The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

Understanding the Over-Representation of First Nations Children: A Comparison of Investigations Conducted by Aboriginal and Provincial/Territorial Child Welfare Agencies

Friday, January 18, 2013: 10:30 AM
Nautilus 5 (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Vandna Sinha, PhD, Assistant Professor, McGill University, Montreal, QC, Canada
Nico Trocme, PhD, Professor, McGill University, Montreal, QC, Canada
Barbara Fallon, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada
Bruce MacLaurin, MSW, Assistant Professor, University of Calgary, Calgary, AB, Canada
Background and Purpose: In Canada, the persistent overrepresentation of Aboriginal (Indigenous) children in out of home care is well documented; it extends a pattern of child removal which began with residential school systems and continued under the auspices of provincial/territorial child welfare systems.  Aboriginal control over services for Aboriginal children is increasingly recognized as a key to reconciliation in child welfare and a decentralized system of Aboriginal child welfare agencies now provides services to a substantial proportion of the Aboriginal population. The broad history of Aboriginal child welfare in the U.S parallels that in Canada and, in both countries, there has been limited inclusion of Aboriginal child welfare agencies in major child welfare data collection initiatives. Accordingly, there is little systematic information about the families/children served by Aboriginal child welfare agencies, or the ways in which service patterns for Aboriginal children/families differ in state/provincial/territorial and Aboriginal child welfare agencies.  This paper addresses this gap in existing literature, using data from a Canadian study to examine differences in child, caregiver and case characteristics for investigations conducted by provincial/territorial and Aboriginal child welfare agencies. In particular, it presents comparisons of investigations involving First Nations children, who constitute 64% of the Aboriginal child population in Canada, and are more highly overrepresented in the child welfare system than other Aboriginal children.  

Methods: The First Nations component of the Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect (FN CIS-2008) collected data on over 3,000 investigations involving First Nations children which were opened by 22 purposively selected Aboriginal and 89 randomly selected provincial/territorial child welfare agencies during a three-month period in 2008.  Analysis of this data employs weights designed to reflect the split sample design and interpretation of findings draws on contextual knowledge contributed by a national advisory committee composed of representatives from major First Nations child welfare organizations. Stata 11 survey analysis tools were used to conduct chi-square comparisons and binomial logistic regressions examining differences in case profiles and short term dispositions.

Findings:  Results indicate that there are significant differences in categories of investigated maltreatment, referral sources and short-term case dispositions for the investigations involving First Nations children which were conducted by sampled Aboriginal and provincial/territorial agencies.  In addition, there were differences in the identification of child functioning concerns and concerns about caregiver risk factors in Aboriginal and provincial/territorial agencies. While some of these discrepancies in investigation profiles appear to be driven by differences in the proportion of on-reserve children served by sampled Aboriginal and provincial/territorial agencies, others persist even when residence on/off reserve and other key characteristics are controlled.

Conclusion and Implications: This study finds important differences in the profiles of First Nations children/families served by sampled provincial/territorial and Aboriginal child welfare agencies.  These findings underscore the need for additional research on the populations served and practice models used by the Aboriginal child welfare agencies which now provide child welfare services to more than 1/3 of the First Nations child population in Canada.