Children who receive child welfare services are a vulnerable group, and their numbers are growing. All who care about them need to be fully informed about current outcomes, indicators of success and failure, and best practices. This second edition of Child Welfare: Connecting Research, Policy, and Practice has a special focus on Canadian child welfare and contains entirely new material on these important themes. The book highlights major developments in child welfare and shows how these inform directions taken in research, policy, and practice. The book includes new sections on Indigenous issues and best practices, and several of its chapters review efforts to increase supports for families in need. Contributions from new and international authors illustrate the endemic nature of child welfare challenges and how we can learn from these experiences. Contributors provide recommendations for promoting best practice and enhancing resilience among children and families. Closing chapters within each section and at the end of the book summarize key theoretical and practice issues along with recommendations to improve the research, policy, and practice continuum in child welfare. The challenge is to translate good research into policy and practice in ways that enhance the life chances of children who need our care and protection.
Setting the Context: Child Welfare Law in Canada
Child welfare is a unique and challenging context for social workers, in large part because the provision of many of the services to children and families takes place through the legal process. The child welfare worker is motivated by a desire to help children who may be abused or neglected, preferably by helping parents to provide better care. However, parents are also aware of the enormous legal powers of the worker, who has the potential to remove children from their care and to put their lives under scrutiny in the court process. Children, despite abuse or neglect, may also fear the intrusion of the worker in their lives, and the worker has to manage the delicate interplay between care and control (Martin, 2003). At the same time, the awareness of parents and children of the role and power of the worker may colour even the warmest of relationships, and can result in strained or even hostile exchanges.
Because child welfare is social work practised in a legal context, it is essential for child welfare workers and those with an interest in policy issues in this area to understand the legal process, and to recognize that it affects virtually all aspects of child welfare work. This chapter1 discusses the principles of child welfare law in Canada, offering a context for the rest of the book. However, readers are cautioned that this is a complex area of law, with significant variation between provinces, and this chapter provides only an overview of key legal issues in this field. Those who practise in the field of child welfare will need more detailed knowledge than can be provided here. A much fuller discussion of the legal issues that arise in child welfare proceedings is provided in Canadian Child Welfare Law (Bala, Zapf, Williams, Vogl, & Hornick, 2004).
A Brief History of Child Protection
It is a general premise of our society that government interference in family life should be kept to a minimum. However, there are some situations in which the care parents provide is considered so inadequate that direct interference by the state is justified to protect children. These are situations in which parental care has fallen below the minimum standards our society will tolerate. However, state interference in the family and removal of a child is not legally justified because the child might have greater opportunities elsewhere. Rather, removal from parental care will only be justified if it can be demonstrated that remaining in parental care poses significant risk to the child.
It has not always been accepted that the state has a duty to protect children. The legal system of ancient Rome gave a father absolute authority over his children, including the lawful authority to sell them into slavery or even put them to death (DeMause, 1976). English common law recognized a parental right of "reasonable chastisement," which in practice gave parents the authority to subject their children to harsh discipline, and the right to sell them into apprenticeship. Through the Middle Ages there was little social recognition of the concept of childhood as a time of special needs, and there was a tendency to treat children as young as seven years of age as miniature adults. Gradually provision was made to care for orphans, first by religious bodies and later by municipal institutions; however, little was done to protect children from abuse or neglect if they were in the care of a parent or guardian. Although criminal law made it an offence to kill or maim a child, the laws were sporadically enforced, and children were regularly beaten by parents, subjected to sexual exploitation, and often forced to work long hours under terrible conditions. Prompted by the work of such social critics as Charles Dickens, whose Oliver Twist described the fate of children in institutions, the nineteenth century was a period of social reform in much of the industrialized world. Many developments in this era improved the lot of children, and the latter part of the century witnessed the establishment of a compulsory, publicly-funded school system, as well as special courts and corrections facilities to deal with juvenile offenders.
Children's aid societies were established in various Canadian municipalities in the last decade of the nineteenth century, with the objective of helping orphaned, abandoned, and neglected children. In 1893, reformers persuaded the Ontario legislature to grant these privately controlled agencies broad legal powers, including the right to remove neglected or abused children from their homes and to become legal guardians for such children. By the early twentieth century, agencies had been established throughout Canada, and child welfare legislation enacted in each province. However, the enormous growth and legalization of the field occurred only in the last half-century. Until the early 1960s, child welfare agencies dealt largely with the most obvious cases of abuse, and with children deemed "out of control" or delinquent; this was a period before there was adequate social assistance, and many children from impoverished families came into agency care. The agencies also had responsibility for the placement and adoption of children orphaned or born to single mothers.
While the courts exercised a supervisory function over the removal of children from their homes and adoption, in practice the system operated informally. Historically, most of the judges who sat in the family courts and dealt with this type of case lacked legal training, and lawyers rarely appeared at these proceedings. Many of the parents whose children were removed from their care were poor or socially marginalized; large numbers of Aboriginal children came into care, also with little or no judicial scrutiny. Parents involved in the protection process often lacked the sophistication and resources to challenge the actions of the agencies, and there was little thought to notions of children's rights in this era.
Enormous changes have occurred in the last 50 years. An important influence was the identification of battered child syndrome in the early 1960s (Helfer & Kempe, 1968; Kempe, Silverman, Steele, Droegemueller, & Silver, 1962). This raised awareness of the fact that parents might lie about abusing their children, describing injuries they inflicted as the result of "accidents," and that children were often too frightened or loyal to parents to disclose the truth to investigators. Increased understanding led to changes in legislation to require professionals and members of the public to report suspected cases of child abuse or neglect.
Beginning in the 1960s, the numbers of Aboriginal children in care began to increase significantly, and Aboriginal children in care are now vastly overrepresented relative to their proportion within the general Canadian population (see Chapters 20 and 21). The early 1980s were marked by growing awareness of child sexual abuse, similar to the earlier recognition of physical abuse. Researchers learned that children were often too intimidated, ill-informed, or traumatized by feelings of guilt to report their...