The Children’s Aid Society of Ottawa places racial equity at the forefront of their services
Important changes are taking place at The Children’s Aid Society of Ottawa (CASO). Stemming from One Vision One Voice, a provincial initiative that began in 2015, a distinct shift is being made towards racial disparity and accountability when providing services to diverse populations, such as African Canadian families.
One Vision One Voice is a provincially-funded project that is working to address the overrepresentation of African Canadian children and youth in child welfare. Amongst other things, the project is acknowledging the different outcomes faced by African Canadian children and families, and establishing clear race equity practices for child welfare agencies in order to make real change.
CASO is not taking these recommendations lightly. From the beginning, they have had management and frontline workers directly involved, from the initial research to the ongoing implementation.
Jude Jean-François is a child protection worker at CASO who has been involved from the ground up. Originating from Haiti and involved in a series of diversity-based initiatives in Ottawa, he has played a key role as part of the reference group representing African Canadian child welfare workers. One of this group’s primary tasks was to create a blueprint of any given family’s progression through the child welfare system. “We wanted to show how different these experiences could be from one family to the next based on their cultural reality,” explains Jean- François.
“Ideally, any family, regardless of their skin colour, would experience child welfare in the same way. Equity of outcomes means that a black child and their white counterpart, coming into care for the same reason, would have similar, if not the same, outcomes at the end of the line,” he adds.
“Let’s say we have two families in which CASO has intervened because of physical abuse. The child in both cases comes into care. The standard process when working with families is to connect them with community programs to develop their parenting skills and address the discipline issues. In the case of the white family, typically, they would be referred to community resources that would allow them to work towards reunification with the child. Has the African Canadian family received the same service? As it stands, we see that that is often not the case, often due to a lack of culturally appropriate services.”
Culturally appropriate resources in the community are essential to helping African Canadian families. Research shows that additional community programming would help disseminate information and grow a widespread understanding of African Canadian realities. This relates to another important piece of this project, which is to provide public education to ensure people consider these cultural differences when making referrals to CASO.
Currently in the second phase of its implementation, CASO is placing significant emphasis on community relationships, and building advisory committees that reflect Ottawa’s diversity. Most notably, Ottawa being a distinctly bilingual city, both English and French advisory committees are being formed. These groups of community partners will inform CASO’s practice moving forward.
Kelly Raymond, Service Director at CASO, recognizes the significance of working with community groups. “We have engaged directly with community partners and advisory groups to help design and implement programs in the work of social change, ones that would help families address stressors impacting them without removal of their children.” She adds, “Community engagement is paramount to achieve the outcomes we all want.”
The bottom line is this: The goal of this project both at the provincial level and here in Ottawa is to state the facts, not direct blame or shame. More than a photo opportunity, One Vision One Voice is here to create real change. Jude Jean-François says it best: “The community is asking questions, now it’s CASO’s turn to act on them.”
The Children’s Aid Society of Ottawa has committed to providing regular updates on their work surrounding racial disparity. To see the full list of Race Equity Practices that have resulted from One Vision One Voice, visit: http://www.casott.on.ca/en/news-and-events/one-vision-one-voice-race-equity-practices/