Executive director Mark Kartusch has apologized on behalf of the Catholic Children’s Aid Society of Toronto for harms against Indigenous and Black children. Photo courtesy of CCAS

Catholic Children's Aid apologizes for systemic racism

  • October 20, 2021

The Catholic Children’s Aid Society of Toronto has acknowledged and apologized for historical harm committed against Indigenous and Black communities.

In a letter released for Dress Purple Day Oct. 27, CCAS executive director Mark Kartusch acknowledged historical and contemporary harm done to the Indigenous and Black communities which “are overrepresented in the child welfare system due to systemic racism.”

“It is long overdue that we acknowledge and apologize for the harmful role child welfare has played historically, and continues to play, in the lives of Ontario Indigenous children, families and communities,” said Kartusch in his letter for Dress Purple Day (an annual day to acknowledge our collective responsibility to care for children and youth).

“As a sector and as an agency, we acknowledge that there is overrepresentation and an inequity in outcomes for African Canadian families engaged with child welfare agencies.”

Kartusch said “perceptions and cultural misunderstandings” have impacted calls to children’s aid.

“Stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination based on race, ethnicity, religion, ability, poverty and sexual orientation can lead to over reporting,” he said.

While noting “while every adult has a legal duty to call their local Children’s Aid Society if they have a concern about the safety or well-being of a child or youth… they also have the responsibility to check their bias before making a report.”

Nowhere is this more obvious than in the Indigenous and Black communities, he said.

Kartusch said the CCAS is committed to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission calls to action to provide “more culturally appropriate, respectful supports and services to Indigenous communities.” At the same time, it has partnered with Black communities to create a more equitable child welfare system through the One Vision One Voice program.

Kartusch told The Catholic Register CCAS needs to work on recognizing not all communities are the same.

“We kind of knew that there was disparity and disproportionality with a number of marginalized groups, but especially Indigenous and African-Canadian children in Ontario,” said Kartusch. “When there isn’t that extra lens of understanding or (recognition of) unconscious bias, it can lead to upsetting outcomes.

“It is difficult when child welfare knocks on your door. Even though we are there to help, and we try to help the best we can, it is always upsetting. They told us that we need to add that lens when we ask people to report to us.”

A key component of CCAS’s work to alter its child welfare approach is engaging with stakeholders, including schools, other children’s aid agencies and support organizations and, of course, the families.

These conversations allow for greater understanding of the long-lasting harmful legacy that were perpetrated by residential schools and the Sixties Scoop, acts of legislation that weaponized child welfare authorities to take Indigenous children from their family and resettle them into foster homes.

“And the other group is African-Canadian children as they have to grow up with the historical legacy of slavery and the colonization of people of African descent, both of which led to anti-Black sentiment and anti-Black racism,” said CCAS intake services manager Priscilla Manful.

Kartusch said the letter is “a statement of where we are now” and “it grounds us.” Although ultimately “it is just words,” what will count the most are the actions that come next.

Kartusch said Manful and her colleagues have already made a tangible difference at the “front door” of the CCAS  as “already there is less disparity in the reporting process.”

Kartusch, in his letter, said this will continue as CCAS “continue(s) to work together with families and communities — ensuring that safety and well-being of children and youth are at the heart of everything we do.”

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.