What good data mean for black youth in foster care

July 18, 2018
Article Source
The Globe and Mail

Not enough snacks, not enough privacy, not enough allowance: Many of the complaints shared by the teenagers at the Power Up conference in Mississauga were common, even timeless.

But other concerns voiced by many of the 130 attendees, all black and all current or former Ontario foster youth, were less universal.

Some spoke about not being invited out to restaurant dinners with their foster families, or not being trusted with a house key. One 19-year-old young man started crying at the microphone. He had bumped into his sister at the conference, but they've been in different foster homes for so long that he didn't recognize her.

After the formal workshops and panel discussions, kids hugged, took selfies and made plans to hang out again. "This cannot end here," one girl declared loudly. It was a sweet, important gathering and it wouldn't have happened without race-based data.

"The issue of the African-Canadian community and how it experiences child welfare is something that the community has been speaking to for decades," said Kike Ojo, the program manager for One Vision, One Voice, an organization dedicated to improving the lives of black youth in foster care.

For years, she said, black parents had been sharing their anecdotal experiences of children's aid services across Ontario: of being watched more closely than white parents; of having their children apprehended at higher rates; and of having black youth placed largely with non-black foster families, which might be loving but were often unable to help them cope with the daily realities of racism.

But it wasn't until 2015, when the Toronto Children's Aid Society released race-based data of the children in its care, that those who work in child welfare began taking the issue seriously. That year, 30 per cent of children in Toronto foster care were black, though only 8.5 per cent of the city identifies that way.

"That was the first time that I saw the data in print," Ms. Ojo said in an interview. "I can't overstate how important Toronto doing that was to getting to this moment."

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