The Catholic Children’s Aid Society of Hamilton is celebrating 65 years of operations this fall. From our beginnings in 1953 with 3 staff and a $27,000 budget, to today with 180 staff and a $24 million budget, we have supported thousands of children, youth and families. We are proud of the work we have done, and know that we have contributed to brighter futures for the great majority of the people to whom we have provided services.
But as we all know, the history of child welfare in Ontario and Canada has been marked by actions on the part of a child welfare system that has done harm to some of the communities it was supposed to be helping. The “Sixties Scoop” of Indigenous children is a prime example, when the perceived wisdom of the system did not result in brighter futures for the people forced to interact with it. At the same time that workers in the child welfare system can feel justifiably proud about the many lives they have impacted for the better, they also have to come to terms with the legacy that has been created through well-meaning but misguided practices.
Even today, in many children’s aid societies, including ours, Black and Indigenous children are overrepresented. This is not acceptable, and we are taking actions to make systemic change, such as diversity/inclusion/equity training for our staff and Board of Directors, leadership and participation in equity and reconciliation work at the local and provincial levels, and stakeholder engagement.
The Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies (OACAS), on behalf of its member agencies, issued a formal apology to the Indigenous community in 2017; all member agencies, including ours, have made 9 commitments to prioritize reconciliation, and we are moving forward with those commitments. Likewise, through the OACAS, we have been active in implementing the One Vision, One Voice program, to eliminate the disproportionalities and disparities in outcomes faced by African Canadian families when engaged with Ontario child welfare agencies. These and other internal initiatives focused on the LGBTQ2S+, Francophone, and Newcomer communities are helping to ensure that we deliver services that honour and support the identities of our service recipients. This is an important element of our strategic and operational plans.
CCAS of Hamilton is well positioned to be a leader in providing equitable and compassionate child welfare services in Hamilton. We recently updated our strategic plan, which can be found at http://www.hamiltonccas.on.ca/about-us/strategic-plan-2018to23/, and as part of that process, we spoke with many of our peers and community partners to find out how we are perceived by them. They told us that they see us as an innovative, collaborative and effective organization. They also told us that there is something special about us – a strong sense of faith, compassion and warmth that sets us apart
As a Catholic agency, we are inspired by the compassion and mercy of Jesus Christ, who cared for the most marginalized persons of his community with love, respect, and a keen sense of social justice. We take a holistic service approach that honours the mind, body, and spirit of each person and that upholds their human rights in society. We believe that this holistic approach enriches the lives of our service recipients and the child welfare system as a whole, ensuring it is more caring, responsive, just and effective. We will listen and respond to the voices of our service users.
We feel that we have much to be proud of as we look back over 65 years. While we wish that our services were no longer required, and that our vision of Safe and Thriving Children and Youth, Empowered Families, and Stronger Communities had been fully realized, we look forward to the future knowing that we will be able to ensure brighter futures for even more of the children, youth and families we serve.