The disparate and disproportionate involvement of Black families in the child welfare system has been well-documented in the United States, but research in the Canadian context that examines the experiences of African, Caribbean and Black (ACB) Canadian families in child welfare is emerging. Recent studies in Ontario have found that Black families are represented in the child welfare system at disproportionate and disparate rates. Experiences of ACB youth, caregivers and workers also highlight differential and punitive treatment within the system. These findings have given rise to the development of the African, Caribbean, Black Family Group Conferencing Project (ACB-FGC), a Black-led, restorative, and culturally responsive innovation to support Black families at risk of, or already engaged in, the child welfare system in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). The ACB-FGC model was developed through community-based research and was piloted in partnership with community organizations and child welfare agencies.
Interviews were conducted with ACB family members who participated in and completed the ACB-FGC process during the first two years of implementation. The interviews combined qualitative assessments of their experience with the ACB-FGC process. Interviews were audio-recorded with participant permission to ensure that feedback was as accurate as possible. We conducted a thematic analysis of qualitative responses, which focused directly on the family member’s perception of the intervention, the perceived impact of participation, and their understanding of the ways in which ACB-FGC shifted their relationship to and with their workers and with child welfare more broadly. The sample included 23 ACB family members, most of whom lived in low-income communities, particularly in the northwest region of Toronto. Families were referred for a variety of reasons including conflict regarding the child’s sexual orientation, guardians feeling overwhelmed and needing respite care, fathers looking for more involvement in their children’s lives, and guardians suffering from mental health concerns and needing support to care for their children.
Results indicated that family members were overwhelmingly positive about the restorative practices associated with the FGC process. Several themes emerged in the analysis. Family members described the ways in which the process created time and space to articulate the past harms of their troubled relationships with child welfare agencies, created transparency about decision-making and options for future planning, and allowed them the opportunity to develop their own responses to the “bottom lines” of the workers. These solutions included the family’s cultural values, resources, and relationships. Ultimately, the negotiations before and during the official FGC and the final agreement to the family’s plans shifted the power dynamics within the relationship between the workers and families, which restored a sense of voice and agency in their family life.
Conclusions and Implications
Ultimately, the results from the pilot evaluation indicate that participating in ACB-FGC was a restorative experience for ACB families. They described possibilities for reconciliation and healing through this intervention, which aligns with the broader goals of the project. Presenters will discuss further implications of adapting this model and opportunities for continuing to expand this work.