When a child is removed from their family by social workers in Canada, it’s most often because of “neglect,” and it’s time to rethink that concept, says Melanie Doucet.
She’s the organizer behind Beyond Neglect — a free webinar series that will take place April 21-23.
Currently the child welfare system “puts the blame on families,” says Doucet, who works as senior researcher and project manager for the Child Welfare League of Canada (CWLC), a non-profit organization.
“We’re looking to … challenge current notions, current stereotypes, that exist in the child welfare system and society at large as well, that feed into these notions of neglect,” she says.
“The families are in these conditions because systems have failed them.”
The six-part webinar series is meant for front-line workers, policymakers, members of Indigenous communities, youth from care, academics — and others who are “interested in the issues related to neglect and the overrepresentation of marginalized populations in the child welfare system,” says Doucet.
Hosted by CWLC with funding from the Children’s Aid Foundation of Canada, the series will feature a diverse range of speakers from across the country.
By laying bare the concept of neglect through six themed conversations, Doucet aims “to start having a discussion across sectors and also with people who have lived experience with, you know, diverse backgrounds — Indigenous Elders, Indigenous youth leaders, people from different racial backgrounds.”
“I was in care when I was a teenager,” says Doucet. “So the work that I do related to child welfare is very personal to me. And I feel really passionate about changing the status quo.”
Doucet says it’s important to rethink neglect in the child welfare system “because it is very much rooted in colonial concepts as well as racist and discriminatory concepts and is often tied into conditions and difficulties that families go through that are systemically caused — like poverty, trauma, mental health issues, substance use and abuse issues,” she explains.
As of June 2020, 75 per cent of all Indigenous children in care in B.C. were apprehended because of perceived neglect, according to data from the Ministry of Children and Family Development, whereas 65 percent of non-Indigenous children were apprehended because of perceived neglect.
The webinars are open to the public, but attendees need to register first. People can sign up for as many sessions as they like. CWLC has prepared briefing papers for each session, accessible on their website (under the image for each session).
“We’re grounding everything in Indigenous knowledge and expertise,” says Doucet, adding that Elder Albert Dumont will be doing an opening for the first event.
“I think it’s timely to be having these conversations and overdue, definitely overdue.”
Doucet, who completed her Ph.D. in Social Work from McGill University last year, says the sessions are especially key since awareness of these issues has been heightened since the pandemic.
“It forced the world to slow down. And it also exposed all the cracks and gaps that we’ve had in our social service system structure in Canada,” she says.
“It’s actually the system’s responsibility to provide better supports and services, to keep those families together and out of the child protection system.”