grassroots community youth organizations can be part of the ecosystem of holistic supports available to children and their families once they have come into contact with the child welfare system. Grassroots youth organizations may even diminish the involvement of youth and families with the child welfare system.
The long-term goal is for an integrated child welfare system that holistically supports the positive development of youth. In the present, youth workers need research and best practices on how to work with youth and families who might, or may have, come into contact with the child welfare system. Youth in or leaving care have many needs including strong non-parental supports and mentors. Youth workers excel at relationship building. Beyond what youth organizations can offer within their programming, youth workers can also learn about other programs and opportunities that will support youth in and leaving care to thrive.