Overrepresentation of Young Aboriginal People in Residential Care

Throughout our consultations we heard many service providers and community organizations express concern about the overrepresentation of First Nations, Métis and Inuit youth in residential care, especially in the child welfare and youth justice sectors. Aboriginal youth comprise 3.4% of the Ontario youth population but have represented approximately 9% of youth admissions annually since 2008/09 (Youth Justice Services Division, 2015). The overall number of self-identified Aboriginal youth admitted to detention or custody has declined by 20% from 2003/4 to 2012/13, albeit at a lower rate than the overall decline in youth in detention or custody; as a result, the proportion of Aboriginal youth admitted to detention or custody has increased during the same period from 10% to 12%. (calculations based on slide 6 of Youth Justice Services deck entitled The Youth Criminal Justice Act and Programs and Services for Aboriginal Youth In Ontario, June 2015).

The Ministry generally does not report on trends with respect to Aboriginal youth involved in the child welfare sector. According to information collected as part of the annual Crown Ward reviews, the Ministry reported that in 2013 15.5% of Crown Wards were identified as Aboriginal. The report to Canada’s Premier’s on Aboriginal children in care states that “in Ontario 3% of the child population under age 15 is Aboriginal, and 21% of the children in care are Aboriginal children living off-reserve”. In a recent analysis of people identified as foster children by respondents to the 2011 National Household Survey, Sinha and Wray (2015) examined disparities between the rates of Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal foster children. In Ontario, First Nations children were 12 times more likely to be identified as foster children than were non-Aboriginal children: 3.1% of First Nations children were identified as being in foster care compared to 0.25% of non-Aboriginal children. Similar disparities have been noted in the Ontario Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect which found that 9% of investigations involved Aboriginal children, whereas less than 4% of the Ontario’s children and youth are Aboriginal (Fallon, Van Wert, Trocmé, et al., 2015).

Given the extent and persistence of the problem of overrepresentation, the Panel was surprised that there was limited reporting and analysis with respect to young Aboriginal people in residential care. The youth justice sector has made important strides in disaggregating youth justice statistics on the basis of Aboriginal status as identified by youth; disaggregated trend data are not, however, available from the child welfare sector. The first two recommendations from the recently released Truth and Reconciliation Commission report speak to the critical importance of documenting and understanding problems related to overrepresentation for First Nations children and youth (1) reported to child welfare because of neglect and (2) placed in out-of-home care (Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, 2015).

Monitoring rates and patterns of overrepresentation is very important. Without such analyses important differences over time and between groups are easily missed. Failure to disaggregate statistics by placement type, can for example mask important differences with respect to the use of kinship, customary and other forms of alternative out-of-home placements. Placements in Aboriginal foster homes may need to be distinguished from placements in non-Aboriginal homes. Tracking changes over time can identify incremental shifts in practices and policies that may not be otherwise noticed. In Alberta, for example, using provincial child welfare placement data, Alberta’s Child and Youth Advocate was able to show that while the overall number of placements had plateaued and was starting to decrease, what was actually happening was that the number of non-First Nations placements had been decreasing while the number of First-Nations placements was continuing to increase at an alarming rate. The policies and programs that had been developed to help curtail out-of-home placements appeared to be having their desired impact for non-First Nations children and youth but were not effectively reaching First Nations children and families. As confirmed by the recent Canadian Human Rights finding of discriminatory practices, the systematic Federal government underfunding of on reserve community based family support services is one of the drivers of this over-representation of young First Nations people in residential care.