Protecting the Vulnerable from the Vulnerable: Child Protection and Diversity

By Cormier, Michael | Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table, Spring 2008 | Go to article overview

Protecting the Vulnerable from the Vulnerable: Child Protection and Diversity


Cormier, Michael, Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table


Introduction

In setting legislation for the protection of children within Ontario the government walks a tight rope; on the one hand it must ensure that children are not subject to abuse or neglect, at the same time it must ensure that concerns regarding the rights of parents and their communities must be respected. This problem is particularly acute when the parents belong to a minority community. In essence, as the title suggests, often the government is protecting vulnerable children from vulnerable communities while protecting both from the dominant community.

Likewise the institutions charged with carrying out the government mandate of protecting children must face the complex interplay between the expectations and rights of the parents and the needs of the child. Where the agency is dealing with children from the dominant community this task is very difficulty. Add to this undertaking the need to understand and deal with children, parents and communities whose beliefs and social structure is unfamiliar and the task becomes even more difficult. Finally throw in the fact that the agency employee and opposing parties may speak different languages and the likelihood of misunderstandings and frustration on all sides is increased dramatically.

The courts that oversee the process are in much the same position as the government agencies. Many parents and other parties appear without counsel; the court will often expect the agencies counsel to help understand the situation. Counsel will rely on the child care worker to provide much of the information needed. It should be obvious that this is a less than ideal situation.

Since Canada is considered one of the most multicultural countries in the world and Ontario is one the most diverse provinces in Canada, the task of balancing these two concerns continue to change and grow. New groups with new views and demands are being added to the already complex mix. Added to this growth in populations from other parts of the world is the growing insistence by the indigenous groups who feel discriminated against by government legislation (1). The other provinces and territories face similar problems and in some provinces may in fact face similar problems as the population migrates within Canada because of economic and other similar changes.

Each province has its own legislation aimed at protecting children (2). While the legislative framework for each province is different the substantive laws are almost identical. The similarity in the legislation of the different provinces makes it possible to explore issues solutions that apply to most if not all provinces and territories. The provinces and territories have similar tests for determining when a child is in need of protection and use similar methods for providing the protection. Therefore, although this paper will focus primarily on the question of government policy in Ontario and the means by which agencies fulfill the mandate given by the government, most of the analysis could equally apply to any provinces or territory.

The first part of the paper will examine the present legal structure for protecting children in Ontario. Both the question of accommodating the diverse population and the question of ensuring that that accommodation does not allow the government to ignore its obligations to children will be considered. It will also be noted that many of the concerns about the need to consider the culture and religious beliefs of new immigrant communities are just being explored and therefore it will be sometime before the extent of the problem and likely solutions are well understood.

Claimant Groups

There are numerous groups in Ontario who have concerns regarding the right of the government to involve itself in their family relationships. The potential claimants include aboriginal peoples, religious groups, the homosexual community, and non-aboriginal race minorities. …

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