Academic journal article Canadian Social Work Review

ONTARIO'S CHILD WELFARE TRANSFORMATION: Another Swing of the Pendulum?

Academic journal article Canadian Social Work Review

ONTARIO'S CHILD WELFARE TRANSFORMATION: Another Swing of the Pendulum?

Article excerpt

Abstract: Child welfare policy has been likened to a pendulum that shifts between extremes. At one extreme, the pendulum focuses practice on supporting families at the expense of child safety; at the other, it focuses practice on child safety at the expense of support to families. Child welfare "transformation" is underway in Ontario, a process designed to push policy toward a more balanced position that provides support to families while also protecting children. As an analysis of the dynamics that drive the child welfare pendulum shows, the current transformation initiative contains weaknesses that may undermine its goal of seeking balance and may cause it to fail. Strengthening the initiative by coordinating agency services and involving families in formulating their own needs, among other suggestions, may help to avoid these failures, not only in Ontario, but also in other jurisdictions attempting to balance how child protection services are delivered.

Abrégé : On a qualifié la politique de la protection de l'enfance de pendule se balançant entre, à un extrême, une pratique axée sur le soutien des familles au détriment de la sécurité des enfants et, à l'autre extrême, une pratique axée sur la sécurité des enfants au détriment du soutien des familles. L'on est à « transformer » la protection de l'enfance en Ontario, préconisant pour ce faire une approche plus équilibrée à mi-chemin du soutien des familles et de la protection des enfants. Comme l'indique une analyse de la dynamique qui anime le mouvement de pendule de la protection de l'enfance, l'initiative de transformation actuelle présente des faiblesses susceptibles de miner son objectif - trouver un point d'équilibre - et pourrait la faire échouer. Il serait peut-être utile de renforcer l'initiative en coordonnant les services des organismes et en faisant participer les familles à la définition de leurs besoins pour éviter que de tels échecs ne se produisent, et ce, non seulement en Ontario, mais également ailleurs où l'on tente de trouver une formule équilibrée de prestation des services de protection de l'enfance.

CHILD WELFARE in Ontario is undergoing "transformation"; ten years ago it went through "reform." These terms are euphemisms for policy shifts in almost opposite directions. Such shifts occur with a regularity that has caused child welfare policy to be likened to a pendulum (Editorial, 1996; Finholm, 1996; Gardner, 1996; McLarin, 1995; Paterson, 1999; Reder, Duncan & Gray, 1993; Trocmé & Chamberland, 2003; Watson, 1997). At one extreme the pendulum focuses practice on family support at the expense of child safety, and at the other it focuses practice on child safety at the expense of family support. When concentrating on preserving families, social workers operate under a "rule of optimism" (Dingwall, Eekelaar & Murray, 1983) that centres their attention on family strengths and leaves them vulnerable to losing sight of family limitations. In these circumstances, when child abuse deaths occur, inquests usually find a pattern of social workers failing to identify or respond to risk factors. Policy and practice are then swung toward intrusion, as an outraged public demands change (Reder et al., 1993). In response, workers begin to operate under a "rule of pessimism" that centres their attention on family deficits and makes them quick to remove children when risks are perceived. Intrusion persists until public concern about the costs of increased numbers of children in care or scandals about abuses of intrusive authority push the pendulum in the opposite direction, and the cycle begins again.

In the late 1990s child welfare reform pushed Ontario's child welfare pendulum toward protecting children at the expense of assisting families. A transformation is now underway to shift practice into a more balanced position that protects children, but also offers support to families. Will transformation balance the pendulum? Although the new initiative has the potential to create balance, it contains weaknesses that may cause it to fail. …

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