Black Youth

Black Youth are overrepresented in child welfare and youth justice services particularly in large urban areas (Peel Children’s Aid Society’s Annual Report, 2013; Toronto Star, 2015; McMurtry & Curling, 2008), and often find themselves placed in what the system considers to be the most intrusive, and often the most containing, type of service – residential group care programs. The Panel recognizes that the genesis of such over-representation falls outside of the residential sector itself, and requires fundamental change, at much earlier stages of young people moving through the child welfare and youth justice systems. In their report titled, Roots of Youth Violence, McMurtry & Curling (2008) accentuate the systemic racism, poorly developed cultural competency, and on-going stereotyping of Black Youth, their families and their communities.

Throughout our external research and consultations, the Panel recognized this as an issue of continuing concern, with currently few initiatives underway to create fundamental change. Program and service initiatives in some CASs are beginning to identify some best practices for child welfare responses to Black Youth in care; the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies (OACAS) has taken note of the need to act in this regard, and the Panel was impressed by the presentation of the OACAS representative as well as the African-Canadian Legal Clinic; however, the transfer of such knowledge and experience at selected CASs across the system appears to be limited. Of concern are not only the disadvantages encountered by Black Youth while in residential services, but also the lack of action to celebrate and enrich the cultural and racial strengths and opportunities embedded in being a Black Youth.

The Panel was especially struck by the overrepresentation of Black Youth at the Roy McMurtry Youth Centre in Brampton, a secure custody/detention facility serving Greater Toronto Area youth. In contrast, in a Panel visit to Syl Apps Youth Centre, all young people encountered in the Oakville facility were white. This observation, notwithstanding its coincidental possibilities, nevertheless reflects feedback received by the Panel that Black Youth are significantly under-represented in mental health and treatment-oriented services and overrepresented in containment-focused facilities. The Panel recognizes that multiple systems are involved in the placement process of young people, and that particularly in the context of youth justice, initial placement of young people is outside of the control of youth justice custody facilities.

At the level of everyday experience, the Panel noted that Black Youth living in group care reported that their experience of having their everyday needs, including, for example, the provision of appropriate hair products and culturally relevant food, was variable. Some young people reported that their group homes or foster homes were culturally responsive while others indicated that this was not the case. Of particular concern to the Panel were the responses of Black Youth in foster care, which were more variable, with some youth reporting experiences of overt racism, rejection of racial identity, and imposition of dominant culture values and customs.