Dress Purple Day 2021
A statistic we have been so proud of is that children remain at home in 97 percent of CAS investigations (Ontario Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect, 2018). This number has adorned our annual reports, been the focus of our awareness campaigns and helped us to believe we’ve been on the right path of prevention versus protection.
While this number represents prevention for some children and youth coming into care, this is not the case for Indigenous and Black children who are overrepresented in the child welfare system due to systemic racism.
Child Abuse Prevention Month and more recently, the Dress Purple Campaign, has had harmful impacts for Indigenous, African Canadian, and other equity seeking communities. The campaign’s historical focus on child abuse prevention encouraged reporting to Children’s Aid Societies, which regularly resulted in increased surveillance of these communities by the child welfare system and contributed to the overrepresentation of Indigenous and African Canadian families in the system.
The overrepresentation of Indigenous children and youth is due to the historical injustices perpetrated against First Nation, Métis, and Inuit communities by the Canadian government and provincial child welfare systems. These injustices include residential schools and the Sixties Scoop. These colonial legacies have resulted in community impairment, intergenerational trauma, and the overrepresentation of Indigenous children in child welfare.
It is long overdue that we acknowledge and apologize for the harmful role child welfare has played historically, and continues to play, in the lives of Ontario Indigenous children, families, and communities.
We are committed to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) Calls to Action, which will guide us in providing more culturally appropriate, respectful supports and services to Indigenous communities.
While we can’t undo the harm First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children, youth, and families have experienced in the child welfare system, we can and will commit to be an ally, ensuring our apology and Reconciliation Commitments are fully realized.
As a sector and as an agency, we acknowledge that there is overrepresentation and an inequity in outcomes for African Canadian families engaged with child welfare agencies. In partnership with the African Canadian community in Ontario and through the development of the One Vision One Voice program, we are taking steps to create a more equitable child welfare system by recognizing the role that systemic racism and colonialism plays in the overrepresentation of African Canadian families in the child welfare system.
Perceptions and cultural misunderstandings can impact a decision to call a Children’s Aid Society. Child-rearing practices vary across families and cultures. There are various parenting practices that are not concerning but may differ from your own. Stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination based on race, ethnicity, religion, ability, poverty, and sexual orientation can lead to overreporting.
While every adult has a legal duty to call their local Children’s Aid Society if they have a concern about the safety or well-being of a child or youth, they also have the responsibility to check their bias before making a report.
In fact, only 20 per cent of the of the calls we receive are about abuse. Most calls are about families who struggle with chronic challenges such as mental health, addictions, and extreme financial stress, which can make it difficult for them to support the basic needs of their children. They need our help with community-focused, culturally relevant supports and services.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also created additional stresses for families, and in some cases has increased risk for the well-being and safety of vulnerable children, youth, and families.
This Dress Purple Day, CCAS will collaborate with key partners to speak up for every child and youth’s right to safety and well-being in all spaces. Not just physical safety and well-being—children and youth have the right to have their intersectional identity, which includes culture, race, sexual orientation, and gender identity, protected and supported in all spaces.
As we reimagine child welfare, moving from protection to prevention, we will continue to work together with families and communities – ensuring that safety and well-being of children and youth are at the heart of everything we do.
Catholic Children’s Aid Society of Toronto