Child Welfare Policy and Child Protection Services in Canada
Since last two decades Canada being experienced softer and harder forms of neo-liberal economical impetus. Many of these reforms targeted social benefits and divided marginalised people into deserved and undeserved category (McKeen, 2006). At a large level, social policies are shaped by the exploration of dominant ideas about a social issue. Existing political views and the interest of the dominant policy community are predominantly influencing policy making. The mainstream discourses for solutions of social problems and policy outcomes are increasingly underrepresented and narrow down the focus of social welfare in Canada. This paper is an attempt to analyze the existing social policies related to child protection.
The reforms of child welfare policy discourse started in 1990s. The framework of the current child welfare approaches were directed from the dominant discourse of ‘national children’s agenda’ initiatives. Since then, there have been many major changes happened in the mainstream social policy in child welfare sector. The national and global political influences and world economic pressure forces federal and provincial governments to control the social security and welfare programs and it reflects in child welfare system too (McKeen, 2006). Politics in Canada has a serious notion on key ideologies while restructuring child welfare policies. Ontario’s Child and Family service Act 1984, was developed on the principle of minimal family intervention with a view that children need to be protected in their own homes (Dumbrill, 2006b). The conceptual models of the mainstream society and policy community cleverly hold child welfare model with an assumption that the child welfare programs can effectively treat the assumed deficiencies of the families.
Likewise, child protection in Canada is identified as a statutory regulation to establish state interference in families. Child protection is consistently investigative in terms of its provisions and legislative in terms of its nature (Davies, Krane, McKinnon, Rains, & Mastronardi, 2002). Policies and legislations related to child welfare are often shaped by various pressures from people and media. Dumbrill (2006b) refers that the public opinion reflects on media which influences policy discourses. The policy reforms and transformations have been made in child welfare system, oscillating between high-intervention and low intervention paradigm. Precisely, shift between state protection and family preservation is taking place based on public opinion and media responses over the time.
Consequently, child risk assessment is always framed on the basis of government policies; a standardised form of assessment and procedures are following in Canada since last few decades. The risk assessment mandate of the current child protection practice is crop up in connection with individual responsibility of neo-liberal ideology. The right of the worker is given during their “mandate to investigate, monitor, assess and dispose” (Strega & Carriere, 2009 p.16) of child protection cases under the legal system. As a result child protection practice merely becomes a risk assessment model of bureaucratic approach. Apparently, child protection in Canada turn out as a mechanical social intervention with more focus on short term remedial recommendations and limited or no emphasis on holistic view of the problem (Strega & Carriere, 2009 p.20). This process is not really supporting the family in terms of a long term “helping, healing and change”. The current risk assessment process reinforces the idea that once the risk is identified or properly addressed, the children are safe and prevented from future risk. It also broadens the false notion that child welfare means protection of the children rather than providing support to the children and family.
Despite these factors, current child welfare policy exposes a whitewashed compassionate face of its child protection services, with the basic assumption that individuals are in need of attention and healing not the oppressive structures (McKeen, 2006). It appears that the current system is not sufficiently addressing the social problem rather the policy agenda itself creates and maintain the social problems like poverty, social divisiveness and discrimination. Indeed, the system oversimplifying the reality of life experiences and blaming the family that the collective social issues are the result of individual failure.
Evidently, child welfare policy is relying on the normative Eurocentric, middle class ideology of motherhood, obscure in various facets of socially constructed identities and stereotypes. The reforms in the provincial child welfare legislation and proceduralized interventions compel workers to give more attention to mothers to make them over responsible for shielding children from abuses (Krane & Carlton, 2009).
Incontestably, social policies and its implementation especially in the field of child welfare is a collective responsibility. Progressive child welfare discourse demands a fundamentally different approach for child protection mandate especially in the assessment and procedures. As Dumbrill (2006b) suggests a cooperative infrastructure of agency, family and community can make changes in child protection field. Policy makers should understand the dynamism of child welfare and strengthen the families rather than focusing structural aspects of bureaucratic child protection agencies. A “communication infrastructure” with a collaboration and partnership of different community organizations can make up the existing service gaps in the child protection sector in Canada
Anish Alex MSW, RSW
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