By Fitsum Areguy
Mon., Oct. 26, 2020
WATERLOO REGION — The community needs to listen and pay attention to kids if it wants to prevent child abuse, say a number of youth working with Family and Children’s Services of Waterloo Region.
“Youth have the right to be heard,” said one 18-year-old girl. “Child abuse prevention month is important to me because a lot of children grow up in homes where a lot of the abuse goes unnoticed.”
Kids need someone who will reach out to help, and who will “just talk to them,” said another girl, 17. “Show they care, aren’t gonna leave them, believe what they are saying, let them get upset, or angry and not walk away from them.”
As Waterloo Region marks Dress Purple Day on Tuesday — a day meant to bring attention to child abuse prevention — Family and Children’s Services provided comments from several youth to The Record.
The youths are calling for non-judgmental support, and access to counselling and groups, so that they “can be around other youth, to not feel alone. Just to feel normal again.”
“Just be there the only way you can be. Present,” said another youth.
Child maltreatment and neglect often happens when families don’t have resources and basic necessities, said Jill Stoddard, director of research at Family and Children’s Services.
“If I was to look back on the worst days of my life and how I got through them, I would have to think about the people around me that helped me through it, and what would happen to me if there was nobody around me. And that’s what so many of the families that we’re facing are dealing with.”
Poverty, housing, financial stresses and lack of access to nutritious food are ticking time bombs for many families, Stoddard said. “The less resources a family has, the more they feel distressed and the more likely you are to see those families manage in less healthy ways, and children end up being harmed.”
The agency can get calls involving nearly 5,000 families, or 15,000 children over the course of a year. However, less than four per cent of these children ever need to be removed from their families and placed in care, Stoddard said.
As an agency, Stoddard said that they will continue to ask: “How do we work with those 5,000 families, with our community, to help provide those parents with the support and services that they need so kids can stay safely in their home?”
Stoddard said the agency wants to transform. “I think in the past, there’s been a tendency to blame families that we work with and we understand ... that’s just not fair and it doesn’t help.”
That’s particularly important with Black, Indigenous and racialized families, she said, who are overrepresented in the child welfare system.
A 2018 report from the Ontario Human Rights Commission revealed how child welfare systems have had, and continue to have, a role in deepening inequities among Indigenous and Black communities.
“I think as a society we’re understanding things like social inequity and structural racism throughout our entire society. As a child welfare system we have acknowledged, as well, about how we look at family issues has been shaped through this lens of white, middle-class Canada. Not everybody is treated equally, and not everybody has the same opportunities.”
Kitchener resident Samantha Estoesta says she will wear purple on Tuesday in honour of how, for many families, the pandemic took away the proverbial “village.”
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“And while data shows us that some are economically able to build in those supports, it is our most vulnerable communities, especially racialized and new to Canada communities, that are experiencing compounded isolation as their support systems cease to operate in the ways they did before COVID,” Estoesta said.
“I get it. I have a toddler. The anxiety alone of parenting in a pandemic is enough to drive someone to their wits’ end. Dress Purple Day is here to let our community know that you are not alone, that the ‘village’ is still here, and they are here to help you.”
Fitsum Areguy’s reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative. The funding allows him to report on stories about community development and data. Email firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter @fitsumareguy